A year from now when you dine out, you’ll be seeing just how many calories you’re ordering up with that muffin, salad or drink, thanks to the just released final FDA guidance for menu labeling. If you live in places like New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and California, you already see this information, but these new rules – part of the Affordable Health Care Act – are the first national standards for menu labeling.
The requirements mean that any restaurant, concession stand, bakery or other eating venue with 20 or more locations will need to post calorie counts on their menu. Other nutrient information, such as saturated fat, carbohydrates, fiber and protein, will need to be available upon request.
Some national restaurants have already started to do this. Enforcement for everyone begins in May 2017.
This is an important tool for cancer prevention because Americans eat at least one-third of their meals away from home – usually with more calories than meals at home. With eleven cancers now linked to obesity, this information can help Americans choose healthy, moderate calorie meals more often and help prevent over 130,000 cases of cancer every year in the US.
If you are already motivated and trying to focus on getting to or staying a healthy weight, calorie counts can help you stay on track and know what you’re actually getting. It’s tough without that information. For example, when you’re looking to choose a healthy meal, you might choose a salad, chicken dish and a small dessert. But at one popular Italian style restaurant, here’s what you’d be getting at dinner:
- Citrus Chicken – 560 calories
- Salad with dressing – 140 calories
- Chocolate Mousse mini dessert – 290 calorie
At 990 calories, that’s half of the standard 2000 daily calories – and likely more than you’d want if you’re working toward a healthy weight.
And it’s not just restaurant meals. That bucket of popcorn you get at the movie theater may seem healthy – popcorn’s a whole grain! But even if you skip the butter, a medium bucket of popcorn packs about 800 calories. Add a soft drink and you’ll easily be at 1000 calories for a “snack” while you take in this summer’s blockbuster.
If you’re eating away from home several times a week, these high calorie meals and snacks can really add up. However, if you’re dining out less than once a week and making smart choices at home, you can enjoy a splurge special occasion meal now and then.