Today the LA Times Business Section has a front-page article about restaurants posting calories counts on their menus-- link here. It's a great article--definitely worth a read--but in case you don't feel like reading, I'll sum up: In response to new requirements that restaurants post calorie counts on their menus, "chains are scrambling to rework consumer favorites so they have fewer calories, and they are redesigning menus so that high-calorie items are balanced out by more-healthful options."
Sounds good to me.
Up to this point, the main argument I've heard in favor of requiring restaurants to post calorie counts centers around the idea that consumers have a right to know what they're actually putting into their bodies. If food that sounded healthy was actually healthy, this probably wouldn't be that big of a deal. After all, people don't eat Big Macs in the hopes of lowering their cholesterol. But what about food that appears to be healthy but actually isn't (1400 calorie salads, anyone?). What about when consumers want to make the healthy choice, but the seemingly healthy choice actually turns out to be worse for you than, say, a hamburger? In my opinion, this argument is justification enough.
But this article raises another, and possibly even better, aspect to menu calorie counts: they motivate restaurants to actually make their food more healthy. Shocking, huh? (that was sarcasm in case you didn't catch it). For example, Panera has started to reduce the amount of mayo on their sandwiches, and IHOP developed a turkey bacon-egg white alternative (350 calories) to its popular bacon-and-eggs (1,160 calorie) breakfast. Other changes at various chains include using lower-fat cheeses, cooking with less oil, offering fruits and vegetables as side dishes, cutting back on sodium, and even emphasizing portion control (oh yes, you read that right)!
*Note: I couldn't help but notice how meat and dairy-heavy all of these dishes (including the healthy alternatives) are, but we'll leave that for another post...
Back to the subject at hand: Obviously, there are still plenty of people who will make unhealthy choices -- and do you know what? I really do believe that that is their choice. But for those people who want their choice to be healthy (or healthier, anyway), steps are being made so that they actually can. And I think that's definitely a good thing. As they say, information is power. And we all deserve to have power over our own food choices and lives.
P.S. According to a Stanford University study (I see you Stanford!), Starbucks customers in NY reduced their consumption by about 6% after the city began requiring calorie information in 2008. Although that might not seem like much, it's actually a signifiant change, because "averaged over the entire population, the obesity epidemic is probably explained by about 100 calories per person per day." Interesting stuff.
Anyway, we're all entitled to an opinion. If anyone out there is reading this, what are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think posting calorie counts is a good thing or a bad thing? And at the risk of making this sound like school, why or why not?