How many times have you gone into a restaurant and ordered a meal that sounds reasonably healthy, only to check the nutrition information online afterwards and discovered that you consumed over 1,500 calories within the space of a couple hours?
One problem with deciphering restaurant menus is that there are no regulations on phrases that restaurants can and cannot use on their menus. Everything from “lightly sauteed,” “grilled” and “baked” can have healthy implications… but do they mean that the meal is implicitly healthy?
Most restaurants use liberal amounts of oil, butter and salt in their recipes in order to make them particularly palatable to the taste buds. These ingredients can be added anywhere along the line of cooking. For example, an appetizer might say that it is baked, but if it’s cheese stuffed inside pastry, it’s likely going to be very high in fat and calories. Just because an item is grilled, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been brushed generously with oil. Restaurant portion sizes tend to also be two to four times the size as an actual serving size, contributing to even more calories.
Appetizers in some chain restaurants have been known to run upwards of 1,200 calories a piece. Add on an entree, a dessert, and a fancy beverage, and you could easily consume anywhere between 1,500 calories and 3,500. The average person needs no more than 2,000 calories in a single day.
It gets trickier if you choose to avoid chain restaurants and instead frequent local restaurants. These establishments often use ingredients that are local and generally healthier, but their nutrition information is not listed online, especially since their recipes often vary on a daily basis.
Including a nutrition facts table for every item on a restaurant menu should be mandatory so that consumers can walk into restaurants and make a healthy choice based on the information provided to them. Even to the educated consumer, it can take a lot of guess work to determine if their meal has 400 or 1,400 calories in it. Chain restaurants are able to include nutrition information on their website and it therefore should be a simple matter to include it on the menu, even as just a single line depicting calories, fat, protein content etc. For local restaurants, there are ways to determine the nutrition content of the food, such as visiting the Dietitians of Canada website and their Recipe Analyzer. Ingredients and secret recipes could thus be protected; only the nutrition facts table information would be provided.
How do you feel about restaurants and nutrition information? Does it frustrate you that this information is unavailable at the restaurant? Would it bother you if it were on every menu? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
This post was originally published at www.thefoodlabelmovement.org.