Walk into a restaurant these days and you might be able to check the calorie count of your enchilada, the salt content of your fries, and the "heart healthy" status of your peppercorn steak. Is all that info just too much? According to the Associated Press, some menus are turning into spreadsheets of health information. Health advocates are excited about it. They say when restaurants provide information on the food we’re ordering, we make better choices. However, according to Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, at some point, having all that information just becomes confusing.
In most places, new laws only require restaurants to provide calorie information. However, that’s changing. For example, in Philadelphia, sit-down chains have to include info on carbs, salt, saturated and trans fats along with the calorie counts. Even McDonald’s will give you a nutrition handout that includes detailed information on the saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and more - for everything from burgers to their coffee drinks.
People who study psychology say if you want people to understand what they’re ordering, the rule of thumb is to keep it short and sweet. It has to be something a person looking up at a fast-food menu board can “get” quickly. On the flip side, some nutrition experts say listing ONLY calories isn’t enough for two reasons. Number one: Most people have no idea how many calories they should eat in a day. Number two: Some people will think something low-cal is a good choice without knowing its salt count is off the scale.
So what’s the solution? Right now, there isn’t one. The Food and Drug Administration has a year to work out what restaurants will be required to post. Maybe the biggest problem is the "Who cares?" factor. People who order Burger King's Triple Whopper with Cheese, at 1200 calories, know it’s not health food. My solution? Cook most of your meals at home. Then you’ll know exactly what’s in your food. If you’re not sure, try a website like CalorieCount.com.