Saturday, September 6, 2008

Putting calories on the menu and on the agenda!

Back from my holidays in the Middle East, missing the sun and lack of rain already! I like my food, but tend to stick to the tried and trusted, but was a little more adventurous than normal on my travels. I have eaten hummus before, but over there they serve it with everything, so I ate a lot of it. One thing I really liked probably because it is full of sugar and very sweet was Kanafeh. And not just any old kanafeh, but I got it from a food stall in Nablus, the home of kanafeh. It was only gorgeous although I am sure the calorie count would frighten me. Probably something that is perfect as a rare treat, but certainly not for consumption every day.

Earlier this year the authorities in New York brought in new regulations requiring restaurants and fast food outlets to put the calorie count of all meals on their menus. Unsurprisingly the restaurant owners are not too happy with these new regulations and have gone to court to have them struck down. I can understand their fears, but surely the consumer is entitled to this information. It seems the vast majority of consumers underestimate the quantity of calories that are contained in certain meals and dishes. We all know that fast food should not be consumed every day, but do people know that the calorie count of many meals can actually be equal to or more than our recommended daily calorie intake allowance....unless you are Michael Phelps of course.

Calorie Shock!

In fact it seems that some meals and dishes which we assume are healthy can in fact have a lot more calories than we think, such as meals called salads. And of course this does not only apply to fast food outlets, it applies to restaurants of all types. In general most people know the score on fast food, its quick, tasty and fills you up, but not something to eat regularly. However for other meals and dishes, we don't really know, we might think they are really healthy, but they may actually contain lots of calories. With obesity related conditions and diseases on the rise, giving consumers more information on the calorie content of the food they order has to be good. It doesn't mean that consumers will eat out or order less, consumers may just order smaller portions, different meals and dishes or cut down on their food intake for the rest of the day.

The Economist article (see link above) highlights how some restaurants have adapted in New York and are cutting portion sizes and calorie content, as well as cutting their own costs. And one company Le Pain Quotidien thinks it has profited by adapting quickly to the new rules and are planning to provide information on calories in cities where it is not required by law yet.

I have no doubt some people will call this another attack by the nanny state, in the same way that they attack any measure or proposal to better protect or assist the consumer. All these regulations are doing is assisting the consumer to make an informed choice. Personally I support these new regulations, I think it will be only a matter of time before they are introduced in Ireland.