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Instead of Calorie Count, Major Food Retailers Should Consider ‘Traffic Light System’
As of today, federal rules require restaurants and grocery and convenience stores with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts for standard menu items.
Jane Uzcategui is an associate teaching professor of nutrition at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. She is also a registered dietician who specializes in lifecycle nutrition and medical nutrition therapy. Prof. Uzcategui says research shows contextual information may be more helpful in getting consumers to recognize the nutritional value of their food choices.
“Research has shown that consumers do not know how many calories they need; without context, it is hard to use the information. Contextual information, such as a grading system like the traffic light system may be more helpful (read more at this link). Contextual information is useful because it provides some frame of reference. With the traffic light system, green light is used for foods that can be consumed regularly, a yellow light indicates use foods with caution and a red light means eat foods sparingly.
“All in all it is a tall order for a retailer to add calorie content to their menu boards but it can be useful to some consumers. That is, if someone is actively pursuing dietary change and understands how many calories they need in a day it is useful in guiding decisions. For example, if someone knows they should have 1800 calories in a day and have been coached to consume less than 500 kcal per meal, they know what to do.
“The calorie content of menus also have many limitations. For example, if a consumer is selecting an item as it is fully prepared then it should be accurate, however there are often additions, such as adding a salad dressing, a spread like butter or cream cheese or other condiments that may not be included in the calorie count. The additions tend to be very high in calories and it may be misleading. If you order a salad with no dressing, as posted on the menu board, and then add ranch dressing – that can add 250 or more calories to the meal. If you order a 16 oz. skim latte, it has 120 kcal less than one made with whole milk. There are so many examples.”
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