How New Calorie Counts on Menus Helps Weight Loss

Megan Meyer, PhD
by Megan Meyer, PhD
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How New Calorie Counts on Menus Helps Weight Loss

Eating out and trying new restaurants has become an integral part of our culture, since Americans eat and drink 1/3 of their calories away from home.

Of course, MyFitnessPal offers restaurant logging, and, now, in response to this growing trend, as well as the growing rates of obesity, a new federal law, originally part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, went into effect on May 7, 2018, and requires menus to display calorie counts in restaurants, grocery and convenience store chains. This will allow for calorie and other nutrition information (including fat and sodium) to be available at more than 200,000 locations.

These changes, which are meant to educate Americans and help us make informed — and hopefully healthier — choices, can be found on display boards, paper menus and digital screens at chains with 20 or more locations. It will be most noticeable at midsize and regional chains since many large chains (Think: Starbucks) began to display nutrition information when this law was initially passed in 2010.

While calorie content will be the main piece of information added to menus, it is required that “additional nutrition information available upon request” is also posted. The additional nutrition information includes: total calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein. If you want more information beyond calories, just make sure to ask an employee at the restaurant.

Since more than 50% of Americans say they use nutritional information when eating out at restaurants, this new ruling could help provide more information to more consumers when they are dining out. And the FDA states that this can translate into improved health outcomes since research has shown that menu labeling efforts have decreased the average number of calories ordered by 30–50 calories per visit, which could translate into losing 3–5 pounds in a year. In addition, consuming about 64 fewer calories per day could help the U.S. reach its goal of slashing childhood obesity by 2020.



While this new rule gives you more access to nutrition information, it’s also important to keep the following six tips in mind to help you choose healthy options when eating out.

  1. Determine your drink: Choose water, unsweetened tea and other drinks without added sugars.
  2. Load up on clean vegetables: Swap in a side salad or roasted veggies for fries or mashed potatoes.
  3. Pick a protein: Lean animal or plant protein can help you stay fuller longer. Lean protein can help with weight management, support strong bones and bolster a healthy immune system.
  4. Embrace whole grains: Ask for brown rice or 100% whole-wheat breads, rolls or pasta. Whole grains have been shown to support weight loss and weight management as well as reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  5. Practice mindful eating: eat with all five senses and use your internal hunger and fullness cues to guide your meal. Research has shown that mindful eating can help you keep portion sizes in check and eat fewer calories.
  6. Save leftovers: Watch your portions and actively decide to save some of the food for another meal.

While it’s sometimes important to keep an eye on what you are ordering, especially if you eat out often, it’s also important to remember balance and flexibility. Eating out is usually a social or celebratory opportunity, make sure you’re enjoying yourself and savor your food. I’m usually not as concerned about making sure I’m loading my plate with veggies when I am eating out. Instead I try to order what sounds best in the moment and to really enjoy it, knowing my next meal will probably involve a mix of healthy fats, whole grains, lean protein and a good deal of produce.

About the Author

Megan Meyer, PhD
Megan Meyer, PhD

Megan is a lover of all things science, food, and fitness. A scientist by training (go Tar Heels!), Dr. Meyer has found that being able to communicate the science is just as important as understanding the science. Dr. Meyer has a BS in Biology from Loyola University Maryland as well as a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a regular contributor to sites like US News & World Report and The Huffington Post. In her spare time, she enjoys whipping up fun recipes in the kitchen, exploring new trails, and spending quality time with loved ones. You can follow her on Twitter.


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