February 14, 2010

Companies can't count calories

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  A 'Drive Thru, Ope...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Everyday I read that Americans want government out of their lives.

But what happens when there is no accounting, no rules, and no laws.

Here's a very small, almost minuscule problem that happens when there is self-regulation, only business oversight, and buyer-beware companies: they cheat.

How would you feel if everytime -- that's everytime -- you went to fill up with gas, Citgo or Mobil gave you just 72% of a gallon for a gallon you paid for? What if Shell gave you just 50% of a gallon? How would you act if the butcher charged you full price on just 75% of a pound.

I believe Americans would be outraged. But that's happening everyday in fast-food restaurants throughout the U.S.

According to new study from the American Dietetic Association, some restaurant foods contained up to 200% of stated values and, in addition, free side dishes sometimes are an average of 245% of stated values for the entrees they accompanied. And restaurants are not alone. Supermarket packaged foods under report calories.

According to the FDA, packaged foods are allowed a 20% margin of error. Therefore, a 300 calorie sandwich may contain anywhere from 270 to 330 calories. (Amazingly, there was very little over-estimating of calories.)

These findings suggest that stated energy contents of reduced-energy meals obtained from restaurants and supermarkets are not consistently accurate, and in this study averaged more than measured values, especially when free side dishes were taken into account. If widespread, this phenomenon could hamper efforts to self-monitor energy intake to control weight, and could also reduce the potential benefit of recent policy initiatives to disseminate information on food energy content at the point of purchase.

FoodNavigator.com reports: "Restaurant meals tested were even less accurate. Of 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurant meals analyzed, calorie content averaged 18 percent more than stated. There is no FDA-regulated limit for the amount by which a restaurant meal may exceed stated calorie content, the researchers wrote."

Where's the outrage? Or are we all so cynical we know companies cheat.

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