Can You Trust Menu Nutrition Facts?

A disturbing article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer last week reported that nutrition information on many chain restaurant menus is just plain wrong.

Now we know you, discriminating MenuPages reader, don’t make a habit of eating at Chili’s, but just in case you do get by there, or Macaroni Grill, or Taco Bell, or the Cheesecake Factory, or Applebee’s, or any of the other restaurants mentioned in the article, wouldn’t you like to think that the nutrition info. you’re getting is even close to right? Well, according to the Scripps News Service study, the actual calorie and fat counts can be several times the posted numbers.

While some items contained only as many calories and fat as the restaurants claimed, many dishes were found to have several times as many calories and fat as the companies stated


Unlike packaged food, restaurants are not required by the Food and Drug Administration to provide nutrition information, Wootan said. But if a restaurant decides to publish such information, it cannot be misleading.

The FDA did not return multiple calls for comment.

To test the food, Scripps ordered dishes from restaurants in Phoenix, Kansas City, Mo., Tampa, Fla., Detroit, West Palm Beach, Fla., Cleveland, Baltimore and Tulsa, Okla.

Items were packed in coolers and sent to Analytical Labs in Boise, Idaho. Technicians performed nutritional tests, determining the items’ caloric and fat contents. They did so by breaking the food down in a simulated digestion process.

The lab separated fat and other molecules, then measured them. After determining the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates in each meal, the lab was able to calculate the overall number of calories.

The Macaroni Grill sample showed the widest variance from the menu’s claims. Its “Pollo Margo Skinny Chicken,” which was supposed to have 500 calories, actually had 1,022, according to the testing. The chicken dinner was supposed to have 6 grams of fat. It had 49.

In recent months, Seattle, San Francisco and New York all passed laws requiring chain restaurants to post nutrition information on menus, with similar legislation being considered in Florida. The idea, naturally, was to give consumers a detailed picture of what they’re eating. But with self-reporting apparently the norm, it would seem somebody left the lens cap on.

Restaurant menu promises buried in calories, fat
[Seattle Post Intelligencer]

Can You Trust Menu Nutrition Facts?