What this new menu labeling rule is keeping from you

Somewhere, buried deep in the close to 3,000-page bill that became the (un)Affordable Care Act, is perhaps one of its biggest absurdities. (I know, it’s not easy to pick just one!)

It’s a part of the law that is supposed to improve our health by hitting us in the face with how many calories are in a fast food burger, cinnamon bun, chocolate chip cookie and even a supposedly “healthy” salad from your favorite chain restaurant.

This calorie-count fiasco is finally slated to go into effect next spring. And it will include every restaurant or business that serves ready-to-eat food that has 20 or more locations. And it’s not just restaurants, but also bakeries, supermarkets, take-out and delivery places and delis.

And with all the glowing news stories I’ve been reading about it, you would think a cure for cancer had just been found.

But there’s something much more important that you need to know when you eat out.

And it’s one this lasting high-calorie legacy from the Obama administration won’t be telling you.

Much ado about numbers

I could go on and on about all the things that are wrong this “menu labeling” nonsense, but I’ll cut right to the chase: It’s not going to tell us the most important thing we need to know about the food we’re being served.

And that’s not the calories that food contains – but what’s actually in it.

For example, does that healthy-looking salad dressing contain GMO oil or MSG? Does the bun on the fish sandwich have artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) in it? Is the fruit topping on that yogurt loaded with artificially-colored berries and high fructose corn syrup?

Well, you won’t be told any of that.

And this new calorie-count rule is being hailed as a cure for not only obesity but everything else that ails us.

The director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale called it “an historic development.” He said that people don’t know what’s in restaurant food and “they’re often shocked to find out.”

But guess what? We still won’t know what’s in restaurant food!

Ordering out is often like a mystery box on a television game show. Sure, we can do a search online to try and find this information out beforehand, but that’s not easy. And sometimes it’s next to impossible.

For example, I took a spin around the Applebee’s website to try and find some clues as to what’s in their entrees, and came away even more confused than ever.

While a big page called “nutritional information” is easy to find, it gives us some pretty general facts about calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. And while it says that some foods contain trans fats (such as 1.5 grams in its chicken quesadilla), it doesn’t bother to tell us if that’s from added PHOs or naturally occurring.

I also found a page covering 10 potential allergens (like nuts and soy), and while I was happy to see MSG listed, either they have some very odd recipes or someone at headquarters isn’t checking this stuff.

If you go by this list, MSG will be found in Applebee’s saltine crackers, the hot fudge sundae and its Triple Chocolate Meltdown dessert.


All this goes to show is that instead of making calories out to be the culprits, what we need is some real “menu labeling.” One that will tip us off about what’s really causing weight gain, blood sugar issues and all those digestive problems.

That may seem like a tall order. But if we’re going to go to all the trouble of labeling things, shouldn’t we be labeling the things that count – rather than simply counting calories?

“Fast-food calorie labeling not working, study finds” HealthDay, November 29, 2016, medlineplus.gov