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Restaurant Menu Labeling Complicated

carolynoneilmsrdnby Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RDN

The countdown to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information for menu items is in full swing for more than 250,000 restaurant locations nationwide.  Faced with a December deadline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets are busily crunching the numbers to provide nutrition facts on their menus, websites and in-store signage.

“Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago,” said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In addition to calories, written information on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber and protein must be available upon consumer request. The intent of the new law is to guide diners toward healthier choices on the menu.

Joy Dubost, registered dietitian with the National Restaurant Association says, “Many restaurant patrons have stated that menu labeling is important to them when dining out, and we also know that based on trend data consumers are demanding more healthful options.”

Nutrition by the Numbers

Seeing the facts right up front can help diners avoid calorie bombs or at least be forewarned of the waistline busting cost of indulgent dishes and drinks.

“What I like about the new legislation is that it holds restaurants accountable,” says registered dietitian Nicole King of the website Healthy Dining Finder.com.

How do restaurants come up with the nutrition numbers? The FDA allows several methods including the use of software programs based on nutrient data bases designed to calculate nutritional analysis for recipes, using nutritional information already calculated for recipes in published cookbooks or the more costly but most accurate laboratory analysis of individual items. King says, “And restaurants have to show their work when they provide documentation to the FDA so it’s clear what method was used.”  From doing the math to making sense of ways to best present the nutrition numbers on menus, registered dietitians are finding opportunities to consult with restaurant companies. Some national restaurants groups employ full time dietitians for many services including marketing and menu planning.  Many others are enlisting the professional services of dietitians as part time and project based consultants to help them follow the new federal regulations for nutrition menu labeling. For the restaurant consumer it’s a win-win of taste and health.

It’s Complicated

Presenting the information to consumers is not always a simple task.  Take a pizza restaurant for example. How do they list the nutrition numbers for all of the combinations of toppings and different kinds of crusts? King says, “It’s complex and cumbersome.”

Staff training is part of the new labeling law too to ensure that cooks follow the recipes. A liberal hand with the salt or mayonnaise in the kitchen will mean the numbers on the menu won’t match the dish being served.

“We have to remember this is hand crafted food not made to specs such as an Oreo where every cookie is exactly the same size. There are going to be slight variations,” says King.

Other challenges behind the scenes are happening behind the bar. From pina coladas to cosmopolitans, alcoholic beverages are included in the menu labeling law even though they weren’t part of the packaged foods labeling laws.  That’s why you don’t see calorie counts on a bottle of vodka. “The alcohol piece was not regulated at all. But now cocktail menus have to list nutrition information,” says King.  So now when you say ‘make mine a double’ don’t forget to double the calories too.

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RD Urban Legends: The Craziest Stories Ever Told

RD Urban LegendsAs dietitians, we all hear crazy stories from our patients about the things they’ve been told regarding their health. Sometimes the things they say are so disturbing, we bottle them up inside and try, with all our might, to pretend like we never heard them say it. But, others are funny enough that we have to share with everyone around us! We’ve been compiling some of the favorites that we’ve heard from other dietitians so that we can share them with you here on the blog. Have you heard any of these?

  • “Bananas are the worst food you can eat because they have an enzyme in them that makes you fat!”
  • “I heard it’s not healthy to shake salt on my food, so I spoon it on instead.”
  • “I thought it’s not good for you to have fruit after 2 pm?”
  • Patient in a wheelchair, with 2 below-knee amputations was sucking down packets of mayo in the hospital cafeteria, telling people freely “I have diabetes and can’t eat carbs”.
  • This is not from patient, but from a pharmacist (not a technician either) “About 6-8 years ago, when we all were learning about Lipitor interaction and cautioned to not consume grapefruits.”The pharmacist said to not have grapefruit, but you can have grapefruit juice because juice is not the same thing.”
  • “Well I’m probably not going to lose much weight now because it’s winter time.  Your metabolism slows down because your body has to preserve the fat because it’s cold.”
  • Anything that begins with the phrase “But I heard on Dr. Oz…..”
  • “Clear colored soda doesn’t have any calories”
  • I had an MD tell me (on TV!) that eating a potato will “make you fat”
  • .”Don’t combine fruit with proteins when eating.  When you do this the fruit stays in your stomach longer and rots. Always eat fruit by itself.”

And the #1 urban legend goes to this gem of wisdom…

  • I replace all sugar in my recipes with brown sugar instead”, with the person thinking this now made them a whole grain

Because we all know that if it’s brown, it’s a whole grain… right? Thank you to everyone who shared your best RD Urban Legends with us! We got a kick out of reading all of them! Do you have any stories to add to this list? If so, please share them in the comments below or email us at info@ncescatalog.com. We could all use a good laugh today!

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#Gimme5 Ways to Be Healthy

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama issued the challenge for 5 ways to be healthy! Here are our five… simple, tried and true methods to be healthy! Enjoy!

  1. Eat at least 2 fruits and 4 vegetables each day
  2. Exercise at least 30 minutes everyday
  3. Take a break from your TV watching and do at least 10 situps or pushups during the commercial breaks for your evening shows
  4. Drink at least 5 large glasses of water each day
  5. Try at least 5 new foods in a week. And no, you can’t count the ‘donut of the week’ as a new food! 🙂

How do you ‘live healthy’? There are so many ways to live a healthy lifestyle and inspire those around you to do the same. So, now, we issue the challenge to you to #Gimme5. Comment on this blog with 5 ways you stay healthy using the hashtag #Gimme5! Happy National Nutrition Month.

NCES Health and Nutrition Education

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The Results Are In… Hottest Patient Education Resources of 2014

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The Results Are In…

And We’ve Got the Best Patient Education Resources of 2014

Click here to see the top 10 patient education resources in nutrition education from 2014. As chosen by you all, the customers… these results are based on which resources were most used by you in 2014!

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Visit the Updated NCEScatalog.com for Nutrition Education Resources

Browsing for the most relevant nutrition education resources has never been so easy!

With almost 500 products to choose from, it isn’t always easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. To make it easier, we’ve reorganized our website to better suit your professional needs. Whether you need professional resources for heart health or patient education handouts for diabetes, it’s all easy to find!

Below is a guide for navigating the main elements of the website. If you see anything that would make the site easier to browse, please Contact Us to pass that information along.

NCES Nutrition Education Resources

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New York Times Featured Article: What Does 2000 Calories Look Like?

We stumbled across this article on the NY Times today and HAD to share it with you all! Take a minute to share it with all of your clients, patients and anyone you know who’s interested in eating healthy and/or losing weight!

You’ll be amazed at how many ‘everyday’ meals your patients are eating that are over their entire calorie allowance for the day! Even as restaurants talk about smaller portions, they continue to serve a full day’s worth of calories in a single meal… or even a single dish. Keep reading…

What does 2000 Calories look like

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Happy New Year from NCES ~ Your Partner in Health and Nutrition Education

Good Morning and Happy 2015 from all of your friends at NCES! We’ve had an exciting year in 2014 and are looking forward to everything that 2015 has to offer! For almost 30 years, NCES has been proud to be a comprehensive provider of health and nutrition education products! As we look forward to 2015, we’re excited to continue our tradition and provide you with the best in patient education materials, teaching aids and professional resources!

Always remember that NCES is your partner in health and nutrition education. If you ever have trouble finding what you’re looking for or need help creating a new resource, reach out to us anytime at info@ncescatalog.com!

Cheers to a Happy & Healthy 2015! Happy New Year!