Nutrition

Requiring restaurants to display calories forces them to make dishes healthier, researchers find 

Requiring restaurants to include calorie and nutritional details on menus forces them to make healthier, lower calorie meals, according to a new study.

The UK Government is making calorie labelling mandatory for pubs, restaurants and cafes in England with more than 250 employees from April next year.

A similar policy has been federally enforced in the US since 2018, with all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations required to display calorie information.

To get a better idea of the impact of calorie requirements on menus, experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, examined the calorie content of menus at US chain restaurants before and after they were required.

They found that the policy encourages retailers to offer lower-calorie items on their menu, finding items on menus after the rule change 113 calories lower on average. 

The UK Government is making calorie labelling mandatory for pubs, restaurants and cafes in England, with more than 250 employees from April next year. Stock image

The UK Government is making calorie labelling mandatory for pubs, restaurants and cafes in England, with more than 250 employees from April next year. Stock image

HOW MANY CALORIES DO I NEED EACH DAY? 

The basic amount of calories an average adult needs per day is 2,000kcal for women or 2,500kcal for men.

This is based on the amount of energy the body needs to carry out basic functions and to walk and work throughout the day.

People who exercise a lot need to eat more calories to fuel their efforts, and young people and children burn more energy, too.

If you eat more calories than you burn in a day, you will get fatter.

Eating fewer calories than you burn will make you lose weight.

Foods which are processed and have high levels of carbohydrate, sugar and salt have higher calorie numbers than fresh fruit and vegetables.

Example calorie counts include:

  • A McDonald’s Big Mac contains 508kcal
  • A two-finger KitKat contains 106kcal
  • A banana contains 95kcal
  • An apple contains 47kcal

Source: NHS  

The calorie menu labelling rule was introduced as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the US, but wasn’t federally enforced until May 2018.

The goal was to encourage customers to purchase lower-calorie foods, as well as prompt retailers to offer lower-calorie options. 

Most evaluations of this policy have examined changes in consumer behaviour, rather than the behaviour of the restaurants, and found that on average meals consumed at these locations had 4 to 6 per cent fewer calories. 

For this new research they examined menu items at the largest chain restaurants in the US, collected each year from 2012 to 2019 as part of the MenuStat database.

There were 35,354 menu items sold at 59 large chain restaurants in the US during this period, the experts explained.

When analysing the data they looked at changes in menu items’ calorie content from before, to after, the restaurant started adding the details to its menus.

Among the 59 restaurants included in the study, after labelling, there were no changes in mean calorie content across the entire menu.

However, items that were newly introduced after labelling had a lower mean calorie content than items introduced before labelling rules. 

This did vary by restaurant, but in total new meals were an average over 113 calories lower after May 2018, than those added to menus before this date. 

‘This decrease in calorie content of newly introduced items, which represent approximately one-fifth of all menu items in any given year, could lead to reductions in calories purchased or consumed if customers purchased these items in place of higher-calorie options,’ the researchers wrote.

Drinks served in a cafe or restaurant were also a large area of change for new items being added, with a drop of 89 calories in new items added after 2018, compared to those before the rule change was introduced. 

However, that didn’t apply to coffee shops, which actually saw average calories increase by about 15 and calories on new items after 2018 an average of 19 higher than items added before 2018.

‘Although calorie content of newly introduced items decreased overall after labelling, calorie content of new items increased at fast casual restaurants by 180 calories,’ the researchers found. 

A similar policy has been federally enforced in the US since 2018, with all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations required to display calorie information. Stock image

A similar policy has been federally enforced in the US since 2018, with all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations required to display calorie information. Stock image

‘Continued monitoring of fast casual restaurants is warranted, given that these chains account for the majority of restaurants in most US counties.’

The team suggested that the lack of any meaningful change in overall item calorie content suggests that it might take time for labelling changes to be reflected in the menus of fast food and chain restaurants.

They said that as well as time, the rules ‘ultimately might not reduce consumption of higher-calorie foods at restaurants in the absence of other interventions. 

‘Policy makers could explore additional interventions that target both supply and demand, such as warning labels, healthy default options, reductions in portion size, and sweetened beverage taxes.’

The findings have been published in the journal JAMA Network Open

Chocolate for BREAKFAST? Eating the sugary snack as soon as you wake up may actually help burn fat, study claims 

We all have a craving for chocolate now and again, but not usually when we first wake up.

However, a new study has claimed that eating the sugary snack for breakfast could actually have ‘unexpected benefits’ by helping your body burn fat.  

Researchers in Boston, Massachusetts gave 100 grams of milk chocolate to 19 post-menopausal women within one hour after waking up and one hour before bedtime.  

That is about the equivalent of two standard-sized Mars bars (58g) – although the researchers used standard milk chocolate containing 18.1g of cocoa. 

Amazingly, the team discovered that neither morning or night time milk chocolate intake led to weight gain, likely because it acted as an appetite suppressant.

In fact, intake of milk chocolate during the morning hours was shown to help burn fat and reduce blood glucose levels.

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