What Not to Eat



The best part of Rachel Saslow’s article on health-destroying chain restaurant meals:

Uno Chicago Grill’s Chicago Classic deep-dish individual pizza, which is topped with sausage, tomato sauce and cheese.

The numbers: 2,310 calories, 165 grams of fat, 54 grams saturated fat, 4,920 milligrams of sodium.

Equivalent of eating: The fat in 45 strips of bacon.

Expert evaluation: Although Uno counts this smaller pizza as having three servings in its online nutritional information, Scritchfield says that when someone orders an “individual” pizza, they are likely to see it as a meal for one.

Yikes. The point I would make about this, however, is that though it’s true that many American chain restaurants offer many extremely unhealthy dining options, the whole reason we know this is the case is precisely because they are chains. Many such places already disclose nutritional information (albeit at times in misleading ways) and even if they don’t it’s the very scale and standardization of the chains that makes things like Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “XTreme eating” survey a tractable endeavor. As Saslow observes, an under-discussed provision of the Affordable Care Act will mandate calorie count labeling on the menus for all restaurants with more than 20 branches.

One of the big challenges of eating healthier is that it’s genuinely hard to know what’s what. Obviously, McDonald’s isn’t the healthiest option on earth but if you’re on the road and stop there for dinner I don’t think there’s anything intuitively obvious about the fact that a Quarter Pounder With Cheese has fewer calories than a Premium Grilled Chicken Club. But you can look it up (PDF) and in the near future thanks to an under-discussed provision of the Affordable Care Act the information will have to be disclosed right there in the restaurant. I have no idea whether this will actually work to promote healthier eating—I believe the early results from menu labeling requirements aren’t all that promising—but it’s difficult for me to think of a more plausible mechanism. If people decide they want to eat healthier, then reasonably large-scale operations whose food’s nutritional content can be analyzed and verified would be the places where the healthier eating happens.