Take Chipotle, for example, which seems to be one of the better options in the quick-service spectrum. Part of that perception comes from the calorie counts (well, ranges) posted proudly on its menu. The bottom end of each range comes in way lower than other fast food options, but, what do those numbers really mean? Where does the average person's order fall in the very wide chasm between the 350 and 970 calories in a Chipotle burrito?
A new study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that when it comes to making educated guesses on the calorie counts of our Chipotle orders, many of us are way, way off. Researchers from Duke University surveyed 326 Chipotle customers on what they ordered, and asked them to estimate the number of calories they were about to consume. And, on average, subjects underestimated the calorie content of their orders by 21%.
It doesn't help that places like Chipotle aren't exactly forthcoming about just what those ranges mean. For instance, the low end of the posted calorie range for a burrito is 350 calories — but that's for a burrito with only black beans. Your grilled chicken burrito with guacamole and brown rice, then, comes in at considerably more.
The study also found that when subjects were told what the extremes of the calorie ranges represented (the bean-only burrito at the low end, and a chicken/sour cream/cheese/guac-packed monster at the high end), they did noticeably better at correctly estimating where their orders fell on the spectrum.
Of course, as we've said before, a calorie count doesn't come close to accurately explaining the true nutritional value of what we're actually putting into our bodies. Considering how difficult it is to count calories accurately, especially in restaurants, maybe it's time to think more about what nutrients you're really getting and less about what is often a pretty arbitrary number. (Vox)