Numbers game: Rough transition hampers new FDA-mandated calorie count listings

According to Consumer Report's blog:

“Researchers at Tufts University bought 29 dishes from 10 restaurant chains, including Ruby Tuesday, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, and analyzed them to see whether the menu calorie counts were right. Turns out that on average, the tested dishes contained 18 percent more calories than the amount listed. The differences ranged from 36 percent fewer calories to a jaw dropping 200 percent more! Denny’s grits topped the higher-calorie list, thanks to what turned out to be a super sized portion.”

[image-1]Many cases like the Tufts University calorie case have been or are being conducted. Hence, when the FDA updated their law this August and gave restaurants more time to adequately list calorie counts, the notion became more understandable. Nobody said testing was easy.

Nevertheless, the real question and concern that is most posed to the consumers today is whether or not things like a calorie label is really helpful. Would your decision to buy that double-stacked, all-toppings galore burger really be affected by the added calorie count? Dare I question why any person would be shocked to know their special deluxe burger exceeds the average daily calorie limit (2,000)? But in many cases the real purpose of the calorie count is to enlighten people about the “seemingly innocent” entries like the  Applebee's Regular Size Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad with a shocking 1240 calories (with dressing).

The bottom line:

Eventually the FDA will have a more definite date in the calorie count transition for chain restaurants and possibly lavatories will discover new and easier ways to evaluate calorie counts. But more importantly, will adding a calorie number alongside your favorite steak dinner or juicy cheeseburger really change your mind? The verdict is still out.

More sites to help you decide:

Top image via, second image via

Throughout this year, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has been complying with the health conscious population of today and mandating some chain restaurants to update their menus with a calorie count per item. The initial thought was that this would work as a partial solution to America's ever increasing obesity rates, the calorie labeling serving to keep people informed about their food choices.

Food Safety News reports: "The general rule is that any restaurant with twenty or more locations is required to label products with calorie information. This rule also includes vending machines."

But what exactly has been happening since the March 2010 FDA rules? And does calorie labeling really help consumers make healthier decisions?

The issue:

In August, the FDA resubmitted the mandate with added regulations and a more lenient view to the chain restaurants. Apparently to help the transition, the draft designates more time for the restaurants “to comply with the new provisions.” Also the FDA expects “to refrain from [further] enforcement action for a time period” until the regulations are  finalized.

But this hold on the calorie count rush makes sense. Ultimately, chain restaurants have to submit all of their menu entries to expensive laboratories to perform calorie examination. These examinations must be done multiple times in order to get an accurate test. Not to mention scientists have a vast array of options in testing calorie counts — burning, grinding, freezing. Not only is time, energy, and more importantly, money an issue, but some restaurants are still opposed to this mandated labeling. Something has to give for successful menu updating, right?

What gave:

Although the FDA believes the transition to be a hard for restaurants, some have in fact already complied even before the nationwide mandate. Places like Subway and Panera Bread (in some locations) already hopped on the health bandwagon and list calorie counts alongside menu items. In various cases, suggestions are placed in menus to help consumers knock off a few calories (sandwiches with and without condiments). However, those restaurants entering into the likewise stance have new leeway provided by the FDA to fiddle with the calorie count. Ultimately, is all that you’re eating really only at the amazing count of 395 calories? Most likely not.


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