After years of political wrangling, menu labeling will finally begin December 1 of this year. All restaurants, similar retail food establishments and vending machines with 20 or more locations must provide calorie information on menus and menu boards. This includes food facilities in entertainment venue chains such as movie theaters and amusement parks, and also alcoholic beverages served in the covered food establishments and listed on the menu. Consumers, as noted on menus and menu boards, must also be provided, upon request, written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein. The menu labeling mandate is a part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care).
So why do we need calorie labeling? Studies have shown that 9 out of 10 people underestimate restaurant meals by 200-600 calories. Even registered dietitians did poorly when surveyed about calories in meals eaten outside of the home.
I had a patient that was at risk for heart disease and thought he was doing well by eating a Cobb Salad at Panera Bread. After all it was a salad and Panera is known for healthy options right? Unfortunately this Cobb Salad had some extras besides vegetables to get the fat grams up to 39 and sat fat to 10 grams (more than ½ of what you should have daily on a 2,000 calorie diet). Not to mention the sodium which was about ½ a day’s worth.
When doing a seminar for the North Little Rock Police Department I used a couple of examples from the International House of Pancakes’ (IHOP) menu, knowing that they often eat at places like that for breakfast. How they managed to put 81 grams of fat and 28 grams of saturated fat (2 ½ days’ worth) into their Spinach and Mushroom Omelet, and almost as much in their Garden Omelet, is a mystery. Not to mention three times the dietary cholesterol and over ½ the sodium allotment for a day. I wonder what things grow in IHOP’s garden?
Oh and try to stay within your daily nutrition goals after consuming Carino’s Chicken Scaloppini with 3135 calories, 235 grams of fat, 130 grams saturated fat (more than 6 ½ days’ worth!), 775 mg cholesterol (almost 3 days’ worth) and 2441 mg sodium (more than a day’s worth). Unfortunately I could go on and on with examples, but suffice it to say eating our can be a dietary disaster if we’re not careful.
Restaurants have fought menu labeling for years, and it’s easy to see why. I believe (and hope!) we’ll see commercial food research and development divisions hard at work between now and December 1 to get new, good-tasting, low-calorie items on the menu. Bon appetit!
(Sources: FDA: Final Rules on Menu and Vending Machine Calorie Labeling, November 25, 2014; and FDA Internet article:Overview of FDA Labeling Requirements for Restaurants, Similar Retail Food Establishments and Vending Machines, July 9, 2015 )