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Coming Soon to a Restaurant Near You: Calories on the Menu

Eat This, Not ThatEat This, Not That book author David Zinczenko provides insight into some of the worst chain restaurant foods while offering consumers some alternatives. Before going to your nearby Applebee’s, Arby’s, Baja Fresh, Baskin-Robbins, Boston Market, Burger King, Chipotle, Denny’s and Pizza Hut restaurants, you may want to consider these choices:

Eat This Not That
Applebee's
Grilled Cajun Lime Tilapia
310 calories, 6 g fat (0 saturated), 1,250 mg sodium
Fiesta Lime Chicken
1,285 calories, 47 g fat (14 g saturated), 1,443 mg sodium
Arby’s
Super Roast Beef
440 calories, 19 g fat (7 g saturated), 1,061 mg sodium
Roast Beef and Swiss Market Fresh Sandwich
810 calories, 42 g fat (13 g saturated), 1,780 mg sodium
Baja Fresh
Two Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos
460 calories, 18 g (3 g saturated), 600 mg sodium
Charbroiled Chicken Tostada
1,140 calories, 55 g fat (14 g saturated), 2,370 mg sodium
Baja Ensalada with Charbroiled Chicken & salsa
325 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated), 1,580 mg sodium
Carnitas Fajitas with Flour Tortillas
1,190 calories, 43 g fat (14 g saturated), 3,450 mg sodium
Baskin-Robbins
Maui-Brownie Madness Low-Fat Yogurt
210 calories, 4 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 34 g sugars
2 Scoops French Vanilla and Peanut Butter’n Chocolate
660 calories, 39 g fat (20 g saturated), 57 g sugars
Boston Market
Roasted Sirloin, Garlic Dill, New Potatoes, and Spinach
560 calories, 27 g fat (13 g saturated), 760 mg sodium
3 Pieces Dark Rotisserie Chicken, Sweet Potato Casserole, Market Chopped Side-Salad
1,410 calories, 90 g fat (22 g saturated), 3020 mg sodium
Burger King
Whopper Jr. without Mayo and a Garden Salad
365 calories, 12 g fat (4.5 saturated), 1,230 mg sodium
BK Big Fish Sandwich with Tartar Sauce and Medium Fries
1,000 calories; 52 g fat (10.5 g saturated), 2,040 mg sodium
Chipotle
Chicken Burrito Bowl with Lettuce, Black Beans, Green Tomatillo, Salsa and Sour Cream
489 calories, 22 g fat (9 g saturated), 1,006 mg sodium
Chicken Burrito with Black Beans, Rice, Green Tomatillo Salsa, Cheese and Sour Cream
1,169 calories, 47 g fat (18 g saturated), 2,656 mg sodium
Denny’s
Two Fried Eggs with Grits and Grapefruit Juice
380 calories, 20 g fat (6 g saturated), 760 mg sodium
Buttermilk Pancake Platter with Whipped Margarine and Maple Syrup
890 calories, 35 g fat (9.5 g saturated), 2,673 mg sodium
Veggie Cheese Omelette made with Egg Beaters
346 calories, 22 g fat (7 g saturated), 849 mg sodium
Smoked Sausage Scramble
1,480 calories, 88 g fat (30 g saturated), 4,340 mg sodium
Pizza Hut
Two Slices Thin ‘N Crispy Pizza
360 calories, 12 g fat (6 g saturated), 1,140 mg sodium
Two Slices Supreme Pan Pizza
620 calories, 32 g fat (12 g saturated), 1,440 mg sodium
Fasten your belt buckles. With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s putting the ink on landmark legislation, California’s chain restaurants menus will soon join New York City in providing patrons all the calories, grams of fat, carbohydrates and other nutritional information they’d never want you to know about.

On Sept. 30, California became the first state nationwide to require chain restaurants with more than 15 outlets to post calorie counts for each item on their menus and menu boards. In January, New York City became the first American city to pass a law requiring full disclosure of calories on restaurant menus.

Beginning in 2011, when the law (SB 1420; Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles) takes effect, Golden State patrons will face tough choices, such as between the 510-calorie chicken Ceasar salad at Panera Bread vs. its 1,010-calorie equivalent at Chili’s.

They’ll also no longer be able to plead dietary ignorance to combo meals, such as the Burger King Triple Whopper with cheese, fries, and a coke, because the damage of 2,200 calories and 115 grams will need to be displayed on the board.

“With this legislation, Californians will now be able to easily see that a large order of fries and a cheeseburger at McDonald’s has fewer calories than a blueberry muffin and a venti mocha Frappucino at Starbucks,” says Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which sponsored the legislation. “Prominently giving such information to consumers – before they place an order – isn’t going to end California’s obesity epidemic, but it’s a good place to start.”

That, at least, is the hope of advocates of menu-labeling.

While Hollywood’s starlets often look too thin, the reality is that 3 out of 5 Californians are overweight or obese. A new study conducted by the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley suggests the law could prompt adult fast-food patrons to lose 3 pounds on average a year by eating 9,300 fewer calories, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at the American Council on Exercise, said that “menu-labeling legislation is welcomed news for health-conscious consumers. Hopefully, it will have a positive impact on the nutrition choices of the average consumer.”

Other experts say it’s too soon to predict whether menu labeling will lead diners to make healthier choices. A recent study gives rise to hope: According to The Economist magazine, when information was prominently displayed in fast-food chains in New York, patrons took notice by ordering foods containing 52 fewer calories on average. Another study also found that diners ordered lower-calorie meals when the menu was labeled, but only on Mondays and Tuesday, the likely culprit of guilt from a weekend filled with hedonistic pleasure eating.

The call for healthier menu choices by consumers certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by restaurants.

Considering that some of the biggest food chains have already introduced new low-calorie items and smaller servings to attract health-oriented Americans.

Starbucks, for instance, recently bolstered its entire breakfast menu, adding five new items packed with healthier ingredients, such as whole grains and Omega-3s. Nutritional food values vary by location, according to the Starbucks Website. In a San Diego Starbucks location, the new low-fat Eight Grain Roll is listed as having 270 calories; a cup of Perfect Oatmeal has 140 calories; the Apple Bran muffin has 330 calories; and the Berry Stella pastry 280 calories. Starbucks fans still find many traditional baked goods in stores, including the blueberry muffin, which comes at 450 calories and the cranberry orange scone, which packs 410 calories. The question remains whether seeing the calorie writing on the wall will entice Americans to choose differently.

Similarly, at McDonalds, which recently added its own brand of flavored coffees, including cappuccinos, mochas and lattes, Americans now find healthier choices thanks to a revamped food menu: Compare the Southwest salad with grilled chicken at 320 calories to the long-standing large size breakfast biscuit at 800 calories and you get the picture.

Just as high-calorie condiments, including mayonnaise (1 table spoon=99 calories), cashew butter (1 table spoon=94 calories), or peanut butter (2 tablespoons = 188 calories) can ruin an otherwise perfectly healthy meal, the lack of regular physical activity also comes at a health cost.

Consider this: To manage body weight and prevent weight gain, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that Americans engage in 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity on most days of the week while following a sensible eating plan. To sustain weight loss takes 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity and healthy eating.

Sedentary individuals and those with health conditions should talk to their healthcare providers before engaging in any type of exercise program.

While few Americans get the recommended 30 minutes of light- to moderate physical activity outlined in the Surgeon General’s report, the good news is that it’s never too late to start exercising and reap the many health benefits.

Keeping score of calories burned through daily exercise will surely ease some of the pain when California's fast-food restaurants will no longer be able to hide their caloric secrets.

Taking a brisk walk to your favorite restaurant instead of driving will save you gas money and may just burn enough calories so you can enjoy a guilt-free meal—and all that without loosening your belt buckle.


Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.


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