Diners get a look at nutritional contents
It’s lunch time. Do you know where the caloric content in your pasta carbonara is hiding?
Chances are if you’re dining at a major chain restaurant, that scary piece of information can be found on the back of the menu.
The Foodfacts.com Blog has learned that California is the first state to adopt menu-labeling legislation, which was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger two years ago.
Under the law, restaurant chains with more than 20 locations will be required to print nutritional information – such as calories and grams of saturated fat – on menus and menu boards by 2011.
But many food proprietors, including Macaroni Grill and concession stands at the AMC Theaters, have jumped the gun, posting the figures well ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline.
Boston’s manager Richard Tess garnishes the steak and broccoli dish in Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday. Boston’s is one of several restaurants involved with the city’s Healthy RC Dining program. (John Valenzuela/Staff Photographer)
Lila Fettig, who was heading into a Rancho Cucamonga P.F. Chang’s for a weekday lunch, welcomed the move.
“The more information available, the smarter you are,” she said.
An increasing number of lawmakers nationwide are mulling legislation to require food facts printed on menus as a response to consumer demands and as a measure to curb the obesity epidemic. With at least a dozen states and regions following California’s lead, and with a provision in the national health care reform bill also requiring such labels, it’s highly likely that diners across the country will soon know the calorie count to every bite.
“I don’t think it’s too oppressive,” said Richard Tess, manager of the Rancho Cucamonga Boston’s. “It’s for the better good of the eating population, which is all of us.”
With just three locations in the state, Boston’s is not required to print nutritional facts on the menu but provides the information on request. The restaurant, a beer and pizza kind of place, boasts a healthy section on its menu, which contains six entrees under 650 calories and 15 grams of fat.
Boston’s, along with seven other restaurants, are part of Rancho Cucamonga’s Healthy RC dining program, an initiative that promotes and markets eateries offering low-calorie items.
Many other Inland Valley cities are also on the healthy bandwagon, offering walking clubs and planning community gardens. The Healthy Fontana initiative offers residents incentives when they track their veggie consumption and exercise routines.
In Montclair, the Por La Vida program trains Latinas to make healthy lifestyle changes and encourages participants to pass the lessons on to the neighborhood.
But it remains to be seen whether these get-fit efforts and menu labeling laws will make a discernible difference in Americans’ infamous eating habits.
In a study published last year in the Health Affairs journal comparing New York, the first city to enact labeling laws, to nearby Newark, N.J., researchers found just 27 percent of those surveyed were influenced by the labels when they made food choices. Furthermore, researchers found the nutrition facts made no changes to calorie consumption.
Fettig, who dines out regularly, said she and her husband regularly use the nutrition information as a guide. Jim Fettig said the information has steered him away from several chicken entrees at T.G.I. Friday’s and Applebee’s because he learned the sauces turned the normally lean meat into a fattening dish.
Oftentimes, nutrition facts can stun even the most informed diner.
If you think you should limit your red meat consumption and opt for the healthier chicken breast, consider the fixings and condiments.
A steak and broccoli meal at Boston’s, at under 15 grams of fat, would be a sensible choice. But a pasta carbonara with chicken at the Cheesecake Factory will set you back with 85 grams of saturated fat.
That plate of pasta – along with dishes from California Pizza Kitchen, Outback Steakhouse and others – made the Xtreme Eating Awards list put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that has been pushing menu-labeling legislation since 2003.