Trying to keep track of calories when dining out with family or friends used to be somewhat of a “mission impossible” task. Calorie information can be hard to come by, and consumers have often had to make educated guesses about portion sizes and method of preparation in order to estimate the calories in their meal. But now American consumers will have access to calorie and nutrition information on food offered by chain restaurants or food establishments that have 20 or more locations.

As of May 2018 in the U.S., calories must now be listed on menus and menu boards of affected restaurant chains. For self-service foods and foods on display, calories must be listed in close proximity and clearly associated with the standard menu item, states the final Menu Labeling Final Rule issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This is great news, since, according to the FDA, Americans take in about one-third of their calories from food and beverages prepared away from home, and these foods tend to provide more calories, sodium, and saturated fat than meals consumed at home.

People are becoming more health-conscious and, fortunately, the industry is listening to their demands. Having nutrition information available will help consumers to evaluate one choice over another and to make healthier decisions. Here are some more tips to make the most out of this new requirement:

Do your research

Keep in mind the calorie information provided by restaurants is only an estimate, and there might be variations. It may be helpful to search nutrition information online, before you even go to the restaurant. This way, you have a better idea of what to order, and it helps you to commit to your choice, too.

Listen to common sense

You know those fries aren’t going to do you much good, so when looking at a menu, shift your attention to the foods you know you should be consuming: try to choose the lower calorie items on the menu, such as lean grilled protein dishes, and ask for vegetables as sides.

Be aware of condiments

The calories listed on the menu for a salad or sandwich may not include salad dressing or condiments, so read the listings carefully. The extra calories you are adding to your meal through condiments and dressings can add up fast.

Ask for more information

Under this new rule, businesses must also provide, upon request, the following written nutrition information for standard menu items: total calories; total fat; saturated fat; trans fat; cholesterol; sodium; total carbohydrates; sugars; fiber; and protein. If you’re really trying to make healthy choices don’t be afraid to ask for this information.

Susan Bowerman

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman is the senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. She also serves as the Vice Chair of the Dietetic Advisory Board (DAB). As a registered dietitian, she educates distributors about our global nutrition philosophy and is responsible for developing nutrition education and training materials. Bowerman earned a B.S. in Biology with distinction from the University of Colorado and an M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and holds two board certifications as a specialist in Sports Dietetics and in Obesity and Weight Management. When she is not busy teaching and writing, Susan enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and gardening. Her favorite Herbalife products include Simply Probiotic and Herbalife Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix Banana Caramel.