Counting Calories Controversy, Staying Healthy While Dining Out

ABC News' Jim Avila takes restaurant menu's caloric count accuracy to the lab.
2:28 | 01/08/13

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Transcript for Counting Calories Controversy, Staying Healthy While Dining Out
As you may know, 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 the food you order. Some restaurants, as you probably know, have already begun, but we wondered, are they accurate? Abc's senior national correspondent jim avila went to the lab. Reporter: They are supposed to help america's obesity problem. Calorie counts boldly displayed on restaurant menus. That's kind of important to have that visibility in what you're eating. Reporter: But a study by tufts university, sampling food from 42 restaurants, found wide discrepancies. Especially at sitdown restaurants and, surprisingly, most often on the diet side of the menu. These were foods that people who are trying to manage their weight would gravitate towards and they may be getting more calories than they expect. Reporter: 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. We brought a nationally known lab 24 food samples from four sitdown restaurants and one McDONALD'S. Surprisingly, the big mac had 30 calories fewer than advertised on the menu. Here, too, it was the sitdown restaurant that had sometimes wildly different calorie counts than advertised. 11 peoples had more calories than on the menu. And ten had fe and only one was on the money. Some were over by only a few calories, but cheesecake factory's fish and chips packed 420 calories more than the menu count. In one sample. Olive garden's seafood was over its calorie count by 180. And one sample of the chili's margarita grilled chicken tested at 120 call reels more than advertised. If someone were to consume 100 calories extra per day for a year, they could gain up to ten pounds. Reporter: 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. The menus warn that actual calories may vary. So, what you see here may be very different than what is actually on the plate. Jim avila, abc news, washington.

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