Friday, June 21, 2013

Menu labeling proceeds without the FDA

    I have noticed that my blog gets the most views when I stick with calorie and menu labeling stories. (don't worry I only see the absolute number of viewers not WHO is viewing the blog.. that's not my department  ha ha)
   Good news.  Two more restaurants have decided to go ahead with menu labeling for all their stores, not just in states or cities where it is already the law.  I don't blame them. Even as the government drags it feet - new estimated date is 2014, the demand from customers is there.
    The two stores in the news are Taco Bell and Starbucks.  I just have a few comments and then I think you should click this link to a great USA Today interactive.  It lets you guess the calories in some of the 2 restaurants meals and beverages.
   My first comments are about Starbucks. The company has now decided to label the items in its pastry cases as well as the beverages.  They have been labeling the beverages for some time. After NYC passed a menu labeling in 2008, researchers conducted a study to compare the amount of calories purchased by Starbucks customers before and after the law and in locations without a law (like Boston at the time).  The law did seem to have the intended effect. The amount of calories purchased did go down after the menu labeling was introduced.  However, when the researchers looked more closely, they found that the customers were buying less food calories, not less beverage calories.  You will see in the USA Today 'game' that the beverages are a substantial source of the calories.
   Now about Taco Bell.  They are also going to post calories on their menus but with great fan fare.....also announced that they would include the amount of protein (in grams) each item contains. REALLY?  Because we don't get enough protein?  The only rationale I see for this is that they want to distract the customer from the fact that most of the items have ridiculous amounts of calories.
   Trust me - Americans as a group are not protein deficient.  What we don't get enough of is vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and fiber from complex carbohydrates like those in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Do I think they should list the amount of carbs in an item - lord gosh NO... That is more confusing than the protein label. (sugar and starches are also carbs).  
   Best ideas for all of us is

  •  choose the lower calorie option that has more vegetable than meat and cheese, 
  • watch out for too much fat (which you will be doing if you choose the lower calories),
  •  choose fruit over potatoes, etc.  
  • And try not to drink your calories - unless its a (as in one) glass of beer or wine, maybe.

Here is the citation for the study I mentioned.
Bollinger, Bryan, Phillip Leslie, and Alan Sorensen. Calorie posting in chain restaurants. No. w15648. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2010.

And here is the link again if you waited.  

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