FDA Finalizes Rules Requiring Calorie Information on Restaurant Menus

Choosing an item from a restaurant menu may become more complex in the coming years.

More than 200,000 restaurants across the United States will soon need to update their menus to comply with the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new menu labeling rules. Announced November 25, 2014, the finalized rules require that calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items.

The rules are required by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the changes are intended to help consumers make informed decisions about meals and snacks.

In Food and Drug Administration (FDA) release, Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, stated that “Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home.”

ProMedica Dietitian Chloe Berdan hopes that this will help consumers make more informed decisions when they’re dining out: “A lot of time, people don’t realize how many calories or even how much salt, fat and sugar are in the foods they are eating outside their home. I’m hoping that this will lead to a greater awareness of the foods and portion sizes that we’re choosing to consume,” she said.

The FDA rules also requires that covered establishments provide, upon consumer request, the following written nutrition information about their food:

  • Total calories
  • Total fat
  • Calories from fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total carbohydrates
  • Fiber

How does the food industry feel about the requirements?

“We look forward to working with the agency as the implementation period begins,” said President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association Dawn Sweeney in a released statement. “We appreciate the diligence the FDA took in understanding the complexities of how this regulation will impact the restaurant industry, and the patrons of restaurants all across the country.”

ProMedica Wellness Dietitian Nathan Drendel said it’s not the solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“A person’s food choices could possibly be impacted in a positive way if they had some frame of reference in what all the numbers mean,” he said. “But hopefully this will help the average individual take a more active approach in learning about their own personal nutritional needs, and how various foods can fit into those needs.”

Berdan added that the nutrition guides may also be an opportunity for restaurants to make healthier choices. “Hopefully over time, this will encourage restaurants and other food establishments to serve more reasonably sized portions and a variety of healthy choices.

Covered restaurants and similar retail food establishments will have one year from the date of publication of the menu labeling final rule to comply with the requirements; vending machine operators will have two years.

Looking for ways to eat healthier while dining out? Check out these quick tips.