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Restaurant Menu Confidential

Ever wonder about the accuracy of the nutrition information on restaurant menus? If available, do you let the information presented guide your food selection, or are you blissfully unaware? I mean, what's the point of going out to eat if you have to look at the nutrition information? There's actually been quite a bit of research on how nutrition information influences food selection as well as accuracy of information presented. It's pretty mixed. For the most part, those who are health conscious actively avoid fast food restaurants but use the nutrition information available to make the healthiest selection (lowest calorie) should they find themselves without a choice. On the other hand, plenty of people have no expectation of being able to eat healthy when dining out, so they don't try.

Then there's the issue of accuracy of the information found on the menu. Researchers who have measured calories of a variety of restaurant menu items (using an instrument called a bomb-calorimeter) have discovered the accuracy of information on restaurant menus to range anywhere from 30-80%. While most inaccuracies were under-reporting of stated calories, especially for foods promoted as being lower calorie options, there were a few instances of over-reporting calories on some of the "less healthy" items. Portion distortion-that is larger served portions than what is reported on the menu - are a primary factor in nutrition information discrepancies.

So what does this mean for you, the health-conscious consumer? While cooking at home always gives you the most control over what you are putting in your body, eating out doesn't have to mean the end of your healthy eating plan.

Regardless of what the label says, here are a few tips for navigating restaurant menus: Limiting calories and fat:

  • Avoid menu items that are described as crispy, crunchy, or creamy.

  • Split an entree or plan on bringing half of it home before it's brought to the table.

  • Select an appetizer as an entree.

  • If there's a basket of bread or chips offered before the start of the meal, ask the server to bring with the meal instead.

  • Skip dessert - you're probably too full to enjoy. If you can't pass it up, opt to share with others. Often one or two bites is enough to satisfy the desire for something sweet. When you're sharing with others, that's all you get!

Limiting salt:

  • Steer clear of pickled, smoked or cured.

  • Limit or avoid foods in broth or soy sauce.

Limiting sugar:

  • Watch out for salad dressings and marinades-ask for them on the side and "dip" as you go.

Most restaurants are used to accommodating people for food allergies and sensitivities, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about communicating your dietary needs and asking if something can be prepared in a more suitable method.

If this is too much for you to deal with when going out, then enjoy your meal without worry, but do plan ahead. For example, if you are going to a venue where the chances of getting vegetables are about as great as Santa coming down your chimney, then make a plan to get them in another meal you are having at home.

Healthy eating is never all or nothing-so make the most of what you can every day!


Feeling stuck in your habits and not sure how to change? Tired of diets that fail?

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