Consumer Reports checks accuracy of restaurant calorie counts

Dishes from Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse more fattening than claimed

New restaurant regulations that were supposed to require chains with more than 20 locations to list calorie counts on their menus are stalled.

But many restaurants have already started disclosing that information anyway. Consumer Reports wanted to see if restaurant-goers are getting a good count.

A commercial for Olive Garden, for example, touts its new lower-calorie dishes. And many restaurants now list nutritional info on their menus and websites.

But how accurate is it?

"We chose 17 menu offerings at a dozen casual restaurants and fast-food chains and compared their nutritional claims with reality," said Consumer Reports' Kim Kleman.

They included restaurants like IHOP, Red Lobster, Cheesecake Factory, and McDonalds. Consumer Reports bought food ranging from fettuccine to french fries from three restaurant locations.

Back in the labs, testers ground the food to analyze it for calories and fat.

Most of the menus and websites were correct. But not all the offerings tested from Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse measured up.

Outback's Grilled Chicken on the Barbie claims 7 grams of fat, but contained as much as 13 grams in Consumer Reports' tests.

And Olive Garden's Lasagna Primavera with Grilled Chicken is supposed to have 15 grams of fat. But it had as much as 32 grams.

Responding to the test, Olive Garden said that 15 grams was a mistake, that the dish actually has 20 grams of fat and that their website information has been updated.  

However, the three samples tested had between 25 and 32 grams. Olive Garden said the differences were due to varying serving sizes.

"We're glad to see that most of the menu information was correct. It's important to check because even if you're ordering grilled chicken, that doesn't mean you're getting a lower-calorie meal," Kleman said.

Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken is a case in point. It lists 1,200 calories and 66 grams of fat.

When  you're checking a menu, watch out for words like "battered," "creamy," "crispy," "crusted," or "stuffed." 

To make eating out healthier, order sauces and salad dressings on the side.  Stick to no-calorie beverages like water, seltzer, and tea.

And,  don't think you have to finish everything. Take some home and eat it at another meal.

For a list of recent stories Marilyn Moritz has done, click here.


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