Standing up for public nutritional info

I count calories. It’s the only thing that’s ever helped me with weight loss. I’ve been trying to lose weight for what seems like a lifetime. I started thinking I was fat (I was not!) when I was probably 11, and with that came all the insecurities and attempts to change myself. Unfortunately I like chocolate. I like it A LOT… and guess what? A lot of chocolate isn’t good for weight loss. But anyways, that’s nothing new. What saddens me is when seemingly harmless food is calorie laden, and many of us are doing tramendous damage to our bodies without even realizing it.

I bring you The Cheesecake Factory and their nutritional info. Annabel shared this link with us in her Monday post and I just can’t get it off my mind. I was blown away. Disguisted. Angry. Let’s face it – The Cheesecake Factory is not a healthy restaurant. We all know that (right?). When your meal arrives and it looks like it’s big enough to feed a small village (or at least a family of 4), you better believe it has enough calories to feed this many people. Unfortunately, too many of us eat the whole thing, and that’s after sampling their delicious bread basket with butter. I think it’s because we really don’t know how bad it truly is. Yes, it seems like a large portion, and yes it tastes buttery so it probably has butter, but it’s not like I eat like this every day… The question is, would you eat the same thing, or eat the same portion, if you knew you it would set you back 3,000 calories in 1 sitting?

A small caesar salad with chicken at the Cheesecake Factory is 976 calories (that’s a small!); a regular caesar salad with chicken is 1510 calories and 16 grams of fat! And you thought you were kind of being healthy by ordering a salad! Oh and by the way, it is unclear whether these numbers include dressings or not. One tablespoon of caesar dressing is 82 calories. How many do you think they mix in there? A whole cup (=16 tablespoon)? Most likely. We don’t want any “naked” lettuce on our plates, now do we? Pretty much everything on the menu is over 1,000 calories and many things are over 2,000. But you had a salad, now you can have some dessert, right? Did you know that a slice of cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory is about 1,000 calories? That must be for the whole cake, right? Nope, just a slice! My beloved Godiva chocolate cheesecake slice is a whopping 1,109 calories. How many calories is just a bite? Can you stop at just one bite? I can’t! Last example (then I’m cutting myself off!) is their brunch menu. I’ve been wanting to go there for brunch for a while. I think I saw a picture of their french toast napoleon once and it just looked like the best thing in the world… French toast with lots of toppings. Oh my! Best way to start your Sunday, or what? :) Well, apparently the “best start to a Sunday” is 1696 calories and 51 grams of fat!! Um, I didn’t realize I would have to run a marathon after this brunch to be able to fit into my jeans on Monday! Yeah, don’t think I’m going to the Cheesecake Factory for Sunday brunch.

Looking through these nutritional stats made me question what other restaurants are serving and now I’m a little scared to eat out. Obviously cooking at home is the best way to ensure that you are feeding yourself exactly what you want, but that’s not always fun. And eating out is one of the greatest pleasures in life (at least in my opinion…).  Am I eating 2 days worth of food in just one meal every time I go out… even when I get a salad?  The answer to that is – I don’t know!  And this is where I get to the point I wanted to make all along. If we know what we’re eating, good or bad, we can make informed decisions. I am glad the Cheesecake Factory nutritional information is finally publicly available. Now I know what to avoid, what to eat with caution, and what to dig right into and never look back (limited options on that front but you get the point…). Knowledge is power, and don’t we all want to be powerful? 😀

If every restaurant published nutritional information, every single one of us would benefit. You don’t have to be an avid calorie counter to know that a bowl of soup is not worth 1,000 calories, a salad should not be 1,500 calories and if pasta carbonara at 2,291 calories/plate is eaten with some kind of frequency, you may actually die a little younger. Just a little. Or maybe you’re ok with it, but you adjust your lifestyle accordingly a few days (yes, days) before and after and undo the damage. That also works. Maybe you make sure to share your plate with your dining companions. Who can say no to some cheesecake, right? And maybe, just maybe, restaurants realize that many of us want more healthy options! The restaurants are fighting with authorities to provide this information because they know it will impact their business. Just like I will never consider ordering the french toast napoleon EVER after knowing exactly how many calories it has, other people may do the same. It’s just not worth it for many of us. For the record, when I go to the Cheesecake Factory I always get the Weight Management Asian chicken salad (571 calories, dressing included?). It’s still caloric but I find it to be the safer option. Now I know I can get some grilled tuna and steamed broccoli and be ok there too. But that’s not exciting! I will never suggest the Cheesecake Factory as the dining destination, not because it’s not delicious, but because their “healthier” options are so limited and boring. I can make my own piece of fish and steamed broccoli, thank you very much, can you do better than that and not completely clog my arteries?

TCF Weight Management Asian chicken salad

New York City requires all chain restaurants to post nutritional information for all of their offerings in plain sight. Boston will follow suit next fall 2010. This is great progress, but it’s not enough. Most restaurant follow recipes, so this information can be available. I’ll volunteer for them to do the counting if that’s what it takes! 😉 The Cheesecake Factory has done the math and is still hiding it. We as consumers should demand to know what/how much we’re really eating! Ask your server next time you’re at a restaurant if they have nutritional information for their food. The answer most likely will be “no,” but if enough of us ask for it every.single.day, this may just change.

Lastly, I want to say that I know I may get beaten up by many for talking about this. Sometimes you should just enjoy what you eat, and not care about calories. I agree! But you should be given the right to choose to access this information or not. Sometimes I want to know, and other times I don’t. Yes, knowing it’s thousands of calories (not just kind of guessing) may kill the joy of certain meals (because it’s not worth it) but this may work the other way around. Enjoying a delicious meal that you know is good for you (you’re not just hoping they didn’t sneak something in there to make it taste good) is well… priceless!

Here are a few restaurants that are not afraid to share their nutritional info with the world (good or bad):

Au Bon Pain

UFood Grill

P.F. Chang’s

Uno’s

b.good

Ready Health Go

And this is another source for many chain restaurants – nutritional info is not always available for every meal – often just for the healthier options, but that’s still great!

How many calories do you think you’re consuming at your favorite restaurant? Do you care? Will you stand up for our right to know nutritional information for the food we’re served? If enough of us do it, we may just change the world! :mrgreen:

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15 comments to Standing up for public nutritional info

  • I came accross this information a few weeks ago and had the same reaction! This is why I want a law passed stating restaurants MUST share nutritional info! Imagine how many other offenders there are, Cheesecake Factory is one in a million, I am sure. Thanks for the additional info on the other restaurants!

  • Whoa! It will hard to eat there after reading that. The portions are so huge…I bet almost everything is bad for you.

    Sometimes I wish I could see the nutritionals…but sometimes I just want to be bad!! haha

  • This is something I go back and forth about. I completely agree that chain restaurants should do it and love what’s going on in NYC. When there I’ve often made different decisions as a result of seeing the calorie information on the menus.

    That said, I’m not sure how I feel about it for smaller independent restaurants. I could see where it would be much more challenging, particularly in the case of restaurants that often switch up their menus. I know a lot of them are already struggling in this economy and have sadly seen a lot of small, independent restaurants close and would hate to have this happen to more.

    That said, I think it’s also up to us as consumers to also rethink what value means when dining out. I remember reading articles (I forget where) about how some restaurants actually tried to make their portion sizes more reasonable and people complained. We’ve got to change our mindset that every meal should give us enough for 3 plates of leftovers and we have to make a conscious effort to order the healthier things on the menu if we want to see them still available. In the corporate world, money talks so I think voting with your wallet is important.

  • I know that most restaurants use a ton of extra oil/butter, and the portions are generally huge. I rarely eat out, and this is one of the reasons. When I do eat out (maybe once a month, or less often), I go to a “healthy” restaurant, like one of the local vegetarian restaurant. I know the dish probably still has about 600-700 calories, but it’s a lot better than someplace like IHOP or the Cheesecake factory. I never go to those places, just because I don’t have any desire to put that kinda food in my body. So yea, those nutritionals disgust me, but they don’t make me worry about my situation because I never go there. I do really want nutritionals to be shown for all restaurants, though! That’d be awesome.

  • it’s such a hard topic… in most cases I feel like I can figure out which menu items are bad. but what i don’t like is the copious amounts of butter they use in prep. sure, butter tastes good, but just use good ingredients. I do like to see nutritional info, but i dont’ know that it should be required (is that feasible for small independent places?). but then again there are others on the complete opposite side of the spectrum (not trying to lose/maintain) who should not avoid things b/c they know how many calories are in there.

    i think we just really need to change the “american way” of out of control portions and bad fat usage (i’m all for good fats!)

  • AMEN SISTER!

    I too was horrified at that recent news. And I’m sorry but “weight mananagement” is insulting – anyway. I WANT to be informed…. and if I have the choice of dining at a establishment that provides calories and one that doesn’t 9 out of 10 times I’m going with the one that discloses.

  • […] Standing up for public nutritional info […]

  • Elina

    Natalie, I totally agree – I don’t always want to see it, but I want to be given the choice to make that decision!

    Kelly and ttfn300, I never really understood why some people thought it was unfair to smaller businesses. Calculating nutritional info isn’t hard. I do it every single day. I’m not saying change your boards and reprint the menus, but have the info available in a separate book or something if someone asks for it.

  • I absolutely support restaurants making nutritional informatnoi available. I know there is a politial argument against it, but I don’t see how we are suppposed to make informed choices without information. The scary thing is, you and I are relatively educated when it comes to basic nutritional ideas (and we STILL might fall victim to the scary salad!). But there are people out there (I have dined with them) who truly do not know that a plate of fettuchini is truly horrible.
    Absolutely I agree that we should be able to go out and enjoy ourselves, but we should be able to have the informatino available to decide when those splurges should be!
    Great post, Elina!

  • Adam

    If packaged foods from the supermarket must have nutritional information printed on the label, then there is no reason why restaurants shouldn’t be required to provide the same.

  • sister inna

    i don’t understand WHY it MIGHT be difficult for any size restaurant to have nutritional info available, even if it is a tiny place. that changes their menu on a weekly basis. and only has one computer stuffed in a back room somewhere. you know exactly what you are putting into your recipes. with the magic of *the internets* this info can be plugged into an equation within minutes. everyone should do it, i wish we COULD change the way these things are handled. btw i asked the ppl at magnolia for their nutritional info a few weeks ago, the girl looked at me like i was a martian (i’m sure the sweat/ sand covered outfit didn’t help) 😛

  • Elina

    Lara, Adam, Innz – agreed!

    Inna – I can calculate the nutritional info for Magnolia’s cupcakes. They published the recipe in their cookbook. I’d just need to dig it up. Let me know if you want it. It could be a scary number :) Oh and good job on asking for the info! I’m going to start asking for it everywhere. I’m sure I’m going to get lots of looks, but maybe one day it will stick.

  • great post elina.

    i am not sure if i want the nutritionals or not, but i would definitely want the option!

  • […] And we all gotta a little bit pissed, crabby and cranky?  (And check out Elina who wrote about it here, […]

  • […] was an easy way to get some fuel in us so we could keep on going. I do NOT trust their menu (see this very old post with a link to their nutritional info) so I always order the same exact thing when […]

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