When ordering lunch earlier today, I noticed that the calories of each menu item were prominently displayed - a new thing for this particular restaurant. (That frothy, refreshing coffee drink that I treated myself to? Um, 550 calories.) So I read with interest a Los Angeles Times story on the growing number of restaurants detailing nutritional information for their customers - something that may soon be required by the FDA - and offering more health-conscious options:
Chains are scrambling to rework consumer favorites so they have fewer calories, and they are redesigning menus so that high-calorie items are balanced out by more-healthful options.
IHOP took its standard bacon-and-eggs breakfast, with 1,160 calories, and developed a version with turkey bacon and egg whites that has just 350 calories. Panera Bread Co., worried that customers would balk at sandwiches with more than 1,000 calories, cut back on mayonnaise, salami and bread. Starbucks Corp. launched a line of tiny cakes and mini donuts.
"We're going into a new era," said Anita Jones-Mueller, a nutrition consultant who works with restaurants to slim down their menu offerings. "Never before have calories been on every chain restaurant menu in the United States. It's a game changer."
Seeing the calorie count of my drink admittedly didn't cause me to change my order today. (Please don't judge.) But writer Sharon Bernstein reports that nutritional information can at times steer people to better choices:
Nutrition scientists say the few studies conducted so far show most people make modest changes, if any, when confronted with calorie counts on menus. Starbucks customers in New York, for example, reduced their consumption by about 6% after the city began requiring calorie information in 2008, according to a Stanford University study.
The overall caloric reduction may not seem like much, but it's a significant change, said Margo Wootan, a nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Averaged over the entire population, "the obesity epidemic is probably explained by about 100 calories per person per day," she said.