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What you need to know about nutrition and food safety in your favorite restaurants.

Restaurant secrets often start with nutrition. And until now, those restaurant nutrition facts have been available on a hit-or-miss basis.

That's starting to change, as Congress considers two bills that would require chain restaurants to provide information similar to that on a nutrition facts label on packaged foods in supermarkets.

Beyond restaurant nutrition, there are other tips and tricks of the trade that many diners don't know. Want to find out more restaurant secrets about food safety, portion sizes, and which foods offer the most nutrition -- and value -- for the buck? Keep reading.

Calorie Counts

One of the biggest restaurant secrets is nutritional information. Think about it: How many diners would chow down on one of Outback Steakhouse's Bloomin' Onions if they knew it contained an estimated 2,130 calories?

But that may be changing. Of the two bills going through Congress, one would require restaurants with 20 or more outlets to provide nutrition information however they choose, such as on brochures or web sites; another would require restaurant nutrition information on menus or menu boards.

"If it isn't on the menu then it isn't worth doing, because nobody sees it," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In New York City, where restaurants with at least 15 outlets were recently required to begin displaying calories on menus or menu boards, diners have taken notice. Some 90% of restaurant patrons said calorie counts were higher than expected, according to a survey by Technomic, a Chicago-based market research firm.

That information is changing what 82% of diners order, according to the Technomic study. Sixty percent of those surveyed said it also affects what restaurants they visit.

Want more restaurant nutrition information now on what you're eating? Check web sites. Most fast-food chains already provide this information online, as do a handful of dinner-house chains. Yum Brands, which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and other brands, is starting to place calorie counts on menu boards at all company-owned restaurants nationwide and will finish the work by 2011.

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