The nutrition-labeling mandate requiring restaurant chains to post calorie counts alongside menu items began a few years ago in New York City, and has spread to places like Massachusetts, California, Seattle, Portland and other areas. The impetus for these calorie count laws — despite opposition by restaurant and retail trade groups — was to battle the alarming obesity rates that plague the nation.
According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a study of major chain restaurants found 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurant foods averaged 18 percent more of the stated caloric values on menus. Additionally, frozen grocery store dinners had eight per cent more calories than the labels stated.
The study makes the startling revelation that “some individual restaurant items contained up to 200% of stated values and, in addition, free side dishes increased provided energy to an average of 245% of stated values for the entrees they accompanied.” In other words, side dishes at some restaurants had more calories than the entrees!
Julie Deardorff with the Chicago Tribune astutely points out that Susan Roberts, the research study’s lead lead investigator, came up with the idea for the study after a first-hand experience while researching her new book, The ‘I’ Diet, an instinctual approach to eating. When she cooked at home she lost weight. But when she ate the “same meals” at restaurants, she lost nothing.
“Dieting all day and losing no weight was very frustrating,” she said. “So when we saw restaurants and supermarkets really do give you more calories, I adjusted my no-cook menus to make them work.”
We recently reported that beginning this year over five thousand Sacramento county restaurants have banned artificial trans fats in restaurant food. The law was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger and will slowly phase out the use of trans fats in all California restaurants with the full effect of the ban effective on January 1, 2011.
But in view of the study cited above, California residents may never know if restaurants actually comply with the ban. Unless follow-up studies — similar to the one conducted by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association — are performed to guarantee compliance, there’s no way to enforce any of these legislative measures in the food service industry.