How a Menu Helps You Trim the Fat!

by DavalosMcCormack on January 5, 2010

Calories Counts on Menus Can Help You Avoid Overeating

I love New York, I really do!  So I was delighted when Kevin and I decided to take a trip to NYC just before the Holidays.  There is so much to see and experience.  New Yorkers are a hearty bunch and they can spot an out-of-towner like a skunk at a picnic!  I guess it’s the wide eyed look we had at all the fur coats, or how we cringed at the cold wet wind, or the fact that we marveled at the singers and musicians in the subway.  One lady from Queens said, “You’re from out of town aren’t you, I can tell because you smile at strangers”.

One of the best things about New York is the restaurants and the all fabulous food available.  We live in San Francisco so we have the advantage of our own fab food, but one thing the New York has that we don’t is more information on the menu.

In 2008 New York City became the first U.S. city to include calorie information on menus in coffee chains and fast food restaurants.  It’s a model for other cities and  states, California being one,  which are considering  implementing the measure too.

So when I sat down at this posh little coffee shop in Manhattan and browsed the menu after just having passed by the display case with the most fabulous pastries I was surprised to find the calorie count of each item on the menu.

Say I wanted a cheese danish with a chocolate  mocha latte.  That little snack was going to cost me big!  450 – 550 calories for the danish, plus the chocolate mocha latte clocked in at  1300 calories, meaning we are talking a possible 1850 calories for a snack!

If you consider the recommended calorie intake for a normal adult is 2000 calories per day, that little snack would have meant I couldn’t eat anything more substantial than a stick of celery  for lunch or dinner?   So, I selected a coffee and oatmeal and a guilt free conscience.

The information on the menu really worked to help me make an informed decision!  The whole idea behind the NYC law  is to fight the obesity epidemic by informing consumers about the calories that are hiding in fries, pastries, and other fast food items.

Soon the Federal government may step in and mandate these measures in the entire country.  But there have been studies that refute the effectiveness of calorie labeling.  In October of 2009 an independent study found that the law had done nothing to change consumer habits in the city’s lower income neighborhoods.  It sounded pretty disappointing until Yale University researchers tested the effects of menus that provide calorie counts for different items and included the information that the average adult should get about 2,000 calories a day.

The researchers randomly assigned 303 adults to order from one of three menus: one with no calorie labeling; one with calorie information; and one with calorie content, plus a label with the 2,000- calorie recommendation.

Apparently it was that simple daily requirement information that compelled people to take notice and change their intake of calories.  The study found that diners who were informed of the calories they were about to order ate 14 percent fewer calories at the meal than those who had ordered from the label-free menus.

When interviewing the participants later in the day, the researchers found that those who had seen the 2,000-calorie recommendation downed fewer calories — an average of 250 fewer than those in the other two groups.

Christina Roberto,  who led the study, told reporters,  “We can say that the menu labeling is having the effects” on calorie intake.

Roberto said the findings highlight the potential impact of informing the consumer of the number of calories a person should get each day. She says that simple step turned out to be really important because the information helps people put their single meal in the context of a whole day.

“By putting that ‘anchor’ in,” she said, “you can maximize the effectiveness of menu labeling.”

I, (Shirley)  can tell you, that pastry in the coffee shop in New York sure looked good, but when I realized what it what it would cost me in calories, it was an easy decision.

And just as importantly it meant I was able to have a terrific pasta dinner later, which was a lot more fun than just a stick of celery!

Reuter’s reported this information from :  American Journal of Public Health, online December 17, 2009.

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