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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Dessert Calories   (August 14, 2010)

I ate at a chain restaurant the other day and was pleasantly surprised that their dessert menu listed the calories for each selection. For example: the Italian Sorbetto was listed as having 150 calories; the Vanilla Gelato, 210; etc., etc. The most calorific was the Lemon Passion Cake ("Citrus cake in sweet cream lightly topped with lemon mousse and whipped cream") at 570 calories. It was sort of fun, trying to choose a dessert based not only on name and the glorious verbal overload (the chocolate cake was "drizzled with homemade ganache") (what in the world is "ganache," and in whose home was it made?), and price, but also based on the calorie level.

The restaurant was Romano's Macaroni Grill, which I'll call RMG for short. The next day, I was in another chain restaurant, which also had its own dessert menu, but no calorie levels were listed. I really felt cheated...

In preparation for this essay, I decided to do a bit of dessert calorie research (on the internet, not by sampling the products!). First, I went to RMG's website. I found that they have a complete listing of calories, sat fat, sodium, and carbs on-line, not only for their desserts, but what appears to be their complete menu. Hurrah for them! And all the desserts listed at RMG's website corresponded exactly, both in name and calorie count, to what was on the printed dessert menu.

Then I started looking at some other websites claiming to have nutrition information for desserts; I particularly looked for info on desserts made by RMG. I found some, and became very rapidly very disappointed.

At one independent website, calorie count (CC), several RMG desserts were listed that shared the same or similar names to what's on the dessert menu I reviewed, but the calories weren't: Tiramisu on the dessert menu was 430 calories - but at CC, RMG's tiramisu was described as having over twice as many calories: 1000. Chocolate cake, on the RMG dessert menu, was 540 calories; at CC, it was 1180 calories for one serving of what was perhaps a different chocolate cake - this one was "smothered". Yet 1180 calories at the CC website was low compared to the 1580 calories for RMG's smothered chocolate cake at another website, The Daily Beast (TDB), at a section depressingly called 40 Desserts That Can Kill You.

How could these websites come up with these differing numbers? The RMG's website clearly specifies how they came up with theirs: "The nutrition information provided is comprised of data from independent testing facilities commissioned by Romano's Macaroni Grill combined with results from ESHA Genesis Nutritional Software. This listing is updated periodically to reflect the current status of products."

But the independent websites were vague about how they arrived at their conclusions.

I can't find any information at CC about how they arrived at the calorie or other information that they provide. They do have an impressive-looking "Nutrition Facts" table at each entry of their database, but they don't say from where they got the very detailed information: it clearly wasn't from RMG's website, as they include data such as fiber, and protein which aren't listed at RMG.

TDB said "We ran the nutritional value numbers of dessert offerings ... across the four categories available for each eatery: calories, saturated fat, sodium, and carbohydrates" But they don't say where they got the numbers for "nutritional value information."

Did RMG honestly indicate the calorie and other nutrition information? Or did they for some reason underestimate them -- if they did, they surely are running a risk that someone will find out and there will be egg on their face (or smothered chocolate cake perhaps). Or did the other two websites for some reason overinflate the reported calorie levels? I have no way of knowing.

But I do know that it was nice to be able to compare desserts by calorie levels as well as by price. In the end, I chose to forego dessert.

Hmmm, maybe knowing the calorie levels scared me off.

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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