Thursday, July 07, 2011

Restaurant calories - a cautionary tale

Restaurant calories are stupid high.

Doesn't matter if what you're ordering sounds like it's made with healthy ingredients, the likelihood is that a single meal will have at least a half a day's worth of calories, and sometimes, a couple of days worth.

That's not the cautionary tale. This is.

A reader sent me an email the other day. His wife had eaten out at a big chain fast casual restaurant and had ordered a pasta dish. She'd eaten half of it, and brought the other half home, and gave it to my reader to bring for lunch the next day.

My reader happens to be someone who weighs and measures their food, and given this chain posted their calorie counts online, he figured he'd weigh it and calculate the calories involved.

Imagine his surprise when his wife's half eaten portion of pasta still weighed as much as the full portion listed on the chain's website. The actual plated restaurant portion therefore, had double the already large number of calories the chain claimed.

Coincidentally, later that same week, I saw another patient who happened to work in a kitchen at that very same chain. They told me that when the plated food doesn't look quite right, or if it's taken too long to prepare, they simply plate more food so that the customer, who might have been upset with the wait or the aesthetics, is instead thrilled with their portion size.

For me those two stories gave me my first pause regarding mandated calorie labeling. Not enough pause to change my view that it'll be exceedingly helpful to those who want to pay attention, but enough pause to worry that some folks may be lulled into a false sense of security, and that coincident with any legislative calorie labeling effort, should be a massive public health campaign to encourage from scratch, home cooking.

[Below is a quick clip from CBS on menu labeled calories - email subscribers, you need to head to the blog to watch]