More Calories ...

Oops!  Forgot to publish this episode of CDS in the IHC.   I saw the guy who made the video below on TV a short while ago and wondered to myself how long it would take before we'd get a "see you can't know the calorie content of your food" post. 

Larry Istrail, of Ancestral Weight Loss Registry fame, did not disappoint with:   The False Precision of  Calorie Counting For those not wanting to watch the video, Casey Neistat bopped around NYC and ate 5 food items he describes as typical of what he might eat in a day:  Grandpa's banana nut muffin, Starbucks Grande Frappuccino, Chipotle Barbacoa Burrito, veggie spicy tofu sandwich, and a 6" Turkey Subway.  He discovered the calorie counts were a bit off in a few of them.   I took this to be more of a smack against Nanny Bloomberg's (and eventually to be Nanny Obama's) calorie labeling requirements, and whether the required reporting was accurate after all.  Here was the verdict (actual v. claimed):    1.  Muffin:  735 vs. 640   2.  Frappo:  393 vs. 370   3.  Burrito:  1295 vs. 1175   4.  Tofu sammy:  548 vs. 228   5.  Subway:  351 vs. 360 , all for a grand total of 3321 vs. the declared 2773.  

The take home to anyone who needs it here, is that if you need to monitor your caloric intake, these foods are not the way to go!  You really have two of the least "regulated" items here that blow it -- a "homemade" type muffin and that sandwich.  It was absolutely no surprise to me that Subway came in slightly under the calories reported (someone alert Jimmy Moore, he was sooooo concerned a while back about folks getting cheated out of an inch of their Subway footlongs he's boycotting his church retreat this weekend because there might be some Subways there - grin).  Everything of caloric value is pre-sliced/measured.  I note that he seems to lament eating the "tastes OK" vegan sandwich that ended up containing the same calories as that Big Mac -- which probably also would come in at advertised calories.

Personally, I would like to see calorie information reported accurately if it is going to be.  Luckily I don't eat tofu sandwiches from the bodega.   I think it's great that I can get that information, but frankly, the few times I have gotten fast food since this has gone into effect in my state, I find the calories on the menu board unnecessarily distracting vs. what is more important to me -- finding the item I want and how much it will cost me.  If anything here, what this unscientific study demonstrates is how easy it is to "overeat" on fast foods.  I am always amazed at how many calories can be squeezed into things like that banana nut muffin.  Do you have any idea what 735 calories worth of steel cut oatmeal made with cream and brown sugar and banana slices looks like?  Or not to go Durian Rider on you here, but how about just 735 calories worth of bananas!  I know I couldn't eat them in one sitting (though I know a few who apparently can!).  
Larry Istrail's take:
Of course the whole basis of using the "calories in, calories out" method of losing weight becomes literally impossible if the number on the package is wrong.
He cites this article as well.  Of course the whole basis of using the "calories in, calories out" method of losing weight might just be to not waste calories on a frappuccino and eating big honking burritos at Chipotle.  I don't know about you, but if I were inclined to eat a tofu sandwich for a snack, I'd make it at home.  For all the chiding, Subway makes for a decent fast food choice if you make wise selections.  But this little "study", and not a scientific one at that, does not warrant the knock on calorie counting.  After all, the filmmaker had the "real" calories tested, so this is an issue of improper determination of caloric content or portioning or both, not calorie counting.
The stickler in me is also bothered by the use of "false precision" in the title.  In science, these terms often used interchangeably in everyday life mean different things.   Illustrated at right, accuracy refers to how close a measurement is to the actual value while precision refers to how close measurements are to one another.  While ideally we want both, accuracy is the more desired quality as the variation should average out close to the actual value. That the calories were "off" is not a problem of precision in calorie counting anymore than inaccurate fortune telling scales in gas station bathrooms are an indication of the false precision of body weight. What with all the hacking in the IHC, epic and otherwise, perhaps Istrail should look into the precision (and accuracy) of blood glucose meters and ketone tests.  Heck, how about some information we can all use on the accuracy and precision of lipid tests?   Not to mention the real hucksterism perpetrated by scientists (Volek & Phinney) and doctors (Westman) regarding effective carbs.  Surely if we can't know what the calorie content is, we can't know what the carb content really is either.  All of these low carbers who eat barbeque, pizza toppings, tuna salad, fajitas, etc.etc. out, not to mention Atkins products or anything from Julian Bakery or made by the Dreamfields folks have way more to complain about.  Especially all of that former stuff -- just watch Diners DriveIns & Dives for an hour or so ;-) .

Meanwhile, when we know how many calories a person actually consumes, they still tend to hold up well as a tool.  I'm all for ease in finding out nutritional information and the accuracy of that information.  I don't see how throwing that baby out with the bathwater helps anyone.  


Unknown said…

Roberts and her team published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, drawing their data from the calorie counts of 269 food items at 42 fast food and sit-down restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Olive Garden, Outback and Boston Market. The scientists ordered some of the most popular items off the menus in three cities — Boston, Indianapolis and Little Rock, which represented a geographic sampling of the country — then froze the meals and shipped them to a central lab where they were analyzed for their calorie content. Overall, the items contained about 10 calories more than what the chains’ websites claimed they carried, which was within the statistically acceptable range. But for 19% of the foods, all of which fell into the low-calorie category, the lab technicians recorded about 100 extra calories than what the restaurants were claiming the foods contained.

Travis Culp said…
I wonder if the vegan cookies I used to eat were even more than the 1000+ calories total listed on the package. There was about a tree's worth of palm oil in every package. Even if it were double, it wouldn't be mislabeling that caused me to gain that 30lbs or so, it was the fact that I was eating a bunch of cookies.
Wright Mind said…
This also shows that New York Times journalists are bad at math. Go the to 4 minute mark and play from there. The journalist says the calorie content of 548 calories is "nearly double" the 228 mentioned on the label. Yo, 548 calories is MORE than double, approximately 2.41 times the calorie label, not "nearly double." Your bugaboo, Evelyn, is low carb hucksters who get the science wrong; one of mine is journalists who can't do math. In fact, I have often said journalism is a profession for those who are bad at math. This video is exhibit A.

I find it terribly ironic that a video, from the New York Times, no less, that is criticizing labels for getting the math wrong, gets the math wrong in its critique. A small error, perhaps, but it does go to credibility.
Wright Mind said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabriella Kadar said…
Wright Mind, I canceled my Time Magazine subscription when an article stated that malaria was caused by a virus. So the journalists who know diddley squat are all over the place not just the New York Times.
Unknown said…
THE No-Breakfast Plan AND The Fasting-Cure.

CarbSane said…
This is a reality most are aware of. I don't think the 100 extra calories is an issue unless someone is eating out regularly. Perhaps it is better to order a high calorie item and just eat half ;-)
CarbSane said…
The Paleoista just did a post on some 1000 cal muffins and I did not know dates were quite so calorific. It's nothing new with those muffins. Thirty years ago some people thought those huge bran muffins were a "healthy option" for breakfast, but the women's mags were full of articles on why not to eat them! It is very easy to eat a 700 calorie muffin and not even feel like you've eaten much let alone full. This is one part of the "passive overeating" I've been talking about here for ages.
CarbSane said…
Yep, this bugs me as well! BTW, we suffered a bout of the Razwell virus so moderation is on for a bit.
Tsimblist said…
Vol. III
First Edition 1934
Third Revised Edition 1950
Unknown said…
Well, if we really want to get technical about it, then it's a semantic issue and the wise guy could probably defend his argument on those grounds. "Oh, I didn't get the math wrong. I simply said nearly double, which is near to the double, I didn't specify whether that's from above or below the line. Because I'm cool and hip!"

Ah. Whatev.