Can you trust calorie counts on menus and prepared foods?

So I'm having great success with my calorie-counting plan, losing about 2 lbs a week, just as predicted. But I wondered if this is because I prepare almost all my food from scratch, so I have total control over all ingredients.

I see a lot of other people say they are within their counts and it isn't working. I read an article that said for frozen dinners this one lab tested some of the actual calorie counts were 30% above what's on the label. And I saw a headline saying "those restaurant calories counts really are too good to be true."

I'm sure many of you depend on these foods though. Has anyone adjusted the calories on any of these things, or found them inaccurate? Or do those foods fit just fine in your plans?

Also I ate out with friends over the weekend at a restaurant that didn't have calorie counts so I just tried to make a healthy choice and watch how much I ate. But to log it I used the calorie counts for the same foods from a different restaurant. I guess I'll see at my next weigh in if that messed up my progress.


  • deannalfisher
    deannalfisher Posts: 5,600 Member
    for frozen meals I weight to see what it says (as a comparison) and adjust accordingly - if possible - I don't have a scale as work, so I using add an error in (instead of logging as 1, I do 1.25)

    at a restaurant, I tend to go with what they say - but I try to verify - I've found some restaurants overstate calories
  • tinkerbellang83
    tinkerbellang83 Posts: 9,129 Member
    I'd put money on most of those who say they aren't losing and are staying with their counts are not accurately logging - this can be down to calories in (underestimating food) or out (overestimating exercise burns). I have on occasion had to guesstimate when eating out or use the restaurants menu and it's made very little difference to my progress. If you're in a 500-1000 calorie deficit, 1 meal isn't going to make a dramatic difference on the scale.
  • RelCanonical
    RelCanonical Posts: 3,882 Member
    If I'm able to (like with the snacks my work provides), I tried to weight them out of the package to make sure they're the weight they are on the package. Most of the time they are, but sometimes they're a little over. I'm more of a stickler about it on things that have an impact if you're wrong (e.g. calorie-dense things like cheese). There's also a lot of rounding that happens in packaged goods, which they are allowed to do to an extent, whereas USDA counts for things like whole fruit are less likely to get rounded quite so much. I have no clue how restaurants do their counts - I didn't work at a chain, but at my restaurant butter was used liberally and graciously, and the actual amount largely depended on who cooked it.
  • janejellyroll
    janejellyroll Posts: 25,763 Member
    My thoughts on this: I log as accurately as I can at home (where I eat the vast majority of my meals) so that I don't have to worry much about potential inaccuracies when I'm dining out. If I see a calorie count that looks too good to be true I will add more, but otherwise I tend to log according to a restaurant's nutritional information.

    If they don't have information, I use my best judgment to log the ingredients or choose a database entry for something similar from another restaurant.
  • nowine4me
    nowine4me Posts: 3,985 Member
    You can't trust them, no. But you are at the mercy of whoever is in the kitchen that day and whether a portion of chicken on a salad is 4oz, 6oz or 8oz -- no matter what the menu says. But we can't all be hermits, so learning to judge portions is important. I've gotten pretty good at eyeballing 4oz, and just leave the rest on the plate.
  • Seffell
    Seffell Posts: 2,221 Member
    We eat a lot of ready meals, probably 50% of what we eat (of the chilled variety that you finish cooking in the oven). Their calories are spot on. We only buy from the same supermarket brand though so it might not be true in general for ready meals.
  • TimothyFish
    TimothyFish Posts: 4,925 Member
    The nature of food is that there is a lot of variation. On top of that, the person serving the food may be giving you a little more or a little less. But I still treat the figures they give as correct. I just need them to be in the ballpark. I use rough estimates and aim for a little lower than what my TDEE is expected to be. If I find myself losing weight, I increase my intake.
  • JaydedMiss
    JaydedMiss Posts: 4,286 Member
    working in a restaurant thats a sit down/fast food mix id go with no. We make the food, We dont have portion sizes the salad i make is WAY different thn anyone else we just squirt the sauce and scoop in the bacon and walnuts or whatever. The in house meatballs vary drastically, As do the candied walnuts and i imagine most other sauces. Even the weight of the pasta when we do it theres just so much and at the end the portions get smaller for the weight because of all the olive oil in the bottom being heavier thn noodles, So even thinking yay a nice small portion probably means its the calorie bomb portions LOL theres just way to many variables.

    For something like mcdonalds though i believe it mostly accurate enough to trust.
  • jsecret
    jsecret Posts: 606 Member
    I tend to log home calories a bit more than what they actually are and exercise less than what it is - the small differences in meals when I go out is lessened since I am already overestimating my eating. Pair that with my calories goal of 1360 and usually 400 exercise calories that I don't eat back and for the most part i can afford to go over if the calories are not accurate.
  • hjsparker
    hjsparker Posts: 18 Member
    I would say no. For places like McDonalds and KFC, they put up an average count but none of the workers are going to accurately measure ketchup and mayo where lots of secret calories hide. I can go to KFC and down 3/4 of my daily calories in one meal without breaking a sweat and I know I'm not alone.

    Having a non-restricted meal isn't going to kill you every know and then but I think if you rely on prepackaged meals then you have to weigh everything as the calories listed won't be as accurate as a home prepared meal.

    As long as you run a 500+ calorie deficit the majority of the time you'll keep losing that weight.