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can chefs help combat obesity?

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Many people eat out regularly and, to a large extent, surrender control of what lands on their plate to the restaurant chef. Even though restaurant fare is more on the “whole food” side of the equation, it can be as calorie-, fat- and sodium-laden as fast food. In some cases, the seemingly healthy fish dish you order can be very damaging to your diet, as chefs often rely on copious amounts of fat and salt to make flavors sing. Also, portion sizes in restaurants have gotten ridiculously large in recent years.

Considering these factors, could chefs make a pivotal difference in the quality and quantity of calories that are served up in their restaurants? According to a recent article by Pennsylvania State University researchers that appeared in the journal Obesity, most chefs say they believe they can.

The authors conducted a survey among chefs attending U.S. culinary meetings regarding strategies for creating reduced-calorie foods and opportunities for introducing such items on restaurant menus. The 432 respondents were from a wide variety of employment positions, and the majority had been in the restaurant industry at least 20 years. Nearly all chefs (93%) thought they could reduce the calories in menu items by 10%–25% without customers noticing.

“To decrease the calories in two specific foods, respondents were more likely to select strategies for reducing energy density than for reducing portion size (p < 0.004), the authors reported. “Low consumer demand was identified as the greatest barrier to including reduced-calorie items on the menu by 38% of chefs, followed by the need for staff skills and training (24%), and high ingredient cost (18%). The majority of respondents (71%) ranked taste as the most influential factor in the success of reduced-calorie items (p < 0.0001).”

The researchers concluded that opportunities exist for reducing the energy content of restaurant items. Ongoing collaboration is needed, they say, between chefs and public health professionals to ensure that appealing, reduced-calorie menu items are more widely available in restaurants and that research is directed toward effective ways to develop and promote these items.


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Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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