Calorie info gets spotlight

A new rule will require chains to show food calories, but that may not change buyers’ habits.

Kelsey Christensen

When a Cold Stone Creamery customer orders the “Gotta Have It” size of a PB&C shake, they’re handed nearly 2,000 calories in a cup — about the suggested daily nutritional intake for a woman.

But the calorie count isn’t listed on Cold Stone’s in-store menu.

That will soon change, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently ruled to begin requiring restaurant chains and other food retailers of 20 or more locations to list calories on their menus and menu boards.

Despite this, customers may or may not respond to the forthcoming sweep in the visibility of nutrition content, said Lisa Harnack, epidemiology and community health professor and director of the University’s Nutrition Coordinating Center.

“There has been a good amount of research done on calorie listings, and there are some people that will change their eating habits … but a lot of people won’t,” she said. “The more health-conscious and educated people use [posted calories].”

The final rule, published Dec. 1, gives affected establishments — including many eateries and food outlets near the University of Minnesota — one year to comply.

The new law will cover sit-down restaurants, drive-through, takeout, made-to-order meals from grocery stores, self-serve food bars, movie theaters, convenience stores and certain types of alcoholic beverages — as long as they meet the 20-chain requirement.

Other nutritional information like cholesterol, carbohydrates, fiber, protein and calories from fat must also be available to customers upon request under the FDA’s new rules.

Some restaurants already list calories on their menus, like the Dinkytown Potbelly location.

Assistant manager Adam Hansen said the sandwich spot will need to begin providing more information for some food products, like its cookies, whose nutritional content is not currently posted on the menu.

“The law might affect us in a positive way since our food isn’t terribly bad for you,” he said.

Just down the street, Espresso Royale is beginning to plan its own compliance with the new federal law.

The coffee shop’s manager, Rex Vogen, said the business is mostly caught up on the logistics of making calorie information visible to customers.

“Getting new menu boards is the only thing I’m worried about, since they’re made in Michigan,” Vogen said.

He said he doesn’t think the new regulation will negatively affect Espresso Royale.

“I am personally happy about the law because people should know what they’re putting in their bodies,” Vogen said

Harnack, the epidemiology and community health professor, said most people don’t know enough about what they are eating and how much they are consuming.

About 20 percent of Americans count calories, she said, and about 30 percent eat food not made at home. Many don’t know that a meal more than 700 calories is considered unhealthy, she said.

“Most people used to only go out to eat for special occasions,” Harnack said, “but now people are going out all the time, and we should be paying attention to calories.”

Some food outlets, like Cold Stone Creamery, say the FDA’s decision will significantly impact them.

“It’s no joke — our calories are really high,” said Ann-Marie Wells, manager of the chain’s Mall of America location.

She said to give health-conscious customers more options, Cold Stone Creamery has been adding more “no sugar” items, sorbets and frozen yogurts. Wells said the new law could prompt the introduction of even more of these types of desserts.

Like Harnack, Wells said she is unsure that customers will be deterred by posted calorie counts.

“I think people will still come in,” she said. “We had a very high-calorie shake published in a newspaper, and people still bought it.”