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Nutrition Info on Menus: Coming Soon?

Calorie, Fat, Sodium Content May Appear on Fast Food, Restaurant Menus
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 5, 2003 -- Cheese fries: 3,010 calories. Bloomin' Onion: 2,130 calories. Buffalo wings: 1,750 calories. If you knew the numbers, would you still eat it?

New legislation introduced today in Congress -- called the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) bill -- would require many restaurants and fast food chains, including Starbucks, Taco Bell, and Burger King, to list calorie counts on menu boards.

The law would also require table-service chains (with more than 20 locations) -- such as TGI Friday's, IHOP, Red Lobster, and Pizza Hut -- to list calories, saturated fat plus trans fat, carbohydrates, and sodium on printed menus.

From Applebee's to Wendy's, fast food restaurants could be wrangled in to the movement to slim down America.

"No one would mistake cheese fries with ranch dressing for a health food, but few would guess that a typical serving uses up more than a whole day's worth of calories," says a new report from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

In fact, two-thirds of Americans say they want that information, according to a recent CSPI survey.

20 Zillion Fat Grams Served

Americans get about one-third of their calories from outside the home, the CSPI reports. They're also eating out twice as often as they did in 1970. Restaurant foods are an important contributor to rising rates of overweight and obesity.

Since 1986, some fast food chains such as McDonald's have provided nutrition information. In 1990, when legislation required manufacturers of packaged foods to list nutrition information, the restaurant industry won a special exemption, says the CSPI.

"Most of the chain restaurants don't provide nutrition information, and those that do make it hard to find, hard to read, or available only on web sites," says Margo G. Wootan, CSPI's nutrition policy director, in a prepared statement. "People have good nutrition information in supermarkets, but people can only guess what they're eating at chain restaurants."

Studies have shown that when people eat at fast food restaurants, they consume more calories and saturated fat, fewer nutrients such as calcium, and less fiber when they eat out. Children eat almost twice as many calories in an average restaurant meal than in a home-cooked meal.

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