Counting Calories At Your Menu? Might Not Be Worth It

Counting calories
Ah, calories. They’re the little building blocks that power us through our day. We need a minimum to live, an average to actually be capable, but everyone’s got a different goal. Some people can survive on less than 2,000 a day, while world-record holders go off the deep end with nearly 10,000. The average adult male is suggested to take around 2,500 in per day, with more for athletes or people who regularly exercise, less for people trying to lose weight or live a sedentary life.

It’s easy to get caught up on the concept of counting them, especially with packaged food. 140 for that snack bar for breakfast, the debatable “negative calories” from celery, and a few hundred for a sandwich, given how many and what kind of ingredients there are.

For restaurants, it’s been a different story. Long hidden or just not advertised, calorie counts on restaurant menus are considered a good idea by many. It’ll allow consumers to make informed choices about what they eat, and while numerical calorie counts aren’t all that matters to those trying to be healthy (everything from sodium to grams of fat, and from what kind of source) matter in the long run, they’re a generally good idea. It’s easy to differentiate between a 200 calorie sandwich and a 1,200 calorie hamburger, for example.

New studies show that, while posting calories might be a good idea, not everybody pays attention to them, and even if they do, act upon them.

The Huffington Post reports on a survey in Philadelphia, where labeling calories on menus is the law, that shows consumers’ disinterest and inattention to the calorie listings. Only around 10 percent of consumers acted on the calorie counts by ordering lower-calorie foods, and sales of food in fast food establishments with posted calorie counts were not notably different than those without. A different study showed that New York City residents actually ordered higher-calorie food once posted, while another showed that teenagers would order lower-calorie drinks once informed.

The 2010 health care law charged the Food and Drug Administration with ensuring that chain restaurants, vending machines, and more listed calorie counts, but has been bogged down with figuring out specifics and details. A 2011 proposition codified the rules to apply to restaurant chains with 20 or more locations, bakeries, coffee chains, convenience stores, and grocery stores, but there’s still no rules set in stone.

How should this news affect you? If you were planning to add calorie counts to your menu (and it’s not a legal obligation to you due to where your business operates), you may want to wait on the costly and time-consuming measure. New listing of calorie counts requires all new menus, redesigned menu boards, and in some cases, you may need help finding out how many calories actually go in your dishes (while it may be simple to do the math and figure out how much goes into a club sandwich, a roast duck might be a little more vague). It seems that consumers may not actually be clamoring to count their calories as much as previously thought.