Restaurant Menus Now Include Calorie Counts

If you’ve eaten at a restaurant in the last few months, you have likely noticed something new on the menu. In May, the Food and Drug Administration set in place a policy that requires chain restaurants to clearly list the calorie count of food items.

This mandate overturns a law from the 1990s that exempted restaurants from nutrition-labeling requirements, according to the Harvard Law Review. This change was made in hopes of inspiring consumers to make more informed choices when they eat out and to encourage restaurants and food retailers to offer healthy options.

So, where will you see this change implemented? You’ll see it at:

  • Sit-down restaurant menus
  • Drive-thru restaurants
  • Take-out restaurants, like pizza
  • Foods ordered from a menu/menu board at a grocery store
  • Self-serve foods, such as a salad bar
  • Bakery displays at bakeries and coffee shops
  • Movie theaters
  • Amusement parks
  • Ice cream shops
  • Certain alcoholic beverages
  • Foods and beverages prepared in convenience stores or warehouse stores
  • Particular vending machines
  • Coffee shops

To help us understand why this change was made, we reached out to Dr. Fadi Aramouni, Professor of Food Science at Kansas State University.

Do you think that adding the calorie counts to menus will help consumers make smarter food choices?
Aramouni: “Yes. I know that all members of my family now check [the calorie counts] before ordering.”

What should a normal meal look like? Is there anything that I should be looking out for?

Dr. Aramouni: “There is no ‘normal meal’ as such. It is the total diet that counts. When selecting your meals, follow the dietary guidelines for Americans released by the USDA, the MyPlate messages:”

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Focus on whole fruits.
  • Vary your veggies.
  • Make half your grains whole grains.
  • Move to low-fat and fat-free milk or yogurt.
  • Vary your protein routine.
  • Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.

Okay, now I have a better idea of what I should be eating, but how many calories should I be consuming?

Dr. Aramouni: “Well, it depends on your activity level.  For the majority of people leading a sedentary lifestyle, [they should not consume] more than 2,000 a day.”

When it comes to knowing how many calories you’ve consumed, Dr. Aramouni suggests reading the labels and maintaining a tracker of your caloric intake. If you’re worried about homemade meals, you may need to either approximate the amount of calories you’ve consumer, or search the internet for the number of calories in certain dishes.

Besides assisting in making healthier choices, what else does the calorie count tell me about my food?
Dr. Aramouni: “Be sure to look at the nutrients in the food to find out what the source of the calories is to make sure you are not consuming ‘empty calories’. Empty calories are, for example, all are coming from sugar and there are no vitamins and minerals. There is no nutritional value to these sorts of foods.”

With all of the up-and-coming food trends, Dr. Aramouni states that the biggest trend he anticipates are plant-based “meats” – which has been covered extensively in the news as of lately.

Calorie counts were added to menus to encourage consumers to make wiser choices when it comes to choosing what they eat. If you are interested in tracking your calories, we encourage you to give it a shot to see how it goes.

Has the calorie listing on restaurant menus affected your food choices?

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