Tuesday, April 5

Death to “Death by Chocolate”?

Back in college my roommate Kim and I would head down to one of our favorite restaurants for a decadent, sinfully rich dessert called Death by Chocolate. In our 20-year-old brains it was the perfect break from studying. Jacked-up on sugar, we reasoned, we would be more effective at memorizing physics formulas, calculus equations and all things math related. We didn't give a hoo ha about calorie-counts, sugar levels, fat content or any such nonsense. We were blissfully ignorant of our poor food choices.

With some newly proposed regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it's going to be harder to enjoy those types of treats guilt-free.

As part of the health legislation signed into law last year, the FDA announced new menu labeling requirements. The proposed regulation would require restaurants to post the calorie count for each item on their menus. This will impact an estimated 280,000 establishments including: restaurants with 20 or more locations, bakeries, grocery stores, convenience stores, coffee chains and even food sold in vending machines.

Now much older, wiser and with a significantly slower metabolism, I think this is a fabulous idea. 

Too many restaurants hide this information and they do it purposefully, knowing that their food is loaded with high-calorie ingredients like butter, oil and cheese. Requiring the information to be printed on the menu will make it impossible to hide the 2,000-calorie serving of lasagna, the 1,000-calorie cheeseburger and the 1,300-calorie goodie known as Death by Chocolate.

I’m hopeful this regulation will have a three-pronged effect.

1) Armed with good information, people will make healthier choices. (Except college students, they're hopeless.)

2) Restaurants will offer healthier, tastier cuisine.

Currently restaurants rely on fat (butter, oil, bacon, cheese etc.) to flavor food and don’t push themselves to develop flavor through other means. “Healthy” options are relegated to the back page of the menu and consists mostly of steamed veggies and uninspired broiled fish. No wonder no one wants to eat that stuff. With menu labeling, hopefully restaurants will see demand for new products and as always, money talks. If customers want it, they’ll provide it.

3) Supersized portions will go away.

One of the easiest ways to cut down on an item’s calorie count will be to reduce the portion size. This alone will go a long way to re-calibrating our sense of what a normal portion size is.

Of course, I don’t think it’s going to be perfect. There are always loopholes and my guess is the restaurant industry will find them. For example, I bet they’ll vary the serving size information. If they are required to post calorie count information but not at a specific serving size, then they can post whatever calorie count they want and adjust the serving size.  This is how that'll play out. They could post that a bowl of soup is 200 calories for ½ cup. That could be accurate, but they’ll fail to mention that what they’ll serve you is a two-cup portion. Meaning you’ll eat 800 calories. They’re technically following the guidelines, but not without some deceptive marketing thrown in.

I’m just speculating here, but I think if these rules go into effect consumers still need to be wary and read the fine print to understand what they’re eating.

In the meantime, download this app for your iPhone. It’s called Restaurant Nutrition and it’s free. Loaded with nutritional information for 200 restaurants and 30,000 food items, you can see the calorie count for your favorite menu item today.

P.S. The FDA is collecting comments on this proposed regulation for the next 60 days. If you'd like to submit a comment go here to read the press release and at the bottom of the page are the directions for submitting a comment. (Unfortunately, the directions for submitting a comment aren't working. I tried to comment this morning. Hopefully the government will fix this shortly. I plan on trying again later.)


  1. I very much enjoy reading your blog. I have been a consistent reader, but a poor commenter. My apologies. Now that you've outed me, I feel compelled to carve out a few minutes to offer a perspective you may not have considered. I firmly, firmly believe to my very last breath, that "Death by Chocolate" did help our grades tremendously. It's not so much that our metabolisms have slowed, but that we quit taking so many Physics and Calculus tests. I think we should consider incorporating more tests as part of a healthy lifestyle. Using our brains like that again would help keep our brains active and healthy. Besides, I am almost positive that "Death by Chocolate" calories don't count when studying for anything mathematics related. Are you with me, Di?...... I didn't think so.

    It sure was fun while we could get away with it!


  2. Hey there roomie!

    I think it probably helped you more than me. If I recall, our "studying" consisted of 90% gossiping and 10% work. You, being way smarter than me, did just fine with the limited amount of work we accomplished. Me, not so much. But it definitely was fun and the food breaks were fabulous. What restaurant was that anyway? I couldn't remember. Gorin's? Micks?

  3. It's been killing me trying to remember the name of the restaurant. Now that I see your reply, I can free up some brain space for something more productive. It was Gorin's.

    I am pretty sure you have which one of us was the smarter one completely backwards. It was definitely you. I couldn't have done it without you.