Thanks to modern nutritional science, the proverbial phrase “you are what you eat” has more meaning now than ever before. We are finally starting to understand exactly how food impacts our bodies and our health in ways we couldn’t even imagine, say, fifty years ago.
Unfortunately, though, the boom in scientific knowledge about the link between food and health doesn’t seem to have made us healthier just yet. Our busy modern lifestyles aren’t conducive to growing our own food and preparing fresh meals, nor do they leave us much time to research what kind and how much food we should be eating. As a result, Americans are consuming more than a third of their calories from restaurants, convenience stores, or fast food establishments.
The FDA recognizes these challenges, and as of May 2018, restaurants with 20 or more locations will be required to provide calorie counts and nutrition information on their menus. The goal is for this to help Americans make better choices about what they eat and subsequently, improve their health.
For restaurant owners or chefs required to provide nutrition information or for those who intend to provide it voluntarily, it’s critical to understand why menu labeling is so important for our nation’s future. As business owners, it is easy to get caught up in the cost and effort required to perform nutritional analysis of your recipes and reprint menus to include the necessary information, but keeping the bigger goal in mind can really help fuel the process.
America’s Health Crisis and the Food Industry
It’s no secret that America is in the middle of a health crisis. Despite the fact that we are living longer lives, many of us aren’t living healthier ones. The incidence of diet and lifestyle-related conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, and obesity are at an all-time high. Metabolic syndrome—characterized by the simultaneous presence of three out of five medical conditions including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels—affects more than one-third of Americans. Furthermore, it is estimated that by the year 2030, more than half of Americans will be obese.
It’s also no secret that there is a correlation between the poor eating habits of Americans and the above-mentioned health issues. In a country where food—in many cases unhealthy food laden with fat and sugar—is constantly being advertised and made readily available, it’s no wonder we are struggling to be healthy. That being said, it’s unfair to blame the entire food industry for America’s health crisis. While it’s easy to point fingers, consumers have an important responsibility when it comes to their eating habits.
That’s why, in order to help tackle the health crisis in America, the FDA intends to let restaurant establishments and consumers share the responsibility of making America healthier. While restaurants will be required to provide calorie counts and nutrition information for each of their menu items, it’s ultimately up to the consumer to use that information to decide what to eat.
Why Menu Labeling is Important for Creating a Healthier Nation
As a restaurant owner or chef, you have the opportunity to be part of this movement towards better health by providing calorie counts and nutrition information on your menus. While following the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines can be a bit stressful for restaurants in the beginning, keep in mind that the benefits to the public far outweigh the costs to your establishment.
Below are some of the top reasons why menu labeling is important for the future of America and the health of its people:
- Raises public awareness about nutrition: It is often said that awareness is the first step towards change. Labeling menus with calories and nutrition information will most certainly help make the public more aware of what they are eating. Most people probably have no idea that their favorite fast food lunch packs over 2,300 calories. But once they become aware of how calorie-rich a meal is or how many grams of saturated fat it contains, they will be able to consider all their choices.
- Encourages consumers to make healthier choices: It’s hard to make healthy choices when we don’t have any information to base them on. In fact, a lot of the times when consumers think they are choosing a healthy meal, they are actually choosing one of the most calorie-rich meals on the menu. When calorie counts and nutrition info accompany menu items, it’s possible to make an informed food choice. Over time, this could lead to a gradual shift in how and what our nation eats. For example, consumers may begin requesting healthier items at restaurants and in turn, restaurants may provide healthier options.
- Has the potential to lower obesity rates: A study looking at the effects of calorie labeling on body mass index in urban areas found that calorie labeling can have a powerful effect on lowering body mass index (BMI). In areas where calorie labeling was provided, a 0.9% reduction in BMI was found in overweight women, while a 1.4% reduction was found in overweight men. A 2% reduction in BMI was discovered in obese men.
- Could dramatically reduce medical costs: Being provided with the information needed to make healthier food choices will ultimately lead to better health for Americans and a reduction of diet and lifestyle-related diseases. This could dramatically lessen the burden on the healthcare system. For instance, it is estimated that if Americans simply reduced their daily sodium intake by 1,200 mg, over $20 billion dollars could be saved in medical costs.
The menu labeling laws go beyond our individual establishments to improve the health of America as a whole. While it is true that menu labeling requires financial output and effort on your part, knowing your restaurant is fulfilling its social responsibility and contributing to a healthier nation is important on so many levels. And the good news is, the cost and effort on your part can be minimized if you use an affordable and reputable online nutrition analysis software, like MenuCalc. It turns out, working to make America healthier doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive after all.
Are you ready to take the first step towards a healthier America by providing calorie counts and nutritional information on your menu? MenuCalc provides easy-to-use, affordable nutrition analysis to help you help your customers. Contact us to learn more.