February 8, 2007

On the Calif. menu: helping you choose the RightSize

When you order a Big Mac or a Whopper or Grand Slam breakfast, how can you determine what the calories are in each bite? Well, it’s not easy unless you have an internet connection right there. And in the case of some chain restaurants you must first email them, before you’ll get a response.

Now, a San Francisco lawmaker wants to make it easier for us to see what we are eating. Sen. Carole Migden has introduced legislation that would require chain restaurants to count calories and post them for each menu item.

“Californians need to know the calorie content of their meals,'' Migden said, "to make healthier decisions about the food they consume.''

The knee-jerk reaction from the restaurant industry was predictable: It’s unfair and it will cost us money. (Let’s see...McDonald’s had a profit of $3,000,000,000 during the past 12 months.)

Restaurants shouldn't take all the blame for America's expanding waistline, said Jot Condie, CEO of the California Restaurant Association. He says the bill would add unfair costs to doing business -- "in the millions'' for the restaurant industry.

Condie said restaurants with fast-changing menus would bear the biggest costs in posting calorie content on menus and menu boards -- what you see above the counter at a McDonald's, for example -- as well as conducting nutritional analysis.

"Something has to be done about obesity, but the reality is that 81 percent of our meals are consumed at home,'' Condie said. "Information that people get at grocery stores isn't moving people to change their eating habits. If they don't engage in active lifestyles, that's their choice. It's easy to assign blame to the restaurant industry.''

Many fast-food chains make nutritional content available on posters, in leaflets and online, but this bill would force them to display that information more conspicuously.

"More and more people are getting their meals away from home,'' Ritchie said. "That makes it harder to know what's in your foods if you're not preparing it. This is not something everybody would use, but people will be surprised and shocked after they saw how much they're putting into their bodies.''

Migden cites studies that show children eat nearly twice as many calories when they eat at a restaurant than at home.

Would you change your eating habits, if you saw on the menu that chicken wings on a menu had more than a thousand calories on it. In the past, I loved the 99 Restaurant’s boneless chicken wings. Then I email the 99 and ask for a calorie chart. I was shocked to see that my beloved wings were the highest calorie item on the list. And here I thought chicken was good for me. I definitely changed my lifestyle based on that information. The CEO of the California Restaurant Association is definitely wrong. People will change their eating habits based on this information, and that’s what the restaurants are afraid of!

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