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Study: Calorie Counts on Menus Often Miss the Mark

(ABC) — A change is afoot at restaurants in America. A federal law is expected to take effect by the middle of this year, forcing chain restaurants to post the number of calories in their food you order.

Some restaurants have already begun, but we wondered – are they accurate?

They are supposed to help America’s obesity problem – Calorie counts boldly displayed on restaurant menus.

But a study by Tufts University sampling food from 42 restaurants found wide discrepancies, especially at sit-down restaurants, and surprisingly, most often on the diet side of the menu.

“These were the foods that people who are trying to manage their weight would gravitate towards and they may be getting more calories than they expect,” sats Lorien Urban from Tufts University.

A just-completed ABC News sampling found that more than half of the low-cal meals we tested had more calories than listed on the menu.

ABC News brought a nationally known lab 24 food samples from 4 sit-down restaurants and 1 McDonald’s.

Surprisingly, the Big Mac had 30 calories fewer than the advertised on the menu.

Here too, it was the sit-down restaurants that had sometimes wildly different calorie counts than advertised.

Eleven meals had more calories than on the menu, and 10 had fewer and only one was on the money.

Some were over by only a few calories but The Cheesecake Factory’s fish and chips packed 420 calories more than the menu count in one sample.

Olive Garden’s low calorie Seafood Brodetto was over its calorie count by 180, and one sample of the Chili’s Margarita Grilled Chicken tested at 120 calories more than advertised.

“That may not sound like a lot, but if someone were to consume a hundred calories extra a day for a year, they could gain up to ten pounds,” Urban adds.

All the restaurants and their trade association say that most calorie counts are as accurate as possible and tested extensively to make sure, but they concede there are variations, mostly due to portion size and individual restaurant preparation.

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