The moment of truth: The creamy pasta dish sounds delicious, but it's 500 calories more than the grilled chicken and vegetables. Do you order it?
In many cases the answer is yes, say researchers who have studied what happens when calorie counts are included on menus.
More diners will open their menus to find calorie counts under a proposed federal law requiring the counts in restaurants with 20 or more locations. Health advocates and restaurants say the law could be finalized by the end of the year. A Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman says details of the law, first proposed as part of the 2010 health care bill, are still being worked out. It could also require grocery and convenience stores to list calories on prepared foods.
Many restaurants are reworking recipes, swapping in whole milk for cream or putting less oil in cooking pans. Some are adding less sauce to dishes or offering smaller portions. Many are creating lower-calorie sections on menus or sticking to calorie guardrails, designing dishes to come in under 500 calories, A study funded by the City of New York that reviewed about 15,000 receipts and surveys from fast-food lunch patrons before and after the city required those restaurants to list calories on menus showed no change in the average calories bought. But 1 in 6 people used the calorie information, and that group purchased an average of 96 fewer calories, an 11% decrease.