09 Mar

Nutrition information at restaurants

There’s a great article at Rudd Sound Bites regarding a topic near and dear to my heart: Healthy Choices and the Need for Menu Labeling. The author of the article (Marlene Schwartz) stopped in at a Panera Bread for a supposedly-healthy meal. Once Marlene found nutritional information for Panera’s meals, however, she received a rude surprise:

When I got home, I looked up nutrition information on a few different website to get a better sense of the calories in some typical lunches. I went on the McDonald’s website, looked up a Big Mac, and was stunned to see that it was only 540 calories and 29 grams of fat. I could have had that and a small fries (250 calories), and I would have still come in under the 800 calories of my supposedly healthy meal at Panera’s.

This is a problem that I’ve run into myself (for example, with Einsten Bros. Bagels Power Bagel). It’s very difficult to tell how healthy/unhealthy something may be just by looking at it, or by guesstimating the ingredients. Without access to nutrition information about the meals one is having, even an educated guess is impossible. It’d be almost more effective to order something at random.

It is possible to choose a meal that is more nutritious, of course. And I’d imagine that Marlene received many more vitamins and nutrients from her meal at Panera than she would have from a Big Mac combo meal. But nutritious meals need not come at the expense of calories. It’s possible to have a very nutritious meal for far fewer than 800 calories. Hell, it’s probably possible to do so at Panera Bread. But it’d be a whole lot easier to make smart choices if the nutrition information is front-and-center.

There are some restaurant chains that are working on this, or are actively providing nutrition information in an easy, convenient form. For example, Subway normally has signs up listing the nutritional information of their subs and their breads. Noodles & Company has brochures at the front of the store listing out information for each option. Other chains need to do the same thing.

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