Restaurants to Serve Nutrition Facts

Have you ever wondered how many calories are in that burrito you just ordered? Are you curious about that bowl of broccoli-and-cheese soup or tub of movie popcorn?

Thanks to new regulations released from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you’ll soon have more information about the items offered in restaurants and food-service establishments with 20 or more locations by Nov. 15 of  this year, when the new FDA regulations go into effect.

Health and nutrition experts say that while this added knowledge provides important weight-loss and health-maintenance tools, you should combine that calorie information with some diet wisdom: All calories are not created equal.

If you eat out regularly, you may be in for a shock, said Natalie Castro, registered dietitian, and chief wellness dietitian at Baptist Health South Florida. The calorie and fat content of your favorite meals, even many healthy-sounding foods, may be much higher than expected. Restaurant food often contains far more sodium and fat than home-cooked food and the portions are much larger.

“That’s why it’s so important to have that information when you’re eating out,” Ms. Castro said.

However, the current diet trend that focuses on calories can be misleading, she said. What’s in that calorie is just as important as its value.

“The idea was: Let’s make everything fat-free and low-calorie,” Ms. Castro said. “Those foods often have added artificial sweeteners and added ingredients. They’re modified to meet those demands.”

Not only are they poor choices, she said, but artificial additives can impact metabolism, as the body attempts to digest those ingredients. Freshly cooked lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are the best choices, she said.

“It’s about being aware of the foods we’re using to fuel our bodies,” Ms. Castro said. “Many times people don’t think of food as an energy source. Food is either comfort or something that they like. It really affects how our bodies function, and over time when we’re not eating well, it really does take a toll on our bodies.”

For a healthy weight and good nutrition, Ms. Castro advises consumers to make use of calorie and nutrition information,  but first keep in mind the following rules of thumb when dining out:

  • Eat out only occasionally. “That’s my number one recommendation. Make dining out a social event that takes place only once in a while.” And what about lunch? Grabbing lunch to-go from an eatery is also eating out, she said. But most likely, your homemade lunch will have fewer calories and better nutrition.
  • Develop a plan before dining out. Will you have an appetizer, a glass of wine or dessert? Having all three, even with a healthy meal, may mean a thousand extra calories or more. If you choose to have a high-calorie, high-fat meal, curtail your eating for the remainder of the day.
  • Stay away from sweet drinks. The average soda at a restaurant provides an extra 300 calories, and that’s before the free refill. Avoid the additional extra calories; choose water instead.
  • Choose a side house salad as your appetizer. The greens will lessen your appetite; but remember to always order dressing on the side.
  • Be cautious about  most restaurant soups.  While soup may seem like a healthy choice, restaurant or takeout soups typically contain much more fat and sodium than homemade soups, Ms. Castro said. The average cup of soup at a restaurant can contain 800 mg of sodium. If interested in soup, avoid cheesy or creamy soup options and choose a cup size.
  • Avoid menu items with creamy and cheesy sauces.
  • Share meals. Order one meal and an appetizer to share and one dessert for the table, Ms. Castro recommends.

“The posting of calorie information can help you make informed and educated food choices, something that we need to do more of, more often.” Ms. Castro said. “Use a combination of the calorie information listed on menus and these eating out tips to make better food choices when eating away from home.”


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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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