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July 29, 2009 > Take a sneak peek at calorie chart before you order

Take a sneak peek at calorie chart before you order

By Ritu Jha

While some restaurants chains are changing their menu to cut back on calorie-loaded food, others are planning to post flyers in the mail with nutritional values written on them.

"We are getting phone calls from people about the new law," said Lija Vitols, administrator at Nation's Giant Hamburgers.

"Starting July 1, restaurants with 20 or more locations in California are required to have brochures and a calorie chart listed on their board," said Daniel Conway, spokesperson for the California Restaurant Association.

"Before the law was passed, we did not carry the calorie chart, but now we do. We are also mailing flyers to customers," said Vitols.

Restaurants, like Elephant Bar, have made changes in their menu and added grilled items instead of fried ones.

"It is good news," added Conway. "Many chain restaurants already have this information. For us, what we saw was a patchwork between the cities, the counties and the state. Cities such as San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara already had the law. "So from the perspective of the members, we were more comfortable in having a single state system, rather than having a variety of local ones," said Conway.

According to Conway, to be successful restaurants have to communicate and respond to their customers. Every restaurant now offers salads and healthy options. Restaurants in general have cut down their high-calorie meals and have added low sodium and more grilled items.

So what is the impact on restaurants, and the customers? Conway said some folks are already very conscious about their health and what they eat, so it will vary on a case to case basis.

State Senator Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, has been working on this issue for the past couple of years. In 2007, Padilla tried to get the bill passed, but it failed. So Padilla pushed it again in 2008 to success. The law has been split into two phases; the first one that started July1 states restaurants with 20 or more locations in California must provide brochures at the point of purchase. These must include number of calories, grams of saturated fat, grams of carbohydrates and milligrams of sodium for all standard menu items.

The second phase of the law begins January 1, 2011 and requires that calorie information be printed directly on menus and indoor menu boards.

"New York City has this law and Padilla is conscious about the growing obesity rate in our state," said Taryn Kinney, spokesperson at the senator's office. She said there are 17,000 restaurants in California out of which 123 are chain restaurants.

California is the first state in the nation to tackle obesity with menu labeling. State statistics on obesity show it is costing California at least $8.4 billion annually, according to a report from Padilla's office.

California has experienced one of the fastest growth rates of adult obesity, more than any other state in the nation. Nearly 16 million Californians are obese or overweight. One-third of California's kids, ages 9 -11, are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight and are increasingly suffering from nutrition-related illnesses that normally occur in adulthood, including type-2 diabetes and pre-hypertension.

Kinney said, "Though it is too early to predict the law's impact, Californians will soon be empowered with reliable, accessible nutrition information that will help them make more informed, healthier choices."

"We will see. We have to wait and watch," said Erica Bohm, vice president of Healthy Dining.

Healthy Dining offers nutrition services for the restaurant industry all over the country. Bohm said not only chain restaurants, but small restaurants are also getting more conscious. "It has been slowly changing," she said.

"We take detailed information from the restaurants regarding what they use in their recipes, the weight and products, which is entered into the software program," said Bohm.

She mentioned that sometimes restaurants want suggestions on reducing the calories in meals if they see the number is very high. If consumers want more information, they should ask and if people start asking, then restaurants would make them available.

Bohm said it gives consumers an opportunity to know what they are getting nutritionally. "People don't really realize, how many calories and how much sodium is in their food and some people want to know that information. On our website, we have listed meals with calculated calories, saturated fat, sodium, protein, cholesterol, fiber, carbohydrates, sugar and fruit or vegetable servings," said Bohm. Visit healthydiningfinder.com.

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