Caroline Shugart column mug

In May you might have noticed a change in signage and labeling at your favorite restaurants. On May 7, a federal rule by the Food and Drug Administration went into effect, requiring “… restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations... provide calorie and other nutrition information for standard menu items, including food on display and self-service food.”

In other words, you finally get to know the truth about what you are ordering and eating.

In an interview with the Washington Post, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted two major reasons this rule was important for public health. First, “… providing basic information about the healthy attributes of food is important for consumers to make informed choices about their diet.” Dr. Gootlieb also stated, “The other rationale is that menu labeling will inspire competition among restaurants to produce options that are more healthful.”

Is this government overreach? Will you pay attention to these revised signs and menus? Does it make a difference?

I’m hard-pressed to call this government overreach. Sure, it is another requirement on businesses, but I look at it as truth in advertising for consumers. It is a necessary tool for our unhealthy citizenry — with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension — to take control of their health through better food choices. For example, take the Loaded Baked Potato Tots from The Cheesecake Factory. This is just a side dish, but one serving contains about 950 calories, or half the calories an average-sized person needs in a day. Add to your lunch the calories in that Classic Burger — over 1,200 calories — and a lemonade — over 200 calories. Yikes!

This one meal puts you over the calories you burn in a day, and you haven’t even totaled in your breakfast, dinner and snacks. Don’t even think about the Bruléed French Toast! It comes in at over a whopping 2,300 calories. How is it even possible to take a couple pieces of bread — 200 calories — and add that much fat and sugar to get a 2,300 calorie meal? No wonder people struggle to maintain their weight. We live in an obesogenic environment where restaurants serve us high calorie meals.

Where do those extra calories go? In its executive summary, the new rule claims, “More than two-thirds of adults and about a third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. Overconsumption of calories is one of the primary risk factors for overweight and obesity.”

The government isn’t telling us what to eat. We can choose to utilize this information or not. We can modify our order accordingly or not. The rule tells restaurants they have to provide the information to us, and then we will have the knowledge to make informed choices. If I value my health, which I do, I will choose a restaurant serving food that promotes wellness.

Will these new signs make a difference? Time will tell. This is a “pay me now or pay me later” situation. You can pay attention to what you eat before you have health issues, or you can deal with it as you also deal with adult-onset diabetes, heart disease, colorectal cancer, or bad knees. Prevention is much easier, and less expensive, than treatment.

Take the time to glance at the new menus and signs. Tell the proprietor that you appreciate having this information and continue to stay within your calorie budget. That is how you Live Well, Utah!

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.