Counting calories while eating on the run can be a tedious and challenging task. Americans will now get a little help from the government on making healthier decisions when dining at their favorite restaurant or fast-food place. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require calories be listed on restaurant menus, menu boards and vending machines by May 7. Many restaurants have already been listing calories voluntarily, but the FDA ruling allows for consistency across the nation.
According to the FDA, one-third of Americans eat and drink their calories outside of the home. Counting calories can help with weight management, which in turn can prevent chronic illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The agency stated in an announcement that calorie labeling can help consumers make “informed and healthful” decisions about what to eat or drink.
The requirements mostly affect chains – restaurants and other retail food establishments with 20 or more locations, as well as vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more machines. In restaurants, calories must be displayed along side the price of the food or beverage. Buffets and salad bars must show calories on signs that are near the foods; vending machines must list calories on a sign or on digital display near the food item or selection button. (Certain glass-front vending machines may not have calorie labeling until July 26, 2018.)
Where can you expect to see calories posted?
• Sit-down and fast-food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and ice cream stores
• Drive-through windows
• Take-out and delivery establishments
• Grocery/convenience stores or delicatessens
• Salad or hot-food bars
• Movie theaters and amusement parks
• Wine, beer or cocktail menus
• Vending machines (unless calories already listed on food packaging)
In addition, the FDA is requiring that restaurants include a statement on menu boards reminding consumers “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” The 2,000 calories provide context and a reference point to aid consumers when making their food and drink selections. However, caloric needs vary depending on age, gender, height, weight and physical activity. Consumers can also ask for additional nutritional information such as the amount of fat, sugar and protein in an item as restaurants are required to provide those details in written form (e.g. posters, brochures, counter cards).