May 23, 2008

When it Comes to Restaurants’ Nutrition Facts, Buyer Beware?

A recent report from a Scripps Television station investigation reveals wide discrepancies between the restaurant’s nutrition facts (calories and fat) and those determined by laboratory nutrition analysis. The investigation took place over 3 months, in 8 cities and on meals mainly from sit down restaurants, such as Chili’s, Applebee’s, and Cheesecake Factory ; and one fast food restaurant, Taco Bell. Some discrepancies were several fold, even on healthier entries. Others were more on target.

Should this report convince you to throw out restaurant nutrition information? NO!

But do keep a few points and pointers top of mind:

- The nutrition information from large fast food chains should be more dependable. They serve more pre-portioned foods and have more quantity control mechanisms in place to make one portion the same as the next.

- Foods in sit-down restaurants are more often prepared to order, therein lies more potential for variation (which is one reason sit-down restaurant have been less forthcoming with their nutrition numbers).

- Recognize that when humans, your food preparers and servers, are in the mix, there’s going to be variation.

- Consider nutrition facts simply best estimates.

- Use your eyes. Observe the foods in front of you. Do a mental or physical (if you have the numbers in front of you) check with the restaurant’s nutrition facts.

- Gain nutrient counting and “questimating” skills and put them into action. Here’s a few from Eat Out, Eat Right :

o Get familiar with the nutrition counts of both supermarket and restaurant foods to improve your restaurant estimating skills.

o Learn the ingredients – obvious and hidden – in ethnic foods by reviewing recipes of your favorites. Ex: you may be missing what doesn’t meet the eye, the carb from corn starch in Chinese dishes, butter in Indian dishes.

o Use measuring equipment at home – cups, spoons, food scale – on occasion to train your traveling measuring equipment – your eyes and hands.

So, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to restaurant nutrition information. Gain wisdom and skills and put them into action and continue to enjoy dining out healthfully!