The responses were averaged and compared with scientific figures, revealing that respondents struggled to come close to accurate estimates across all categories and types of food from a McDonald’s cheeseburger to a glass of milk.
You may think you’re familiar with the nutritional value of your favorite foods, but a new study warns that’s probably not the case.
A survey asked more than 1,000 Americans to estimate the nutritional value of common foods and beverages including calories, protein, carbohydrates, sugar and fat.
The obesity epidemic costs the US $200 billion annually in medical costs for conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, which are some of the leading preventable causes of death.
More than one-third of Americans have obesity and if rates continue to grow at their current pace, that number will be around 50 percent in the next decade, creating urgency in the health community to get the epidemic under control.
More than 1,000 Americans were asked to estimate the nutritional value of common foods and beverages including calories, protein, carbohydrates, sugar and fat. The estimates for calorie count are shown above in relation to the actual figures
Calories are the most common metric used to describe an item’s nutritional value in everyday conversation.
In this study by InsuranceQuotes.com, people overestimated the calorie count of the items by 79 calories on average.
Guesses were least accurate when evaluating healthier foods, whose calorie count was usually underestimated.
For example, the average estimate for a cup of almonds was 163 calories, 660 lower than the actual 827 calories.
Similarly avocados were estimated to be 148 calories, less than half of the actual 322 calories.
With carbohydrates, respondents overestimated by 15 grams on average and had wider margins with unhealthy foods such as pizza and donuts.
The McDonald’s cheeseburger had the widest margin of error, with people estimating 174.5 grams compared with the actual figure of 33 grams.
The second-widest margin of error was in the opposite direction with the cup of granola, which was estimated to have 27 grams of carbohydrates but actually has nearly triple that amount with 80.4 grams.
CARBOHYDRATES: Respondents overestimated the amount of carbs by 15 grams on average and had wider margins with unhealthy foods
People also overestimated the fat content of the items by an average of 13 grams overall, with the exception of nuts and avocados whose content was underestimated.
The average guess for a cup of almonds was 13.8 grams, but in reality the nuts have a very high fat content of 72.4 grams, the highest of all the items listed.
Two of the most surprising estimates were for the vodka shot and can of Coke, both of which do not have any grams of fat but were estimated at 24.4 and 15.4 grams respectively.
FAT: Respondents overestimated the amount of fat in the items by 13 grams on average
Protein was overestimated by six grams on average but there was an even six to six split between items that were overestimated versus underestimated.
The can of Coke and vodka shot had the widest margins with 20.5 and 18.9 respectively despite neither having any protein at all.
The cheese pizza and cup of almonds both have more than double the amount of protein estimated.
PROTEIN: Protein was overestimated by six grams on average but there was an even six to six split between items that were overestimated versus underestimated
For sugar content, estimates were 17 grams higher on average than the actual count.
The widest margin came from the glazed donut, which was estimated at 83.3 grams of sugar but actually has 12 grams.
The only two items that were underestimated for sugar content were the cup of almonds and glass of milk, both of which came within one gram of the real value.
SUGAR: Respondents overestimated sugar content by 17 grams on average
Respondents were also asked to estimate how many minutes of jogging they thought would be necessary to burn off each of the options.
When compared with official numbers, women tended to guess longer times than men.
For a cup of nuts, women guessed it would take a 40.5-minute jog to burn off the calories while men guessed it would take about 22.7 minutes. The actual time would about 75 minutes for women and 88 minutes for men.
The final metric that the survey measured was body confidence.
On average, people who were unhappy with their physical appearance more accurately guessed the calorie, carbs, fat, protein, and sugar contents of various foods – albeit not by much.
Those who were happy with their appearance more accurately guessed how much time it took to burn off certain foods.
Between men and women, women were better at estimating calorie counts and grams of fat while men were more accurate in estimating carbohydrates.
The most misunderstood items in each category
1. Cup of almonds
Estimate: 163 calories
Actual: 827 calories
Difference: 660 calories too low
2. Cup of granola
Estimate: 156.5 calories
Actual: 453 calories
Difference: 296.5 calories too low
3. McDonald’s cheeseburger
Estimate: 478.4 calories
Actual: 300 calories
Difference: 178.4 calories too high
1. McDonald’s cheeseburger
Difference: 141.5g too high
2. Cup of granola
Difference: 53.4g too low
3. Glazed donut
Difference: 33.5g too high
1. Cup of almonds
Difference: 58.6g too low
2. McDonald’s cheeseburger
Difference: 52.7g too high
3. Cheese pizza
Difference: 38.2g too high
1. Can of Coke
Difference: 20.5g too high
2. Vodka shot
Difference: 18.9g too high
4g too high
1. Glazed donut
Difference: 71.3g too high
2. Can of Coke
Difference: 28.1g too high
3. Plain bagel with cream cheese
Difference: 21.7g too high