Nutrition & Diet Coach

Peggy Korody North San Diego Registered Dietitian

The New California Menu Labeling Law

Written By: Peggy Korody - Mar• 22•11

menulaw-peggy-korody-rd-nutritionistDid you know that California has a menu labeling law?

The first phase went into effect on July 1st, 2009, which basically states that any restaurant chain, with 20 or more restaurants, has to provide nutritional information to it’s customers. As of January 1st of this year, this information has to be on the menu or menu board for all “standard” menu items. Personally, I think this is a great law. This allows customers to make informed decisions when eating out. Others may not agree!

Why do I think it’s a great law?

Simply, we cannot ignore the fact that we are an overweight nation. I’m not concerned with people being overweight because of physical appearances. I’m concerned about the health problems that are associated with being overweight or obese. These problems include, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few. Therefore, my thinking is that the more informed a person is in regards to just what is a “healthy” choice on menu, the better choices the person can make.

Now, if you eat out rarely, a couple of times a month, then just order what you want and enjoy. But, if you are like the average person, who eats out four to five times a week, then “buyer” beware.

Here are a few tips for the “frequent diners” out there.

First, you need to look at the serving size for the menu item. This may amaze you, but when you order an entrée that doesn’t necessarily mean it serves one. For example, a popular item at PF Chang’s Chinese Bistro restaurant is their chicken lettuce wraps appetizer. The menu will state that there are 160 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 650 milligrams of sodium. If you look a little closer you will also see that this item serves four! So if you split this dish with a friend multiply the calories, fat and sodium by two. If you eat the whole dish then multiply by four, giving you 640 calories, 28 grams fat, and 2600 mg of sodium (more than a days serving of sodium in one dish!).

Recently, I went to lunch with a client at her favorite restaurant, the goal being to teach her how to make healthier choices. First we looked at the chain’s “healthy” menu section and then at the nutritional facts brochure. We were surprised that there was not one item to order from the “healthy” section. The salmon that looked like it would be a healthy choice had more than a day’s worth of sodium (no more than 2,000 mg/day should be your goal), and was high in sugar. It took us some time, but we finally found a couple of items we could choose from and still meet her nutritional goals. A FYI for you, there is no standard definition for the word “healthy” or “natural” therefore they are used freely to get customers to buy.

If you do not see the nutrition facts on your menu please note the California Directors of Environmental Health has recommended a six-month education period. Meaning, restaurants will be given warnings for the first six months of this year for non-compliance. So until at least July you may have to ask your server for the nutrition facts brochure.

Another great idea before heading out to your favorite restaurant is to go online.

You can look up your favorite restaurant and for most view the nutrition facts. Or visit the Healthy Dining Finder at http://www.healthydiningfinder.com. This is a great site and easy to use. You can type in your zip code, and find restaurants within “x” amount of miles and you can set your price range. A new feature they have, which I really love, is the “sodium savvy” section for those of you watching your sodium intake. Please note, both the American Heart Association and American Dietetic Association recommend lower levels of sodium intake because high levels of salt in the diet are associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

This is the New Year, why not start it off on a healthy note? If you eat out often, review the nutrition facts before ordering, be an informed diner. Look at the serving size, if the entrée serves more than one person, share it with a friend, or simply have the restaurant pack it up in a “to go” bag before you start eating. Then you will have another meal for the next day. Bon Appetit!

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.