Too Much Information?

menu 1 0615 dcg.jpgAs 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 on menus 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?


19 thoughts on “Too Much Information?

  1. I love it – a LOT of “family dining” places over here in Japan put the calories down and I think it is great. For example, finding out that at one restaurant, their risotto has less calories than their salad – who woulda thunk? 😉

    I think you might be preaching to the choir here though! 😉


  2. I’m with you… I pull a “sally” most of the time when we go out because, well, its not usually a super special occasion. If I’m somewhere that’s more a fine dining establishment, I wouldn’t muck with the chef’s vision…but at Chilis? Oh yeah, I’m a pain in the butt. I do really wish that restaurants here would make the info more readily available!!

  3. I definitely think they should post calorie counts. Most people have no clue how many calories are in restaurant food even those who are health conscious. There was a study a few yrs ago where they took a group of 10 or so top nutritionists in NYC and had them estimate various dishes at a restaurant and even they were quite off.

    If I truly want something I will get it despite the information however, definitely would not ruin a meal for me however if there are a few options that all sounded good and I wasn’t craving a specific item I would let that information guide my choices.

    So many dieters get frustrated because they are not losing weight. They think they are doing everything right but in reality it is so easy to get excess calories that can kill your deficit. Then people throw in the towel or wind up saying ( at least that is my experience) Having all the information can be very enlightening.

  4. I’m like you…I always do my homework before going somewhere. I get really frustrated when places don’t have nutritional stats available – because honestly, sometimes I am FLOORED by them! And I know if I am, many others are eating something they think is “healthy” but is really not.

    I think at the very least the information should be available online – or even just posted somewhere in the restaurant. I think if it were a special occasion and I REALLY loved a certain dish, I could easily overlook the nutritional stats. But on a day to day basis, I’d like to know!

    1. Exactly. I sometimes hear people say, “Well, but this is healthier” and I wonder if they really know … like my sister used to work at a bagel joint in NJ in h.s. The nutritional info on the wraps were worse than a huge-ass bagel. PLUS it had trans fats. Low-carb isn’t necessarily “better” — neither is low-fat. Sometimes the burger IS more nutritionally sound than the Caesar salad.

  5. Hi Melissa,

    This is my first comment here. I have been reading your blog for a little over a month, but I started at the very beginning and I enjoy it very much. I don’t have the same weight loss experience that you have, but I have some the the same struggles as you do with those last few pounds and I find your writing inspiring. I got to your site it from WATRD, by the way, but I more consistently enjoy your site.

    Anyway, on the topic —

    I get annoyed with restaurants that give nutrition information just for their “diet” choices. Somtimes I want to order something different from the chicken breast with steamed veggies and brown rice (that’s something I can probably guestimate myself) or the low carb offering (8 million calories, but only 4 g or carbs). Sometimes I would rather eat half, or a third of something that sounds tasty than whatever the restaurant has decided is what I should be eating if I care about calories at all.

    So I am in favor of giving nutritional information for everything. I am even grateful for the places that post it online. That’s better than nothing. I especially like the places like Starbuck’s and Potbelly where I can click on the actual ingredients so I can find out for example how much the sandwich is with and without mayo or cheese.

  6. Hi Jennifer and thanks so much for reading and commenting–welcome 🙂

    Like you, I think the NI of everything should be available, not just “diet” menu items.

    !I LOVE POTBELLY!! Sorry, just had to say it 🙂

  7. I’m gonna be honest: I don’t consider menu changes to be disordered purely because American restaurants are crazy.

    I’ve been living in Japan for three years and while, yes, there are unhealthy foods here too the portion sizes in the US are absolutely ridiculous to me now. As someone who battles with an ED every visit to America is kind of terrifying because if I’m not careful it’s so incredibly easy to overeat there.

    Here in Japan, not all restaurants lists nutrition on their menus but the ones that do I tend to visit more. Because I’m constantly shocked by some of the numbers that come up, even here with modest portions, for the food on those menus. My ordering habits significantly change when I am given an understanding of the nutrition of what I’m eating, and yes that might sour business for companies who don’t have nutrition at the heart of it’s food but it will be a boon to companies that do.

  8. i am definitely for restaurants making their nutritional information available. i think it is a great way to aid the informed consumer. i do not however advocate for this being a law. i believe in consumer responsibility and not government babysitting. this isn’t an issue that requires regulation for safety reasons.

  9. im not sure. some already do. as this is a consumer driven industry, if the consumers want it bad enough…it should change the industry. consumers choose whether or not to eat at a given establishment based on what they offer in this regard. the more demand there is for this type of information to be put out, the more the restaurants should supply it. and if they dont, the can get left in the dust of the restaurants that will offer what the consumers want.

    in the meantime, i’m not interested in forcing my want for nutritional information on other people who don’t care two licks about it. just the same as i won’t purchase a product i don’t want, i won’t eat at a restaurant that won’t offer me what i want in menu items or information.

  10. Good points, Clare, very good points. Like you, I choose to shop at some stores vs others, and choose to eat at some dining establishments vs others; that makes sense.

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