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Calorie Detective

In New York City, most chain restaurants are required to post calorie information on their menus.

And soon, because of ObamaCare, all restaurants with more than 20 locations will be required to post calories counts. It’s like how the FDA requires labels on packaged foods. The idea is pretty basic, when you know how much you’re eating, you tend to eat less.

Now section 81.5.0 of the New York City health code states: “the health department will cite violations if you fail to post calories information.”

But the health department doesn’t verify the accuracy of that information. They told me no one checks to make sure these numbers are correct. So I thought I’d assume that responsibility. The actual process for testing caloric content is incredibly complicated and horribly boring. It involved two food scientists, who are totally patient and answered all of my stupid questions.

“And it’s pronounced calor-i-meter?” “Calor-i-meter” “Ok got it”

We needed the resources at the obesity research lab at St Luke’s hospital. It involved precision beyond anything I’m capable of. And a lot of math. It took us 10 hours to test 5 items.

“How much do you stand behind today’s results?” “100%”

Now there is very little science put into the selection of the food to be tested. I just tried to pick all the foods that I might eat in a single day. Some from restaurants some packaged. These muffins are everywhere in the city but the nutritional information is impossible to find. They are called yoghurt muffins and the guy at the Bodega said.

“Low fat” “Low fat?” “Ye low fat, there is a sign there” “They’re pretty healthy” “Oh, yes, the best” “The best, alright, thank-you”

There’s no nutritional information on their website, so I called them, and they faxed me the data. According to them, the muffin had an incredible 640 calories. And it was even more incredible to find out there were actually 734.7 calories. That’s more calories than 2 Macdonald’s Egg MacMuffins. “thoughts on the results from the Nutty Banana?” “no, I was suspecting that it would be over”

Next up: the Frappuccino. A Grande with whipped cream is supposed to have 370 calories. The actual count was 392.9. I can forgive that. The girls at Starbucks like me, they probably just gave me an extra squirt.

I used Chipotle online calorie calculator to add up all the ingredients in my Burrito. It came to a whopping 1175 calories. Not a huge surprise, this thing is as big as my foot. Actual count was just about 10% more, which is an understandable margin but nonetheless a lot of unaccounted for calories.

A favorite snack of mine, are these vegetarian sandwiches. They taste ok, and are vegan kosher and according to the label only have 228 calories. Plus in big, bold, italic, red letters it says healthy.

And this healthy sandwich took the trophy for the biggest inaccuracy. Actual calorie content was nearly double what the label said. Giving this sandwich about the same amount of calories as a Big Mac.

Not cool. And lastly Subway, I couldn’t believe a sandwich this big could have only 360 calories. But I guess that guy Jared knows what he’s talking about. The only item tested to come in under the declared amount was Subway.

Now. This isn’t a conclusive study. I didn’t test multiple samples. But I did find that on this day if I had based my diet on calorie count provided to me, because of the discrepancies in those counts, I would have consumed an extra 548 calories. So today’s 548 calorie discrepancy means, I unknowingly ate a quarter pounder with cheese, or two hamburgers worth of calories, or two snickers or a couple of donuts. Which all begs the question, if the requirement to post the information is going to be enforced, why not also enforce its accuracy.


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