New on the Menu: Calorie Labeling |

Dinner fork in measuring tape

In the food and beverage market, health-conscious Americans are driving big changes in food production, packaging, distribution and service. This is especially evident in supermarkets and in restaurants, where companies are under pressure to provide clearly-labeled packaging and menus that list calorie amounts.

In 2010, the healthcare reform act included a provision to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue new rules around labeling of ingredients and calories for food manufacturers and restaurants. In 2011, the FDA said it would issue regulations this year requiring restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to provide calorie amounts on their menus.

As of late March 2013, however, implementation nationwide was on hold while the FDA continued to work on the regulations.

The Politics of Calories Labeling

Healthcare reform advocates -- who are in favor of the new rules for calorie labels at restaurants that are currently being drafted by the FDA -- say that food manufacturers and restaurant associations have stalled finalization of the calorie labeling requirements through lobbying.

Grocery stores, for example, are fighting the FDA's proposed calorie-labeling requirement, arguing that they and convenience stores are not restaurants and so should be exempted. (The leading grocery story trade group, however, said it does support a similar Congressional proposal, H.R. 1249, the "Commonsense Nutrition Disclosure Act," which is similar to the FDA's proposed rules.)

Although in official statements the restaurant industry has signed on to the idea of 'commonsense labeling' and helped to write the new regulations, resistance from supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers has caused the FDA to undertake a longer review.  Nonetheless, while the Federal government and congress tussle over the details, the fact of the matter is that millions of Americans are way out in front in terms of changing their behavior around calories and nutrition.

Americans first began counting calories around the turn of the 20th Century, although recent advancements in nutrition studies and health and medical research have refined the process, according to Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, a board-certified nutritionist and author of Living the Low-Carb Life: Choosing the Diet that's Right for You from Atkins to Zone.  More recently, rising customer awareness about the direct link between diet and obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses has renewed the focus of citizens and health experts alike of not only counting calories but the need to ascertain good calories from bad calories.

Modern Solutions for Ageless Task: Calorie Counting

Some nutrition experts have lately recommended that rather than counting calories, consumers would do better to police their energy intake, according to Steven Aldana, PhD, professor of lifestyle medicine at Brigham Young University.

The time-consuming process of charting each and every calorie -- even if new regulations require food manufacturers and restaurants to provide amounts on menus and labels -- isn't really conducive to improving one's consumption patterns.  Aldana, in an interview with the health and medicine site WebMD, recommends the following approach to minding one's caloric intake:

  • Instead of counting calories, eat smaller portions.
  • Instead of counting calories, choose foods that use more calories. (Some foods require more energy than others to digest and metabolize, a development known as the thermic effect of food, Aldana says. According to WebMD, "The difference is very small,  just a few calorie's difference, for example, to eat a slice of bread made from whole grains vs. one made from refined flour.")
  • Instead of counting calories, make sure you consume the right kind. A University of California study found that almost one quarter of Americans' calorie intake comes from sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages, while nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables account for only ten percent.

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Amy Alexander

Amy Alexander
Senior Writer and Content Manager 

Topics: Food & Beverage