Consumer Reports: Chain-Restaurant Calorie Count

New restaurant regulations that were supposed to require chains with more than 20 locations to list calorie counts on their menus are stalled. But many restaurants have already started disclosing that information anyway. Consumer Reports wanted to see whether restaurant-goers are getting a good count.

Consumer Reports chose 17 menu offerings at a dozen casual restaurants and fast-food chains and compared their nutritional claims with reality. They included restaurants such as IHOP, Red Lobster, Cheese Cake Factory, and McDonald’s. Consumer Reports bought food including fettuccine and French fries from three restaurant locations.

Back in the labs, testers ground the food to analyze it for calories and fat. Not all the offerings tested from Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse measured up.

Outback’s Grilled Chicken on the Barbie claims to have 7 grams of fat but contained as much as 13 grams in Consumer Reports’ tests.

NBC 5 contacted Bloomin' Brands which owns Outback Steakhouse about the Consumer Reports findings, this is their statement:

"Nutritional information on our website has been verified by a recognized independent laboratory. Our food is made from scratch daily using fresh ingredients. The variance in the report may be due to a larger container of sauce used for Take-Away."

-Cathie Koch, Bloomin' Brands

Olive Garden’s Lasagna Primavera with Grilled Chicken is supposed to have 20 grams of fat. But three samples tested from three different Olive Garden restaurants had between 25 and 32 grams of fat. Olive Garden told Consumer Reports the differences are due to variability in serving sizes.

All the other menus and websites were correct. And Consumer Reports says it’s important to check because even if you’re ordering grilled chicken, that doesn’t mean you’re getting a lower-calorie meal.

And when you’re checking a menu, watch out for words such as “battered,” “creamy,” “crispy,” “crusted,” or “stuffed.” Those all signal “fattening.”

Consumer Reports says there are a number of things you can do to make eating out healthier. Order sauces on the side, and do the same with salad dressing. Stick to no-calorie beverages such as water, seltzer, and tea. And, of course, don’t think you have to finish everything then and there. Take some home and eat it at another meal.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website

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