Too much information?

You went out to dinner to relax and forget about the pressur es of the week and there before you is the horrible realization that it’s not just food you are choosing, it is calories. 

Some people are overjoyed about having the nutrition information displayed right at their fingertips. Others may prefer blissful ignorance.

One of the provisions of the healthcare reform law is the requirement that chain restaurants of 20 or more will be required to list calories directly on menus and menu boards. The FDA is to issue more specified regulations this year, which includes making the displayed information consistent and standardized among all of the restaurants. Very soon, you will start seeing the calories of all of the menu items. This includes salad bar items, fountain drinks, buffet items and vending machines.

Like it or not, it’s going to happen. I expect that many people will have mixed feelings about this law. Most people I have talked to are happy that the nutrition information will be displayed on the menus.

At the very least, I see two positive outcomes as a result of menu labeling. With the nutritional information so conveniently displayed, some people will think twice before placing their food order. With roughly a third of American adults obese, this could actually lead to a reduction in the number of calories that people consume.

The other positive outcome is that the restaurants may be more inclined to offer lower calorie options to offset the high-calorie menu items. These days you can find so many restaurant meals that come in at 2,000 calories for one meal. Desserts can often exceed 1,000 calories. Some meals contain more than double the amount of sodium you would need in one day. 

With popular “mini” burgers coming in at 400 calories each (there are four burgers on a plate!) and an additional 700 calories in French fries, it would stand to reason that restaurants would begin to offer some lighter choices.

One negative outcome of this law has to do with those individuals with eating disorders or poor body image who suffer from constant obsessions over food and calories. In this instance, having the nutrition information blatantly in front of them would do more harm than good. 

Another potential negative outcome includes our children. Would children start worrying and obsessing over calories? Much of it will have to do with how parents react to the information in front of their children. 

Food needs to be presented in a positive manner without using terms such as “good” food vs. “bad” food. It’s a health education opportunity for children that will need to be dealt with carefully.