Did adding calorie counts to restaurant menus make meals healthier? Consumer Health News

TUESDAY, January 4, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Was it your New Year’s resolution to eat healthy? Try ordering a recently added menu item at your favorite chain of restaurants, rather than a longtime favorite.

That’s because newer dishes offered by large restaurant chains tend to contain fewer calories now that menus must list the calorie content of all items.

New research finds that menu items served after calorie labeling took effect in 2018 contain about 25% fewer calories on average than dishes served before labeling.

“It appears that the roll out of calorie labels nationwide has prompted restaurants to introduce lower-calorie items on their menus,” said Anna Gromon, senior scientist, a nutrition researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In Key Notes, researchers said a requirement in the US Affordable Care Act requires that restaurant chains with 20 or more US locations post the calorie content of prepared foods on menus along with the price of the item.

Previous research has found that people who eat out slightly reduced their calories — 4% to 6% on average — in response to the new labels, according to the paper.

But it wasn’t clear how the restaurant industry responded to labeling requirements, in terms of changing their menus and offering lower-calorie options.

In the study, Gromon and colleagues analyzed the calories of more than 35,300 menu items sold at 59 large chain restaurants in the United States between 2012 and 2019. The chains included names such as Qdoba, Chipotle, Burger King, IHOP and Dunkin Donuts, Kentucky said. Fried chicken.

The researchers found that restaurants did not change their formula for existing menu items in the face of calorie classification. According to the study published on December 30, the dishes that were on the menu earlier have the same calorie content from now on. JAMA network is open.

That didn’t surprise Connie Dickman, a food and nutrition consultant in St. Louis and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She said there is little pressure on restaurants to change the content and flavor of their always-popular offerings.

“A lot of that, in my opinion, is due to the fact that people are familiar with fast food restaurants or fast food restaurants,” Dickman said. “They know what they like. They trust what they’re asking for. So, they’re happy with what’s out there and they’ll buy it no matter what the calorie label says.”

But new dishes introduced after the menu labels went into effect tended to contain an average of 113 fewer calories, or about 25% less, than the calories of foods introduced before this requirement, the researchers reported.

“This suggests that the labeling law has the potential to lead to consumers having lower-calorie options,” Gromont said.

Finally, the results are encouraging for Dickman, who sees restaurants slowly gearing their patrons toward a healthy diet.

“They’re going to slowly introduce it to the consumer,” Dieckman said of healthy food choices. “This is exciting, because they are not trying to force people to squeeze their throats. They will walk with the consumer and help them change.

She continued, “Changing behavior is a process. It’s not a total reform. They didn’t jump in and try to scare the consumer, but at the same time they recognized their opportunity and their responsibility.”

Gromont believes that many people who eat out use the calorie information.

“I think the transparency that calorie labels provide is really helpful for consumers,” Gromont said. “These labels provide consumers with information about foods they might want to order that were not easily accessible before the law. People can decide how they want to use this information to achieve their health goals.”

Dickman said that people who want to eat out in a healthy way should check out their online restaurant menu beforehand and find a handful of items that sound delicious and are low in calories. This way, you’ll be aware of the nutritious options available to you when you place your order.

You should look, in particular, for menu items marked as a “new item” or a “seasonal option,” Dickman said, because this study indicates that those items are likely to be lower in calories.

“Look at it as a process,” Dickman said. “I’m going to try it today, see how I like it, and then decide if next time I want to try another new ingredient or go back to my favourites.”

She added that it’s a good idea not to overthink the calorie content of your restaurant meal if you’re eating out infrequently.

Occasionally, Dickman said, it’s okay to choose an item that has more calories than you normally eat. “The problem, of course, is when we do it every day,” she said.

more information

MenuStat contains calorie and nutrition information from nearly 100 restaurant chains.

SOURCES: Anna Gromon, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Connie Dickman, RD, Consultant Food and Nutrition, St. Louis, and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; JAMA network is openDecember 30, 2021

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