Starting this week, McDonald’s will post calorie information on all of its menu boards, including at drive-thrus. The company is getting a jump-start on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) upcoming menu labeling requirement that restaurant chains with at least 20 establishments disclose calorie counts on menus and provide more detailed nutritional information upon request.
This has been mandatory for years in New York City and California, but so far it seems that most chains are holding off until the FDA regulations go into effect.
Calorie Postings at Fast Food Places
Are a Step in the Right Direction
It’s too early to say how much this initiative will benefit our nation’s bulging waistlines. A couple of studies have shown a significant reduction in purchases of highly caloric foods when consumers use calorie-labeled menus, while others have found that menu labeling has no effect on what customers ordered.
It’s possible that the impact varies in different locations. Let’s be honest: If you’re heading to McDonald’s, the odds are that healthy eating isn’t your top priority. That may change, however, if you are at a place that specializes in wraps or salads.
And no one can argue that being more informed is a bad thing. The numbers themselves may make us think twice.
If you’re craving McDonald’s French fries, you may decide that the 230-calorie small serving can be just as satisfying as the 500-calorie large one. Or better yet, order the kids-size fries for a mere 100 calories.
And a 550-calorie Big Mac may not be a deal breaker for you, but throw in that 500-calorie side of fries and a 310-calorie soft drink and suddenly you’re looking at what can be a day’s worth of calories.
Posting calorie amounts on menus also opens the door for conversations that may not otherwise take place. Parents can educate kids about portion sizes and open a dialogue among friends, spouses or colleagues on often-avoided topics like weight and nutritional intake.
So, while I’m happy about the increase in awareness of the calories we’re consuming, it is also important to note that listing calorie counts alone doesn’t give us the full story.
Sure, it can help us steer clear of bombshells, but fewer calories from white carbs or sugars (think McDonald’s 150-calorie Hash Brown or 170-calorie Reduced-Fat Ice Cream Cone) isn’t necessarily better than more calories from protein-rich menu items such as the 300-calorie Egg McMuffin or 350-calorie Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
The bottom line is that McDonald’s still serves up processed cheese, buns made with white flour and high fructose corn syrup, and at least half a day’s worth of sodium in the majority of its foods.
Still, posting calorie counts on menus can lead to a greater understanding of how much we’re really consuming, and it gives us just one more tool to modify our orders so that while a meal might not be “nutritious,” at least it’s not a total disaster.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a sports and lifestyle Dietitian, board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She manages the nutrition program at Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, advising clients in weight loss, muscle building, endurance training, eating disorders and general health and wellness. As a columnist for The Times-Picayune newspaper, Molly covers the latest trends in the nutrition and the fitness industry. She is also the nutrition and fitness expert for New Orleans’ ABC affiliate WGNO with a weekly segment on “Good Morning New Orleans, Get the Skinny with Molly.” She is regularly featured as a nutritional expert on local and national news stories and has appeared in numerous media outlets, including Vogue, The New York Times, Newsweek, Shape, Health, Fitness, Runner’s World, Wine Enthusiast, Cosmopolitan, WebMD and CNN.com. For more information, please visit http://nola.com
Reprinted with permission from The Times-Picayune newspaper.
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