Restaurant Calorie Counts: Right to Know?

10 Dec

Restaurant Calorie Counts: Right to Know?

The FDA recently finalized their rule stating that calories will have to be posted “clearly and conspicuously” at:

  • Restaurants with 20 or more outlets
  • Vending machines with 20 or more machines
  • Retail outlets such as movie theaters with 20 or more theaters

While calories need to be posted up front on menu boards at fast food establishments and in menus at casual fast and sit down restaurants, additional information such as total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars and proteins have to be available (provided upon consumer request, usually done online or pamphlet).

Why Disclose Calories at Restaurants?

  • Studies show eating out more frequently is associated with obesity, higher body fatness, or higher BMI. (Example: women who eat out more often (5+ times/week) eat 290 more calories on average each day than those who eat out less often.
  • Americans eat and drink 1/3 of their calories away from home
  • More than 2/3 of Americans favor posting calories throughout ready prepared food outlets including movie theaters, vending machines, supermarkets

Does Calorie Shaming Work?

  • NYC study: 1 in 6 customers used the calorie information and purchased 106 fewer calories than customers who did not see or use the calorie information at chain restaurants
  • Subway chains in NYC: 1 out of 3 customers (37%) reported that nutrition information affected their purchases; they purchased 100 fewer calories per meal than those who saw the information and reported it had not effect
  • Parents of kids age 3-6 who were presented a McDonald’s menu with calorie labeling ordered an average of 100 fewer calories for their children than those who did not receive calorie info

What Will Be the Impact?

  • CSPI estimates that similar changes at chain restaurants could result in 30 calorie per person per day decrease in intake
  • Product reformulation resulting from calorie posting rules has already and will continue to result in further reduction in calories (Example: California Pizza Kitchen’s “Small Cravings” menu, Cheesecake Factory’s “SkinnyLicious” line, Denny’s “Fit Fare”)
  • Obesity epidemic can be explained by 100 calorie per day imbalance – so baby steps are important!

By the Numbers: Why Does This Matter?

  • Medium movie theater popcorn without butter topping: 1,200 calories (same as 4 McDonald’s Cheeseburgers or 5 slices Papa John’s pepperoni pizza)
  • Cheesecake Factory: Bruleed French Toast 2,780 calories (would have to swim laps for 7 hours to burn off) – meal also has 5 days saturated fat and 24 teaspoons sugar; Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic: 2,410 calories (five hour job to burn off)
  • Outback Steakhouse: Bloomin’ Onion 1,959 (in total onion, 6 servings)
  • Claim Jumper Chicken Pot Pie: 2,078 calories and Chocolate Motherlode Cake: 2,768 calories per slice

For more information on the new FDA rule, check out my segment on KPBS San Diego on the topic here.

The Good Bean: Crispy, Crunchy Chickpea Snacks

8 Dec

The Good Bean: Crispy, Crunchy Chickpea Snacks

As a dietitian, I find myself constantly extolling the benefits of legumes:

  • Want more plant protein? Eat legumes.
  • Looking to fill up with fiber? Eat legumes.
  • Need a nutrient rich carbohydrate? Eat legumes.

The actual practice of eating more legumes, however, is easier said than done. Sure, you can sub out meat for kidney beans in your chili or look to lentils for more filling soups.

But how do you incorporate legumes into snacks? Well, I think I’ve found the perfect answer: The Good Bean.

I recently sampled the Sweet Cinnamon flavor of these crispy, crunchy chickpea snacks – and let me tell you, legumes have never looked better!

A one ounce serving (about 1/6 of the bag) of The Good Bean chickpea snacks has:

  • 120 calories
  • 3g total fat
  • 5g dietary fiber
  • 5g protein

If you want a snack that keeps you sated, you look for protein and fiber. This snack has both, and 5 grams of each are pretty impressive stats. They are nut-free, gluten free, soy free and vegan.

I loved the Sweet Cinnamon flavor: it was – as the name implies – sweet, but not overly so, with just 6 grams of sugar. The first ingredient is roasted chickpeas, which is nice to see considering that so many other vegetable snacks start out chock full of potato starch.

You can find The Good Bean chickpea snacks at Whole Foods or Sprouts Market. Or check out their online Store Locator for a retail outlet near you.

Sneaky Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts

26 Nov

Sneaky Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts

Did you know that the typical Thanksgiving dinner contains more than 3,000 calories?

Since you probably want to indulge in dessert without overdoing it this year, here are some sneaky tips for satisfying your sweet tooth without breaking your calorie budget:

Swap in Sweetpotatoes

A sweetpotato (which is all 1 word!) is an entirely different vegetable than a potato, with its own set of nutrients:

  • The sweetness of sweet potatoes comes out when you bake them – consider swapping in mashed sweet potato in place of fat and sugar in your baked goods
  • 1 sweet potato contains more than 100% of your daily vitamin A needs
  • For some great dessert recipe ideas featuring sweetpotatoes, check out the California Sweetpotato recipe page at (my favorites are the Sweetpotato Oatmeal Cookies and Sweetpotato Lava Cake)

Raisin the Bar with Your Baked Goods

Another way to liven up your holiday desserts is to put a healthy spin on traditional favorites. I do this by incorporating raisins in my desserts.

Raisins are awesome to bake with, because as a dried fruit, they come by their sweetness naturally:

For more info on Sneaky Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts, check out my segment on Good Morning San Diego from earlier this week.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 8.43.48 AM

Special thanks to California Sweetpotatoes and California Raisins for providing recipes and sponsoring the above segment.

Beat Diabetes…by Cooking?!

20 Nov

Beat Diabetes…by Cooking?!

It’s November – which means Thanksgiving…and National Diabetes Month.

Health statistics rarely make you take pause, but try this one on for size:

37% of the US population has diabetes or prediabetes.

Think about that: more than 1/3 of American citizens are walking around with compromised blood sugar control. While that might not sound like such a bad thing at first, down the road, diabetes becomes a nasty condition that ravages the entire body.

Uncontrolled diabetes is a leading cause of many complications, including kidney disease, blindness, amputation, neuropathy, stroke, and high blood pressure…not to mention it is #7 on the list of top 10 killers of Americans.

On top of all of that depressing news, the American Diabetes Association now estimates the cost of diagnosed diabetes to the country is $245 billion.

So what can be done to stop this trainwreck called diabetes? Well for starters, you can cook your way out of the abyss.

That’s right – cooking more of your own foods at home (as opposed to eating out or eating packaged and processed junk) can now be considered a primary diabetes prevention tool.

How does that work?

As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, I see firsthand that diabetes prevention is all about excess weight prevention. And how can you prevent unwanted weight gain?

Cook at home more.

This year’s American Diabetes Month theme is “America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes” – an approach that acknowledges the power of at home food preparation and “empowers all Americans to cook nutritious and delicious food, and be more active”.

Cooking food more often at home is a great way to control calories, increase fiber, and include more fruits and vegetables in your meals. You are never going to add as much butter to your meals as that restaurant chef will!

As we head into the holidays, this year do your part to reduce diabetes risk by making restaurant trips more of a “sometimes” thing and home-cooked meals your go-to game.

Produce Wash: What’s the Point?

17 Nov

Produce Wash: What’s the Point?

You know you’re supposed to eat your fruits and vegetables – but do you need a special produce wash to clean them too?

Produce washes – which bill themselves as boosting safety – are pretty much hogwash.

Turns out, when it comes to cleaning your produce, running water and friction will cut it.

A number of food safety authorities say don’t waste your time with produce washes:

  • says, “Soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended”
  • The FDA does not recommend the use of soap, detergent, or produce washes
  • USDA recommends washing your produce under cold running tap water to remove any lingering dirt

So just how long should you wash your fruit and veg for? Food microbiologist Dr. Michael Doyle from the University of Georgia and its Director of its Center for Food Safety says that 20 seconds is sufficient, stating, “Any longer won’t make much of a difference.”

And what about bagged salads? These products say they’re double or triple washed – and turns out, they probably are. says, “If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed or are ready to eat, you can use the product without further washing.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with buying a good old-fashioned head of lettuce and washing it thoroughly too!