Take Action To Inact Food Labels at Restaurants

As I’m on a restaurant diet (not spending money at restaurants) from January 3 to January 31, I have not had a chance to ask.  Yet, one of the things I want to know is how many calories, fat, protein, and carbs I am putting into my body.  I have stopped asking restaurants.  They just don’t know or don’t want to tell me.  It drives me crazy.  How can they not know?

Menus with Prices and Calories
Menus with Prices and Calories -- Image via: 'IMG_5691' http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/523359572

Sure, I have heard that restaurants and chefs want the creative license to change their menus based upon what food items are in season.  I’m all for that.  I think variety and creativity in a menu should be lauded.  Yet, with tools such as simpleweight and other online web based nutrition calculators, it is very easy for someone to enter a recipe and receive the nutrition value of a particular dish.

Why is it that we require canned and prepared food at grocery stores to have informative labels, but we do not require restaurants.

Let’s look at our food habits:  Take a look at these great photos from Time Magazine titled:  What the World Eats.  See any contrast between Americans diets and other countries?  Look at all the packaged and processed foods versus the green fresh vegetables and fruits of other diets.  It’s not just that, according to the National Restaurant Association magazine circa 2000, “An average of one out of five meals consumed by Americans — 4.2 meals per week — is prepared in a commercial setting, according to Meal Consumption Behavior — 2000,* a new National Restaurant Association report.”

I’m sure that number has gone up dramatically in the past ten years. (Its late, and I’m not in the mood to find more research on it.) We can tell just by the growth in the number of restaurants nearby.  Now, let me ask you, are restaurants and food manufacturers nonprofit companies?  Of course the answer is no.  They are out for a profit.  They want to maximize their income while minimizing their expenses.  The goal is not provide you with the most nutritious meal.  That’s just an after thought.  If they can, that’s great.  If not, oh well.

So, we’re not eating at home where the number of calories are more well-known.  We’re eating out at profit-centered restaurants.  Is it any wonder that Americans are becoming more unhealthy in their diet habits?  I’m all for more profits.  Restaurants are only going to make money if people show up, and people show up if they like the food.  Yet, there is a good way and a bad way to make the same thing.  They both can taste good yet have dramatically different nutritional values.

My feelings are that all restaurants no matter the size must publicly post on their menus the nutritional information.

Now, I know some of you may be thinking.  Wait a minute, Isn’t this just big government?  Won’t this just put restaurants out of business due to the added expense?  How can a chef be creative?

My thoughts are that a new restaurant economy will grow.  New nutritional consultants will grow to help chefs and restaurants shape their menus.  In fact, it is already happening.  New services and devices will be invented to help a restaurant dynamically adjust the calorie items on the menu.  It will happen if it was required.  Now, the question is does it help?

In other words,  if the calories are on the menu, will you eat less caloric dense food? Again the studies are mixed.  At a minimum, it does not hurt the consumer nor does it cause you to eat more food.

Here’s what NPR new article stated recently:

Whether disclosing calories on a menu will change consumer behavior remains the subject of contentious debate, but a new study supports the idea that it can: An analysis of 100 million transactions over 14 months at Starbucks by researchers at Stanford University showed that when calories were posted prominently, the average number of calories per transaction fell by 6 percent.

So, what can we do?  I suggest you write your Governor, your Senator, your local politicians, and your restaurant owners.  Implore them to add better nutritional labeling to their menus.
Here’s an example letter I found a while back at cspinet.org.

Subject: Please Support Menu Labeling

Dear [ Decision Maker ] (insert politician name here),

As your constituent, I urge you to establish regulations or support legislation to require all restaurants to list calories, saturated plus trans fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and protein on printed menus, and just calories on menu boards (where space is limited).

Although Americans eat out more than ever before, few restaurants provide nutrition information. As a result, we often are getting more calories, fat, and salt than we realize. This can be particularly problematic for people who watch what they eat to manage health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

Restaurant labeling regulations would give the citizens of our state an important new tool to help us eat well and maintain a healthy weight. It would provide information that would allow people to take responsibility for their own health and make more informed decisions for a significant and growing part of our diet. And limiting the requirement to chain restaurants would not burden independent restaurants.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Your Name.

You can help yourself eat better, by making better informed decisions. In order to do so, we need the information.  Please help in attaining the information.

Some links you might enjoy:

Become a fan of Menu Labeling at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Menu-Labeling/29002084021

http://www.cspinet.org/menulabeling/

http://takeaction.cspinet.org/CSPI/alert-description.html?alert_id=10171593

http://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2009/01/21/united_kingdom_to_post_calories_on_menus_too.php

http://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2008/11/21/calories_on_fast_food_menus_should_it_become_law.php