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Calorie counts on menus are going to be mandatory in 2018

Calorie counts on menus are going to be mandatory in 2018

It’s finally happening. After nearly a decade of delays, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to implement an Obama-era policy that will require restaurants and other food outlets with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts beginning May 2018.

Any big chain — from grocery stores to movie theaters, amusement parks to vending machines to restaurants — will have to show how many calories come with their sandwiches, popcorn, cocktails, and french fries. Up front. Right on the menus.

In some eateries, menu labeling is already happening. Several major chains started to move in this direction because the FDA was expected to finalize this regulation years ago. It’s why you can see that your grande latte at Starbucks has 190 calories, your turkey, apple, and cheddar sandwich at Panera has 710 calories, and your McDonald’s Big Mac packs 530 calories, for example.

But we’ll soon be saturated in calorie data — everywhere. These changes aren’t expected to cause Americans to suddenly clean up their diets, but they could have profound indirect effects on how we think about food and nutrition, what we choose from the menu, and ultimately what restaurants serve.

We now get most of our calories from eating out — but it’s been hard to know what we are eating. That will soon change.

Americans do a lot of their eating outside of the home these days. More than half of the money spent on food goes to restaurants and convenient on-the-go meals — not to groceries cooked at home.

Make no mistake: When we dine out, we eat more. People typically consume 20 to 40 percent more calories in restaurants compared with what they’d eat at home. We do that because it’s easy to do in restaurants. As Tuft University researchers found, in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, restaurant dishes at non-chain establishments across the country typically contained 1,200 calories — about half of the 2,000 or 2,500 calories recommended for moderately active women and men in an entire day. For these reasons, the American propensity to dine out has been linked with the obesity epidemic.

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