Mandatory menu board nutrition labeling is expected to be implemented in the near future for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations. In the meantime, Starbucks just announced that on June 25, all of its U.S. stores will will bear calorie counts on the drinks menu boards and on tags to accompany baked goods.
Congress passed the menu labeling law in 2010 that requires any restaurant with 20 or more outlets to list calories and other nutrition information on menus or menu boards. The calorie counts are to be visible when ordering, not tucked away in brochures you need to ask for or information you need to access on a website. The federal government was expected to announce the final ruling and regulations late last year, so its expected later this year or early next year.
This is nothing new for those living in one of several states, cities or counties that require chain restaurants to post calorie counts for their menu items. In California, where I live, restaurants with 20 or more outlets in the Golden State must post calorie information on menus or menu boards. Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, New York City, Seattle and several other cities, also require menu nutrition labeling.
Will Calorie Counts Help Cut Calorie Intake?
According to the Economic Resource Service, about one-third of our daily calories comes from restaurant or take-out food; strategies that might cut calories from away-from-home food has the potential to help make a dent in the nation’s obesity crisis. Research shows that meals eaten out tend to have more calories, more saturated fat and less fiber compared to homemade meals.
Calorie counts will likely help some make lower-calorie choices, but I suspect others won’t pay much attention to the information. In addition, knowing a calorie count doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how many calories you should be eating in a day. One national survey found that one only 15 percent of adults know the number of calories they need to maintain their weight. I’m not convinced that most women understand that meals should only be around 400-500 calories and snacks limited to up to 200 calories. (Men can have meals that are 550-700 and snacks up to two 300-calorie snacks.
One study in NYC found that those who used calorie counts at restaurants ordered, on average, 106 fewer calories. Another study found that people underestimated the calories in their restaurant lunch by 23 percent. In the Seattle area, another study also found that after 18 months of the new labeling requirements, menu options were getting lower in calories and saturated fat.
I’m hopeful that Starbucks’ labeling may actually work. People often go to the same coffee shop every day and order the same thing. If calorie counts on menu boards help some shave 50, 100, or even more calories from their daily order, that can add up to meaningful pounds lost in a year.
Slim Solutions for Ordering Gourmet Coffee Drinks
Whether you like lattes or mochas, cappuccinos or Frappuccinos, here are tips to make your morning sip skinny:
- Skip the whip and you can cut up to 60-120 calories, depending on size of the beverage.
- Switch from low-fat to skim milk and you’ll cut 40-50 calories per 12 ounces (tall). Switch from whole milk to skim milk and you’ll cut 70 calories for a tall latte.
-Choose the “light” option on the menu for 33 percent fewer calories.
- Downsize your beverage from a tall to a “short” (8-ounce serving).
- Ask for one pump of syrup to cut back on added sugars or opt for a single pump of the sugar-free alternatives.