The Calorie Detective


Are you a calorie-counter always on the go? Do you do your best watching how much food goes into your mouth even when you spend most of your time dining out? Do you pick your meals according to how much calories are suggested for said menu items? If so, you should beware!

In this interesting short documentary titled Calorie Detective, filmmaker and self-proclaimed “obsessive calorie-counter” Casey Neistat, reveals the truth behind those “predicted” calories labeled on most restaurant and fast-food chains (1). To help combat obesity, the New York City Department of Health requires most chain restaurants to “post calorie content on their menus and fine those that don’t comply” (1). This requirement is expanding nationwide thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

This COULD be an excellent reform, but unfortunately is not very effective due to one fact: no one checks the accuracy of these labels according to F.D.A. and the city’s health department. That’s right, technically a company could write down any number on their labels to better market their item and, as long as the numbers are within reason, none would be the wiser.

In his study, Neistat selects five items he consumes on an average day to be tested: a muffin, a tofu sandwich, a Subway sandwich, a Starbucks Frappuccino, and a Chipotle burrito. With the aid of two food scientists at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, they test each food for calorie content using a device called a bomb calorimeter. This process took more than an hour for each sample to provide the most precise information. These results may shock you.

One of the most surprising results comes from the tofu sandwich.  The spicy tofu sandwich is wrapped in a plastic printed with large pictures of vegetables and bright bold words suggesting how healthy the item is, such as vegan and kosher. Many people often fall victim to the these marketing ploys. According to the label, the sandwich contains only 228 calories. However, after going through the bomb calorimeter, the results revealed that the sandwich actually contained a whopping 548.4 calories. That’s about double the labeled calorie count. It is probably safe to assume that the other nutritional facts are inaccurate as well. This supposedly “healthy” vegan sandwich contains just as much calories as a McDonald’s 550 calorie Big Mac.

The only item that matched its labeled calorie count out of the five items that were tested was the Subway sandwich. Not only that, the actual calorie count for the Subway turkey sub was actually 10 calories short of the labeled 360 calories.

Though calorie-counting is not the be-all and end-all of obesity (as the contents of the calories one is consuming  are more if not just as important), it is both a fascinating and frightening idea that there is a large amount of unaccounted calories being consumed daily. Since the primary principle of losing weight is to burn more calories than you consume, this may illustrate why sometimes people don’t feel or show any progress when trying to slim down.

It is also impossible to make a conclusion about nutrition label inaccuracies among all restaurant and food chains based off the research found from five items. With all the rallying of the government to fight obesity, it brings to light the inadequacies of the current system.


1. Neistat, Casey. “Calorie Detective.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.