Food & Drink: Is ignorance bliss when eating out?

For me, dinner out is a real treat and I don’t tend to limit myself too much when it comes to my food choices. My theory is that if I’m paying to eat out, I’ll spend the money on something that I really want to eat. However, I tend to eat fairly healthily in any event and I don’t think that my eating style changes too much when I go out – I prefer tomato sauces to creamy sauces, I love salad and I don’t really have a sweet tooth so often pick coffee rather than dessert.
However, after a lovely dinner out last night consisting of spaghetti with chicken and N’duja sausage, chocolate orange slice and a glass of white wine, I decided to use MyFitnessPal to check on the calorie count of the meal I had just eaten. I was SHOCKED to read the number of calories I had consumed in that one meal! Admittedly, this was mainly due to the absolutely decadent chocolate orange slice (a chocolate sponge base topped with chocolate-orange truffle mousse and a dusting of popping candy).

I can’t decide now whether it would be better to have easier access to nutritional information at restaurants (i.e. listed on the menu) so that I can make a more informed choice or whether that would simply ruin my enjoyment of eating out. Maybe it would be preferable to remain in blissful ignorance and simply enjoy my meal?

According to an article on the BBC website, the New York Health Department carried out a study following a new law in 2008 forcing restaurants in the city to display nutritional information for customers. That study found that one in six customers used the information provided, with most reducing their calorie intake as a result. This demonstrates that displaying nutritional information may only have a limited impact on how people choose their food in a restaurant.

In 2010, the UK government asked restaurants to display nutritional values on their menus. 32 UK restaurants signed up to the scheme and you will notice that some menus (such as in Wetherspoons and Harvester) do display that information now.

The Food Commission prepared an interesting study in 2008 in which it referred to a public survey carried out in which members of the public were given a list of food items at particular restaurants and asked to guess which had the most fat, for example:-

e.g.       Which meal item at Burger King has the most amount of total fat?

             A – double Whopper with cheese
            B – bacon double cheese burger
            C – XL bacon double cheeseburger
            D – smoked bacon and cheddar angus

The correct answer is A, however only 25.5% of the public guessed the correct answer. 50% 
of people guessed item C.


            Which item at KFC has the most fat?
            A – large coleslaw
             B – regular popcorn chicken
            C – large fries
            D – fillet burger

The correct answer is A, however 62% of the public guessed either item B or C.

This study illustrates that the general public, myself included, are somewhat ignorant as to the healthiest options at our regular restaurants.

Out of interest, I carried out a bit of research into how easy it is to find nutritional information for UK restaurants online and I discovered that most restaurants provide the information via their websites – albeit some are more hidden away than others!

Restaurants with nutritional info on PDF

Restaurants with nutritional information on website

Cinemas with Nutritional Information Online

So, would listing calorie information on menus really encourage healthy eating or is it a step too far that ruins the enjoyment of a meal out?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts and opinions as to whether you would prefer this information to be provided when eating out and whether you think restaurants should be required by law to add nutritional information to their menus? 


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