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Labels: Is What Is Listed on Foods and Menus Accurate?


Labels: Is What Is Listed
on Foods and Menus Accurate?

Tufts researchers analyzed 18 side dishes and entrees from sit-down restaurants, 11 side dishes and entrees from fast-food restaurants, and 10 frozen meals from supermarkets. The restaurants chosen for the study were national franchises. The foods analyzed were all labeled to provide less than 500 calories/serving and were on the low end, calorically, of foods offered by the restaurants.

Calorie information provided to consumers from restaurants was on average 18% less than what researchers found as the true content. Three of the supermarket foods and seven of the restaurant items contained twice the amount of calories as stated on the labels. Two of the restaurant side dishes exceeded the advertised caloric content by more than 200%; this was important because several of the restaurants offered side dishes that were not accounted for in the nutritional analysis. These “free” side dishes contained on average 471 calories, more calories than what several of the entrees contained! The real caloric content provided by the frozen meals was about 8% less than what the researchers’ analysis showed. In contrast, a major problem with the restaurant foods was overportioning, and researchers frequently received more food than the nutrition facts were calculated to represent.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits food to contain 20% more calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium than is accounted for on the label. “Reasonable deficiencies” in these nutrients also are allowed. Food manufacturers, not the FDA, are responsible for the accuracy of food labels, although the FDA also conducts random sampling and testing. The FDA’s Web site further states that, “The agency has not and does not intend to prescribe how an individual company is to determine nutrient content for labeling purposes.”

References and recommended readings

ScienceDaily. Restaurant and packaged foods can have more calories than nutrition labeling indicates. Available at: Accessed February 1, 2010.

ScienceDaily. Study examines calorie information from restaurants, packaged foods. Available at: Accessed February 1, 2010.

US Dept of Health & Human Services, US Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry: Nutrition Labeling Manual—A Guide for Developing and Using Data Bases. Available at:
. Accessed February 1, 2010.


Review Date 3/10


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