Does the number of calories on restaurant menus make meals healthier?

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“A lot of that, in my opinion, is due to the fact that people are familiar with fast or fast food restaurants,” Diekman said. “They know what they like. They believe in what they order. So they’re happy with what’s there and they’ll buy it no matter what it says on the calorie label.”

But the new dishes offered after the labeling went into effect contained an average of 113 calories less, or about 25% less than the calories of food introduced before the request, the researchers reported.

“This suggests that the labeling law potentially leads to consumers having more low-calorie options,” Grummon said.

All in all, the discoveries are encouraging for Diekman, who sees it as restaurants slowly leading their visitors towards healthier diet.

“It will slowly introduce it to consumers,” Diekman said of healthier food options. “It’s exciting because they’re not trying to get people to do it. They’re going to walk with consumers and help them change.

“Behavior change is a process. It’s not an overhaul. They didn’t jump in and try to scare the consumer, but at the same time they recognized their opportunity and responsibility,” she continued.

Grummon believes many people who eat out use calorie data.

“I think the transparency provided by calorie labels is really helpful to consumers,” Grummon said. “These labels give consumers information about food they could order that was not easy to access before the law. People can decide how they want to use that information to achieve their health goals.”

People who want to eat out in a healthier way should pre-check the restaurant’s menu online and find a handful of foods that look tasty and less caloric, Diekman said. This way you will be aware of the more nutritious options available to you when you order.

You should specifically look for menu items labeled “new item” or “seasonal option,” as this study shows they are more likely to be lower in calories, Diekman said.

“Look at it as a process. I’ll try it today, see how I like it, and then decide whether to try another new item next time or go back to my favorite,” Diekman said.



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