Should we Put Nutrition Facts on Restaurant Menus?

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Public Health Authorities are propsing to mandate that restaurants and fast food chains be required to post nutrition facts information (including calories and sodium) on their menus/menu boards. The reasoning behind this is that the growing number of Canadians being diagnosed with chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension can be linked to increased intake of restaurant and fast food meals. We all know that restaurant is usually laden with salt and fat; not to mention the large serving sizes leading us to overeat.

Sodium is a big player here as about 75% of our salt intake comes from ready made and processed foods rather than salt added in cooking and at the table.

Although I see a number of benefits to mandating that restaurants provide nutrition information on their menus I also see a number of cons.

Pros:

  • Canadians can make more informed decisions –> this is especially beneficial for those of us who eat out multiple times per week/day
  • By using nutrition information we can compare different foods and choose which times we want to indulge (save room for that warm chocolate brownie with vanilla gelato) and which times we want to choose the healthier option
  • Nutrition facts and ingredient lists are a great way to compare foods at the grocery store and choose the healthier option, so why not do it at White Spot?
  • If restaurants have to post nutrition information on menus they may be more inclined to provide healthier options
  • The United Sates is already doing it so why not us?

Cons:

  • Restaurants could start making lower calorie lower salt foods but at what cost? Would they start using artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated margarines to bring down sugar and fat content?
  • Could putting calories on menus promote eating disorders as people who weren’t thinking about calories start to be inundated with calorie content of foods?
  • What about those people who use menu labeling to choose foods higher in fat and calorie content (think of Man vs Food and youtube videos that promote eating large serving sizes of unhealthy foods)
  • Is my food going to be more expensive because restaurants have to spend money on gathering nutritional data on all menu items?
  • And finally, if I have finally decided to take a break from the kitchen and go out for a nice meal do I really have to feel guilty about wanting to finish off my rare restaurant meal with a big piece of Ultimate Chocolate Cake by knowing it has 1159 calories?

I think that in theory putting nutrition information on menus is a good thing especially if it makes consumers think twice about eating a cheeseburger twice in one week. I also think that it is beneficial for those who eat out several times a day/week because they can make more informed decisions (if they care to look at the nutrition information). I just worry about some of the negative effects and costs associated with this nutrition labeling. I think the information should be available in the form of brochures or pamphlets available somewhere within the restaurant/fast food joint for those that care to look.

What do you think about the idea of nutrition labelling? Would you want to see it in your favourite restaurants?

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