Counting calories while eating on the run can be a challenge. Consumers now will get a little help from the government to make healthier decisions when dining at their favorite restaurant or fast-food place. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require listing of calories on restaurant menus, menu boards and vending machines by May 7. Many restaurants already have done this voluntarily, but the FDA ruling allows for consistency across the country.
According to the FDA, Americans consume one-third of their calories outside 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 alongside the price of the food or beverage. Buffets and salad bars must show calories on signs near the foods; vending machines must list calories on a sign or digital display near the food item or selection button. (Certain glass-front vending machines may not have calorie labeling until July 26.)
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 and delicatessens
• Salad and hot-food bars
• Movie theaters and amusement parks
• Wine, beer and cocktail menus
• Vending machines (unless calories are listed on food packaging)
In addition, restaurants must include a statement on menu boards reminding consumers that “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” The "2,000 calories" provides 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 also can ask for additional nutritional information such as the amount of fat, sugar and protein in an item. Restaurants are required to provide those details in written form, such as posters, brochures, counter cards.