Pay More Attention To What You Eat At "Healthy" Restaurants

That councilwoman from L.A. isn’t going to like this: a new study says that when people eat at what they perceive to be “healthy” restaurants, they underestimate the calories, which could help explain why Americans are continuing to get fatter even as healthy restaurants have grown faster than fast food restaurants over the past 5 years.

When subjects were asked to estimate how many calories they thought they consumed after eating a meal from MacDonalds or Subway, those who ate at Subway guessed on average 150 calories less. (Both groups underestimated total calories regardless.) Says study organizer Dr. Pierre Chandon:

People think that the same 1,000-calorie meal has 159 fewer calories if it comes from Subway… If they choose to consume this fictitious ‘calorie credit’ on other food, and it they eat at Subway twice a week, they could gain an extra 4.9 pounds a year.

To avoid undercounting, Chandon suggests a “piecemeal” approach (ha ha get it?) when estimating your calories—”look at the sandwich, the side, the beverages, and the drink and add that up.”

“Calories underestimated in ‘healthy’ restaurants” [Reuters]
(Photo: Simon Shek)

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  1. blue_duck says:

    Ignorance really is bliss… So is the grilled chicken breast sandwich though :P

  2. bigdirty says:

    “..look at the sandwich, the side, the beverages, and the drink and add that up.” A beverage and drink are now two separate items?

  3. Juliekins says:

    You mean that smug douchebag Jared is lying to me about Subway being so0o0o0o0 much more healthy than McDonald’s? Say it isn’t so! :P

    I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Supersize Me and Q&A with Morgan Spurlock back when the film was released. Someone asked if he gave Subway any “slack” for their healthier options, and he said no–what they were doing was practicing “health by association” and suckering people into believing their food was all healthier when it really isn’t. Yes, they have the “7 under 6″ sandwiches, but only if you get their bland meat, bland bread, veggies, and no sauces or cheeses. He also said that when companies like McDonald’s throw a bone to the calorie fascists by offering better salads and the like that their burger sales actually go up. (I do not have a cite for this, I apologize.) People get it into their heads that all of a sudden McD’s is peddling health food.

    At least Subway makes their nutrition info easily available–every napkin tells you which are the healthier options. Too bad they don’t disclose sodium content. I swear the ingredient list for every item in that place starts out “Salt…”

  4. blue_duck says:

    Sandwich + side + beverage(s) + alleged drink = 4 (that’s only if there is one beverage) We have 4 calories, ladies and gentlemen!!

  5. samurailynn says:

    @bigdirty: That’s another reason why americans continue to get fatter.

  6. dirty foreigner says:

    @bigdirty: No wonder I’ve been gaining weight, I’m drinking 2 liters of cola during each meal.

  7. UpsetPanda says:

    Not to mention that Subway’s food looks hardly fresh. Whenever I happen to go into a Subway thinking I can grab something healthier than fast food, but still slightly healthy, the bread is slightly mashed, everything is piled up in their little metal or plastic bins and it just doesn’t seem right that one would leave vegetables out in the air like that, not safely anyway.

    The best course of action (to me) is that if you have to consume fast food, try to be aware of what you are eating rather than where you are eating.

  8. blue_duck says:

    @MissJ: You mean shingle-packed meat doesn’t quite do it for ya?

  9. Asvetic says:

    Well, the only safe “option” is to not eat out at all and to make your own meals.

    Of course, I’m lazy so that’s not always a viable option.

  10. drjayphd says:

    @bigdirty: And after you pay, they give you cash, which is just as good as money.

  11. jrdnjstn78 says:

    I just took my son to subway a few weeks ago. At least if you order the “kids meal” they make you get apple slices or yogurt and no soda, milk or chocolate milk. the milk has just as much calories as soda though because it’s not fat free or low fat.

    I told my son that next time we will make subs at home. Subways selection is limited as does not look appetizing.

  12. SOhp101 says:

    It’s really amazing how Subway has constructed a healthy/better for you image and that nearly everyone believes it. Truth is if you do want the sandwich to be “healthy” in terms of # of calories, get only the 6″, don’t get any condiments, and don’t get cheese.

    I like every meal to be 1000+ calories, thank you very much.

  13. VeryFancyBunny says:

    I don’t go to Subway that often, but when I do I find I’m pretty good at predicting people’s orders. Chances are that if someone orders a 6-inch turkey sub on wheat bread, no cheese, no mayo, they’re quite likely to get a bag of full-fat chips, a non-diet soda, and a couple of cookies to accompany their “healthy” sandwich.

    My main trouble with Subway is that their bread’s not whole-grain. That 12-inch hunk o’ flour looks like a lot of food, and feels like a lot of food right after you’ve eaten it, but your body processes it quickly, like sugar, and by mid-afternoon you’re hungry again.

    Also, last time I went there, the tomatoes were green.

  14. UpsetPanda says:

    @blue_duck:

    It’s also the microwaving that doesn’t do it for me. I haven’t been to SUbway in more than two years (got sick last time I went, vowed never to go again) but when I was there, ordering the bacteria-infested chicken that sidelined by vacation, they melted cheese by putting it on the bread and the bread in the microwave.

    “Fresh” food that needs to be warmed up in the microwave? Goodness, I can go home and reheat last night’s leftovers if that’s the kind of food that I’m paying for. And I’ve already paid for last night’s leftovers!

  15. amoeba says:

    Good thing that I crave for a Subway Once in a while, maybe every two – three months. I usually go before heading to the gym, so I will burn all the calories. So, now I am skeptical about, How many calories Am I consuming without the triangle cheese and dressing? I always wonder about that…Besides, one of my brothers eat there almost every week, last time I saw him, he gained some weight. No more Subway for me!

  16. Amy Alkon000 says:

    Fat isn’t bad for you. Eating small portions of food with fat in it is actually quite healthy and fills you up. I learned how to eat from going to France — small portions of high-nutrient, very good quality food.

    I eat mainly meat/fish/cheese and vegetables, and little starch or sugar. I eat butter, oil, and never anything that’s low-fat or fat-free, which is like eating non-food, and which will leave you hungry about 20 minutes after eating it. Why bother?

    Learning to figure out when you’re hungry and only eating when you are and stopping when you’re full is a big part of it. (Trust me, your food won’t be insulted. In America, I get stuff wrapped up all the time, and tell the waitress to tell the chef I liked it; I’m just not a big eater.)

    If I ate at Subway, I’d probably eat half a six-inch sub and a bag of chips. And about half a coke or a very small coke. If you eat much more, I’m guessing a longshoreman or a woman with a really big fat ass.

  17. Mary says:

    A new study? This information was in Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. That came out about a year ago. Fascinating book actually, I recommend it.

  18. killavanilla says:

    Here’s a shocker – a 1000 calorie meal from subway has the same number of calories as a 1000 calorie meal from McDonalds.
    Thanks for studying that.
    Yeah. eating right is about portion control, which is where most people have an issue.
    If you want to lose weight, eat less and excercise more. If you want to be a fatty McPig, eat loads of big mac’s with extra sauce and the supersized fried (and a large McPlastic shake).
    Here is a good meal at Subway:
    6 inch turkey with extra meat, no mayo and everything else. One bag of baked lays and a diet coke. You should be full and it’s way healthier than eating at the clowns house.

  19. UpsetPanda says:

    I guess it helps for me that I’m not a big chips person, so I generally won’t buy chips anywhere I go. Does anyone know the nutritional content of the veggies at Subway, considering they sit out in the open for a full half hour to hour before they open. Even if you are the first customer after they open, are the veggies just put it the fridge from last night and reused? Any Subway workers want to shine some light on this?

  20. Techguy1138 says:

    It boils down to heath education. Most people just don’t know any better. So a few news stories and well placed ads are all it takes.

    I went to good schools, NY public, and know quite a bit about food, health, and exercise.

    Honestly America needs a good public health campaign that actually educates them on what is healthy. A few billboards that say “Stave your child so they don’t get obese” won’t do it.

    I don’t think that everyone is stupid or uncaring about health, they just don’t know they need to.

    If people don’t want to eat healthy that is fine but they should be equipped with the knowledge to do so if they choose.

  21. Beerad says:

    I really don’t understand all the Subway-hate. I like them a lot. Sure, I think it’s gross that they microwave their chicken, but you know the solution? DON’T ORDER THE CHICKEN. As for them “fooling” people that they’re a healthy place to eat? Well, they can be a healthy place to eat. It’s not Subway’s fault that people want to order the 12-inch meatball sub with extra cheese.

    I like the fact that there’s a fast food place where you can actually order a nomal menu item that’s reasonably good for you. Take it easy on the mayo, folks, and load up on those veggies.

    Sure, spokesguy Jared can be annoying, but when’s the last time someone told you about how they lost a ton of weight on the McDonald’s diet?

  22. drjayphd says:

    @killavanilla: Or better yet, skip the drink and just get water. May not save much on calories, but at least there’s less processed crap going in.

  23. UpsetPanda says:

    Anything you can save on, whether it’s money or calories, by drinking water is better. When I’m at a restaurant, unless I need a major caffeine fix (and order coffee) I order water. Not only is it free (or should be), it is healthier for you than anything else on a typical menu.

    The subway sentiment can be seen when it comes to smoothie places. It’s fruit, it’s yogurt, it MUST be healthy for you. But the fruit isn’t always fresh, and it’s not always sweet either, and sometimes it’s in sugary juices and just because it looks like fruit doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of artificial sugar.

  24. @MissJ: Water or Ice Tea, both are usually unlimited. You figure one 12 oz soda is 300 calories or so, which is 10% of a person’s diet (for most americans). When my doctor pointed that out when I was proudly saying I cut down to “1 soda” a day, I shut up and stopped drinking them. Then again, I think its the salt and sugar I taste on fast food.