On the Table

Loads of calories lurk in restaurant food

January 22, 2013 

FOOD RESTAURANT-CHAINS 12 ND

One of the branches of The Cheesecake Factory is in Westbury, New York. (Craig Ruttle/Newsday/MCT)

CRAIG RUTTLE — MCT

While you’re making plans to lose weight this year, put this strategy on your list: Curb the restaurant habit.

That’s because eating out accounts for about one-third of calories eaten in a typical day for most of us. The catch is that what you’re getting when you eat out is often more than you think.

Way more. It’s hard to accurately estimate the calories in foods you eat away from home.

Who would guess that the Bistro Shrimp Pasta at The Cheesecake Factory delivers 3,120 calories, including 89 grams of saturated fat and more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium per serving? The presence of arugula isn’t enough to make this one a good choice.

That one entree alone contains more calories than many of us should eat in two days.

You can thank the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest for sharing that super-sized tidbit. Check out their report on “extreme eating” at cspinet.org/new/pdf/extreme_eating_2013.pdf.

Restaurant portion sizes are big. High-calorie ingredients like butter, oil and rich sauces hide in menu descriptions – and in the food that arrives on your plate.

That’s why it’s so important to support policy efforts to require calorie labeling on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants as well as other places you probably eat, including pizza shops, movie theaters, convenience stores and even grocery stores, where delis and cafes have become popular.

You need information at the point of purchase to make informed choices. After all, it’s great to have nutrition information on food wrappers and websites, but it’s better to have it before you buy.

Congress passed a law in 2010 requiring menu labeling at chain restaurants, and the rules for implementing it are being debated right now. You can read about them at fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm248732.htm.

Even food sold in vending machines is included.

If you want to know before you order it that a sandwich contains 2,000 calories, tell policymakers. Government agency personnel really do read your comments and take them into consideration.

It’s easy to do. Go online to fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm217762.htm, scroll down to “We want to hear from you” and follow the instructions.

It’s about having the information you need to make informed choices this year and always.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net and follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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