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Law makes Seattle restaurant meals healthierJuly 19, 2012 @ 5:40 pm (Updated: 5:58 am - 7/20/12 )
When you see a calorie count listed next to a menu item, it's likely you'll choose a healthier item. A law forcing King County restaurants to list calories is also having an effect on the establishments. They're offering lighter meal options.
In 2009, King County forced nutrition labeling in many chain restaurants. Calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrate information has to be posted on menus and menu boards according to the ordinance.
Today calorie counts are a bit lower, with chain-restaurant entrees average of 73 calories lighter.
There were also some improvements in sodium and saturated fat content, according to this study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"There's a benefit to getting this information out there to people," lead researcher Barbara Bruemmer with the University of Washington tells Reuters.
It's unclear if the nutrition label law was the reason. Bruemmer could only look at restaurants in King County for the study.
Bruemmer and her team audited entrees at 37 chain restaurants in King County six months after the menu law went into effect, then again at the 18-month mark.
On average, sit-down chains like Denny's and Applebee's had trimmed 73 calories from meals. That meant dipping from an average of 1,044 calories per entree to 970.
Saturated fat declined from almost 18 grams per meal, to just over 16. Sodium levels dropped from more than 2,100 milligrams to around 1,900.
Fast-food places, like McDonald's, Burger King and Subway, made some minor changes. The typical meal at those places went from 669 calories to 650, while sodium dropped only a slight amount.
While restaurant meals at both fast-food and sit-down joints are improving, they're still over the limits for calories. Of all chain restaurant entrees, 56 percent still exceed the recommended limit for calories, 75 percent contained too much saturated fat and 89 percent were over the recommended sodium guidelines.
The big difference is that, at least in King County, customers know what they're getting. Bruemmer says, "People can start to look for calorie counts just like they look for prices."
By LINDA THOMAS
Photo, Panera Bread, which has calories listed on every menu item and bakery treat
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