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Shocking Restaurant Calorie Counts

Does seeing calorie information affect how you order? A new study from Yale University randomly assigned 303 adults to order from one of three menus: one with no calorie info; one with calorie counts; and one with calorie levels plus a line stating that the average adult needs 2,000 calories daily.

Researchers found that diners in the two calorie labeled groups ate 14 percent fewer calories than people who ordered from the label-free menu. And when the volunteers later reported what they ate for the rest of the day, those who had seen the 2,000 calorie daily recommendation ate even fewer calories -- an average of 250 less than those in the other two groups.

That’s probably because knowing how many calories you need per day can help you put the number in a single meal in perspective. If you know you’ve “spent” a good chunk of your daily allowance at lunch, you may be more apt to order a lighter dinner. Ideally though, your calorie intake should be spread pretty evenly throughout the day, or you should eat more before the hours you’ll be more active and less before the hours you’ll be less active.   

Now 2,000 is just an average, so it may be too high or too low for you depending on your height, ideal weight, age, activity level and sex (taller, younger, active men need the most calories and shorter, older, less active women need the least). A general rule of thumb is to never eat less than your ideal weight times 10 if you have a fairly low daily activity level. So if your weight goal is 125, you need at least 1,250 calories on the days you don’t move much, like sitting at a desk all day and on the couch all night (soon, you should see a new tool on Shape.com to help you determine your daily calorie needs based on your goals and activity and track your intake). 

I wish that every restaurant provided calorie info. One that does is Ruby Tuesday.  According to their menu, an order of Ruby Minis (4 mini burgers) and a side of fries clocks in at 1,630 calories, probably about what most of us need for the whole day.

For 1,617 calories you could order all of this from their menu:
1 order of Asian dumplings (488 cals)
1 side peanut sauce (66 cals)
1 order white bean chicken chili (216 cals)
1 order sautéed baby portabella mushrooms (173 cals)
1 order premium baby green beans (85 cals)
1 order fresh steamed broccoli (103 cals)
1 order fresh tomato & mozzarella salad (112 cals)
1 order creamy mashed cauliflower (153 cals)
1 order brown rice pilaf (221 cals)
 
It just goes to show the volume of healthy food that could be consumed for the same number of calories as a fairly small, pretty typical restaurant meal! When you go out to eat, do you look up calorie info? Please share! 

P.S. Here are a few more restaurant meals that may cost you more calories than you think and a trimmed down alternative (ideally a lunch or dinner meal should provide somewhere between 350 and 500 depending on how active you’ll be in the hours after the meal):

Panera Bread You Pick Two: half Caesar Salad and half Sierra Turkey Sandwich – 680 calories
VS:
You Pick Two: Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup and Half Mediterranean Salmon Salad with Tangerine Orange Blossom Honey Vinaigrette – 460 calories


Quiznos regular Baja Chicken Sub – 790 calories
VS: Sonoma Turkey Flatbread Sammie - 380 calories

Boston Market one quarter White Rotisserie Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Creamed Spinach and Cornbread – 1,100 calories
VS:
Roasted Turkey with Garlic Dill New Potatoes and Green Beans – 350 calories

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