Calorie counting is the foundation of weight loss for many. It’s simple: create an overall calorie deficit, determined by your weight, and your body will shred pounds over time.

However, keeping track of your calorie intake is dependent on nutrition labels and numbers declared on restaurant menus and websites. But how accurate are these listings?

The Food and Drug Administration allows a 20 percent margin for packaged foods; and underweight packages can incur penalties for manufacturers, which may cause many to add a little extra just to be safe. In turn, this may cause you to consume more than you’re counting.

In a short documentary for the New York Times’ opinion section, filmmaker Casey Neistat explores calorie counts in an attempt to determine if we can truly rely on numbers supplied by manufacturers and restaurants.

Neistat enlists the help of two food scientists from the New York Obesity Research Center to test the accuracy of calorie counts supplied by nutrition labels and restaurants. He chose five items he’s likely to consume on a typical day in New York: a convenience store muffin, a Starbucks Frappuccino, a pre-packaged vegetarian sandwich, a Chipotle burrito, and a Subway sandwich.

After going through the process of accurately testing each item, it’s no wonder the government uses the honor code for nutritional values. The results, which took over an hour per product using a calorimeter, were as follows:

  • Grandpa’s Original Banana Nut Muffin – Declared Calories: 640 | Actual Calories: 734.7
  • Subway 6″ Turkey Sandwich – Declared Calories: 360 | Actual Calories: 350.8
  • Starbucks Grande Frappuccino – Declared Calories: 370 | Actual Calories: 392.9
  • Spicy Power-fu Salad Sandwich – Declared Calories: 228 | Actual Calories: 548.4
  • Chipotle Barbacoa Burrito – Declared Calories: 1175 | Actual Calories: 1295

Calorie Detective Discrepancy

Neistat stated that this isn’t conclusive evidence because he only tested one of each product, but with a declared total of 2773 calories and an actual total of 3321 calories, dieters should take the inaccuracy of declared amounts into account when counting calories.

And perhaps choose a Subway sandwich over everything else.

The full documentary, called “Calorie Detective,” can be found on the New York Times’ website.