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Too Much Information?

Posted Sep 27 2009 10:07pm

menu 1 0615 dcg.jpg As someone very conscious of calories — for better or for worse — I feel like I have a pretty good grip on food choices when I go out to eat.

Since I love to dine out, I tend to do my “homework” beforehand, by checking out menus online and deciding what I would like ahead of time.

I do this because I know what’s considered a worthy indulgement to me (i.e.,cheesecake, dark chocolate, crusty bread dipped in EVOO) and what’s low in Points/”safe” (broth-based soups, salads with lean protein, fruit and veggies, whole wheat pasta, etc.)

Thinking about it ahead of time helps avoid the “oops” moments of my past, when I’d order with my heart and leave a restaurant feeling uncomfortably full.

And if I’m not 100% comfortable with how something on the menu is to be served, I pull a “Sally” (as in When Harry Met Sally ) and modify my order.

Some could argue this perpetuates disordered eating, but I like to think of it as I’m making an investment in my health.

I used to worry about what my fellow dining companions, waiters, or chefs thought … but I don’t really care anymore. I’m high-maintenance about two things: food and my hair, and I’ve come to accept both as a part of who I am. As MizFit would say, I finally feel “unapologetically myself.”

But even knowing as much as I do about nutrition, sometimes I’ve been surprised to find out the nutritional information of something after the fact.

I know foodies (who live to eat and would never tamper with a chef’s creation) will wince at this, but I think it’s fabulous  that the state of New York, for example, requires that chain restaurants (with more than 15 locations) post nutritional information on menus.

In fact, I wish all states would adopt this law.

Sure, one could argue consumers can choose to be informed by getting access to nutritional information through iPhone apps, Google searches, visiting the location’s Web site, visiting sites like Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone, etc.

But let’s be real. Even with all the knowledge out there, how many people are like me, who check out menus before going out? My guess? Not many.

But if the menu has the information on it, consumers who are interested (and I don’t just mean disordered eaters; there are lots of “normal” people who care) would have easy access to the information, and those who aren’t interested could bypass the info and order without a second thought.

Rock Creek in Bethesda, Md., is one of my absolute favorite restaurants. Rock Creek embraced healthy, informed dining long before NY created its law (it opened in 2005; I went that first week!).

It’s a fabulous restaurant that focuses on local, sustainable, fresh and organic products. But the best part? At Rock Creek, you can get a gourmet three-course meal for under 500 calories.

The menu has nutritional information on the back for interested consumers like myself, but it’s not thrown in your face for consumers who don’t care about calories or fat grams (i.e., my husband and most men!). It’s ingenius; the best of both worlds.

I know not every consumer cares, but I do think consumers have a right to know what they’re ingesting.

In the past, I’d easily down a skim, whipped mocha a day. Now I know better. For example,  a tall pumpkin spice latte (skim, no whip) is 200 calories (vs a skinny SF vanilla latte at 120) — so I enjoy it, but maybe once a week as a treat (it’s my fall obsession).

Sure, I can look up Starbucks’ nutritional info on my Blackberry … but how nice would it be if it was available in the cafe, no wireless device necessary?!

Some people might argue that it’d be too much information; they might say they know a bacon-cheeseburger isn’t the healthiest option but frankly they don’t give a damn — they want to eat it without seeing it has like 900 calories.

So to make everyone happy, I personally think the info should be readily available, and if consumers choose to ignore it, so be it.

But at least give us the option to make an informed decision …

How about you? Do you think restaurants should post nutritional information onmenus for consumers? Or do you think it’s the consumer’s responsibility to make a decision? Would knowing the nutritional information of something ruin a meal for you, or would it help you make a more informed decision?

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