Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Menu Nutrition Information – Are You Reading and Using It?

Menu Nutrition Information – Are You Reading and Using It?

I was quite thrilled when many restaurants began voluntarily including nutrition information about their food on the menu.

Not everyone was as happy as I was, of course.

Then again, I’m a dietitian.

Some people don’t want to think about the not so good, or even the good, information that they might read about on some of their favorite menu items at their local restaurants.

However, as this information is more readily available, as we learn how to use the information we read and then realize the impact it can have on our health, I think more people will be as happy as I am.

We can truly become health empowered, with more information and transparency, about the food we eat.

Why Worry, You Say

Why not eat whatever you want when you are dining out and worry about eating healthier items when you are home? Why can’t we splurge or just enjoy? We are, after all, supposed to be having a good time.

Certainly we can stop worrying about the calories, fat or salt on the menu when dining out is an occasional treat. But when eating out becomes the norm instead of the treat in our lives, it could be time to worry.

Many very busy people and families find themselves eating lunch out daily or dining out at dinner more times a week than they cook at home. This is the scenario when the consequences of our nutritional choices become a health concern.

Some other people think we are putting too much emphasis on one nutrient, such as salt or fat, and not looking at foods as just healthy in total. When we make healthy choices we should be covered right?

That way of thinking could be problematic for people who have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or other chronic medical conditions. Being aware of nutritional facts even when they dine out so that they can make their own best choices based on their individual needs would greatly benefit the management of their chronic medical condition.

Worrying about the facts could keep them well. It can also help those who are trying to prevent chronic health conditions too.

If it is important for nutrition facts to be on the foods we buy from the supermarket, why should it be any less important for that information to be available on the foods we purchase in restaurants, fast food places or other types of dining establishments?

Consumers’ Needs Meet Nutrition Facts

The first step in becoming healthier through making better food choices is getting the facts. The more information we have, the easier it will be to make nutritious choices.

It would be easier for me to choose between two or three menu items that appeal to me if I had some nutrition data available to point me in the healthiest direction.

I personally don’t use salt on my food. The taste of too much salt in the food I select keeps me from enjoying it and oftentimes even eating it. If I knew which foods on the menu were lowest in sodium, it would make my choice easier (and healthier), not to mention possibly better control my blood pressure.

Other restaurant goers may be on Weight Watchers and trying count their daily points. Instead of guessing at which food might have the points they need to meet their point budget for the day, they will be armed with real information.

Of course, we need to trust that the information we are given is accurate and the chef of the day isn’t creating a recipe version that doesn’t correspond with the posted nutritional information.

Many restaurant chains have added nutritional information to their menus and have even reformulated some of their recipes in hopes of making them more nutritionally desirable in advance of the mandated rule that chains larger than 15 locations include this information on the menu beginning December 2016.

Do We Adjust Our Selections Based on Nutrition Facts? Survey Says…

Unfortunately, many of us are not paying a great deal of attention to the nutrition facts being added to menus across the country, according to a recent study.

Two studies were just published in the journal of Health Affairs reflecting consumers are not choosing different items to lower their calorie intake when calories per serving data is on the menu.

Researchers at New York University School of Medicine found only a small number of consumers in fast-food outlets ordered lower-calorie foods when given nutritional facts.

It seems that only about half of those surveyed even read the information provided. Ugh!

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this study was conducted only in fast food restaurants, which could mean many people who frequent these types of restaurants might not focus on nutrition anyway. In these restaurants, convenience may be trumping nutrition.

What would the results be in sit down restaurants with a larger variety of healthy food choices and meals prepared by chefs who are capable of making high quality, delicious foods that are healthy too? I think the results may be different – I hope so anyway.

Good News for Diners

Researchers found that restaurant chains that have voluntarily included nutrition facts on the menu served more food items with lower average calories, as much as 120 calories per item, than those chains who have yet to disclose their nutrition facts.

Seemingly without trying, consumers will benefit from the coming nutritional labeling of restaurant chain menus because the restaurants themselves are giving us better choices from the start.

Having this information on the menu will certainly help consumers who have a medical diet to follow, a weight loss goal, or a desire to eat healthier foods.

Kids may also be positively affected with nutritional information on the menu, according to another study conducted by researchers at Tufts University. They found that parents will order healthier kids’ options when they have more information, as well as healthier choices such as fruit instead of fries.

It may be helping us all, whether we seek it or not. I, for one, can’t wait to see every menu give me the nutritional facts I crave so I can maintain my health goals, no matter where I dine. I hope you will join me!

 

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