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Calories in Restaurant Menu Items

Study links restaurant mandate to lower-calorie menu items.

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Two people dining and looking at restaurant calories

It looks like it’s now easier for people to order fewer calories when dining out. Restaurant menu items added after the 2018 calorie content listing requirements were put in place had an average of 25% fewer calories compared with items served before the mandate, according to research in JAMA Network Open.

The nationwide rollout of these calorie labels appears to have prompted restaurants to introduce more lower-calorie options on their menus. (Restaurant chains with 20 or more U.S. locations must post the amount of calories in each prepared food on menus alongside the item’s price.) But it’s still buyer beware when eating out.

The study, which analyzed calorie content for more than 35,300 menu items at 59 U.S. chain restaurants, also found restaurants did not typically adjust preexisting menu items. Dishes that had been on the menu beforehand had the same calorie content going forward.

See also: Are Menu Calorie Counts a Health Savior?

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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