What’s on the menu?

You’ve probably been to a restaurant or two that has started posting “nutritional facts” on their menus. Some restaurants have taken up this trend willingly. Others—in places like New York City, Washington D.C., and Washington state have been forced to do so by “nanny state” governments. Either way, the goal is to “promote healthy food choices for consumers.”

Or, more accurately, to shame people into eating more nutritious food (short of actually forcing them to do so).

But I’ve wondered whether these efforts really make any difference. And, apparently, I’m not the only one. A group of researchers recently conducted a study to examine the changes that have occurred since the menu labeling law took effect in King County, Washington.

They started by reviewing the calorie, saturated fat, and salt content of entrees at chain restaurants in the area. And, indeed, there was a significant decrease in calories, saturated fat, and sodium for all entrées at sit-down chains. 

However, despite these improvements, the entrées still exceeded the “recommended guidelines” for calories, saturated fats, and salt. 

The findings on salt aren’t surprising. As I’ve mentioned in previous Dispatches, the government’s salt guidelines are totally unrealistic, at best. And there is still no real proof that salt causes hypertension (or any of the other health problems it has been linked to) besides.

But the researchers’ discoveries regarding calorie and saturated fat content are indeed troublesome. Particularly since they represent a “significant decrease” compared to the original menu items. Yet, they still exceed recommended amounts. And not just by a little bit.

Calorie content of entrees was, in general, 56 percent higher than recommended. And saturated fat content was more than 75 percent higher than it should be.

These are disturbing figures. And a good reminder of two important facts:

1.)    Just because something is less unhealthy doesn’t actually make it “healthy.”

2.)    Nanny state government initiatives may “work” (and create a lot of work for useless bureaucrats and more work for busy business owners). But that doesn’t mean they’re actually making things better.

The bottom line here? You don’t need to break out your reading glasses to decipher the small-print “nutritional facts” on restaurant menus. Good, old-fashioned common sense is all you need to make reasonably healthy choices. And if you do choose to indulge while eating out once in awhile, that’s your choice—and your right as an adult American citizen (whether you still love New York, or not).

Governments say they have a “right” to interfere with an individual’s personal choices if those choices are said to be harmful to health (whether or not the science actually supports all their claims), because the government is now paying one-third or more of the U.S. healthcare bill. One more reason the government should not be involved in healthcare at all.

Unfortunately, with Obamacare we “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“Energy, Saturated Fat, and Sodium Were Lower in Entrées at Chain Restaurants at 18 Months Compared with 6 Months Following the Implementation of Mandatory Menu Labeling Regulation in King County, Washington.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012; 112(8): 1,169-1,176.