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Do Calories on Menus Really Help?

I read about the new law in New York City about listing calories directly on the menu in restaruants. While I prefer to have nutritional information readily available (i.e. calories, fat content, fiber), does anyone think this would actually make people make better decisions? My opinion is that people who care about calories will not order those items anyway and are not the target of such regulations. I think that the intended target will likely ignore or not understand the calorie count, defeating the purpose of the law. Plus, is it really possible to know the exact calories in each prepared dish?

Thoughts?

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  1. I don't think it is a terrible idea. I think people are sometimes oblivious as to what is actually healthy for them. People order the "healthy salad lunch" and forget about the additional items that will in fact make their nutritious meal not so great for them, like bacon or cheese or whatever it may be. Listing the calories certainly won't hurt anyone.

    1. I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to have them listed in their entirety. As a person who's made sacrifices food-wise to lose weight, I know there's days where you HAVE to splurge and knowing the caloric content would just ruin that escape.

      But Faraway has a great point. I've heard of restaurants serving 1000 calorie salds with 20 grams of fat, simply due to the stuff you don't think about. I think a compromise in casual restaurants might be to supply each table with a set of the calories, much like they do with specials (either as an insert or separate). That way the option is always present, but not necessarilly forcing you to pursue it. Then people who don't care and people who don't know will each be able to do as they wish.

      1. I think it's a good idea, although it might seem intrusive at fine dining restaurants. I have to say that once Baja Fresh started publishing their calorie counts, I never ate another burrito there. I'm saving my burrito calories for when I happen to be in the REAL burrito havens!

        12 Replies
        1. re: Chowpatty

          Same thing happened to me! I used to eat Chipotle a lot, too. Now, no more Baja Fresh or Chipotle. If I'm going to blow 1K+ cals on a burrito I'm going all out on a Carnitas super burrito with guac from a taqueria.

          1. re: Chowpatty

            I went to Baja Fresh for the first time in a long time yesterday and was shocked by the calorie content in their burritos. I opted for 2 fish tacos instead. I'm not a weight watcher but I find it disgusting that a burrito could contain that many calories. So....yes, I think requiring calories on the menu is a great idea. Maybe it'll get some of these chains to strategize on how to make healthier meals. I also think they should start advertising sodium content. I'm sure that info would be a shocker.

            1. re: yehfromthebay

              You do know they will just make smaller items...

              All nutrition information is available and has been for years, either from pamphlets they handout and/or posters on the walls and online.

              I don't understand why so many people are suddenly surprised. Oh wait. This is a thread from 2007...

              1. re: Cathy

                I don't understand it either, even without the nutrition information. It's like when there was that article on the calories in some of the big Starbucks drinks there a while back. Something loaded with cream and sugar and people think they're getting a light beverage?

                1. re: im_nomad

                  Maybe they don't think it's a light beverage but don't know how many calories are in one. I've never had one and have no idea how much cream they put in. I wouldn't have thought it's more than a whole meals worth of calories but it apparently is. And, that's the case with smoothie places, too--the ones I made at home are very healthy. I have no idea what each smoothie place does and what they put in them. I've been surprised at some of the counts. I know it's not a light drink, I just don't know how much it ends up.

                  1. re: im_nomad

                    You might not understand it, but unfortunately there are a lot of people out there that really don't realize how many calories things contain. My husband has only recently begun to realize how many calories some of his favorite foods contain. I think that deep down, they know the crap they are eating isn't healthy but when they reallly stop and look at how many calories something contains, it knocks them down.

                    We're both going to a personal trainer right now and have been logging our calories. He can't believe that the ice cream sundae he knew was unhealthy is actually so unhealthy that it has nearly an entire's day worht of calories in it. Some people want to be blissfully ignorant and i think for those people, when they are confronted with this information, it is a wake up call.

                    1. re: im_nomad

                      they may not think it's a light beverage, but they may not know that it contains enough calories and fat to sustain them for an entire day.

                      there's a difference between a 'little treat' and one that exceeds your entire daily caloric allotment.

                    2. re: Cathy

                      smaller items might not be a bad thing when the current ones have 1800 calories and 30 gms of fat

                      1. re: thew

                        I considered that a plus, as well.

                      2. re: Cathy

                        No, not all nutrition information has been available for years. Some chains have freely distributed the info while others have flat out refused to make it available (at least in states that haven't required it). Consumers have a right to know what is in the food their buying, both the ingredients and the nutrition break down. I'm not super excited about printing it on menus, but if it encourages chains to provide lower calorie options it's a good thing (even if it's just smaller portions). At the very least restaurants need to make nutrition information readily available at all locations.

                        1. re: Cathy

                          And the problem with making the items smaller is?

                          1. re: Cathy

                            2007 is still hard to believe all the fuss. I was on a calorie counting kick in the late '90s, and even then I could find nutritional info for most chain stuff I would hit up on the web - didn't even have to look in the stores themselves (but they were still typically there)

                      3. I think there's a happy medium. The info should be readily available - in a booklet on the table for sit-down places, on a big board for take-out - so the people who care can find it and not feel like killjoys for asking.

                        I'm always careful when eating in restaurants, but sometimes something that appears healthy can be the opposite - like "steamed veggies" drenched in fat and salt, or a lowfat pasta dish that's five times the right serving size. Having the nutrionals there gives you a reality check.

                        1. It's an excellent idea. Why? Well, even though it can only provide averages, it will help show much of the calories hidden from the eyes. Like the extra oil or butter that might go unnoticed by the untrained eye and tongue. It can help people determine how much of a serving they will actually eat, thus going a looong way to address the issue of portion control that is essential to both fine dining and health but that has been lost in much of American dining in the past 20 years.

                          And it is possible to create average calories (and nutrional info) per serving from any well-crafted recipe. I do it all the time, using a simple Excel spreadsheet into which I have embedded formulas. Cost=zero. For each component ingredient, provide the total weight in grams of fat, protein, alcohol sugars, carbs & fiber. Formulas will calculate total calories; determine portion size (and any well-run restaurant will carefully calibrate portion sizes to ensure its profit margin) and divide by the number of portions. Very simple indeed. And very informative.