Healthy eating is a priority for me, especially now that I have kids. Keeping nutritional claims, labeling and terms straight is a challenge. I become completely stymied when roaming the grocery aisles. What exactly is "lite" cheese? How much fat is in a "low fat" cookie? "And are "reduced" and "low" sodium chicken broth the same thing?
The FDA developed regulations about how and when food preparers and packagers can make nutritional claims. Restaurateurs must follow the same guidelines when making these claims on menus. If you're promoting items on your menu as having nutritional benefits, here are some things to keep in mind.
- If you make claims about the nutritional value of menu items, you must be able to back them up upon request. All claims must be consistent with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.
- Unlike processed food packaging, menus are not required to supply complete nutrition information — only information about the specific nutrient or ingredient about which the claim is made.
- Menus that utilize symbols, such as a heart or apple, to signify that some items are healthful must follow the regulations that apply to wording.
- Nutritional information does not have to be presented in the "Nutrition Facts" label format, and it does not have to appear on the menu itself. Restaurateurs can use a notebook, recipe cards, a printed brochure, or special detailed menu. It can even be presented verbally, as long as it can be substantiated.
- Table tents, placards, signage, and advertisements using this type of nutritional claim must also follow the same guidelines.
- Menu items are not required to undergo laboratory analysis to show that they live up to their claims. A restaurant can show that a recipe from a recognized health professional association or dietary group was used, or that nutritional values were calculated using a reliable nutrition database.
What can you do to comply with the regulations?
- Standardize your recipes. Document the quantities of ingredients used, portion sizes, and the nutrition content data from the manufacturer, a database, or other source.
- Know what the terms mean! There are strict definitions for "low sodium," "reduced," and "lite" or "light." You must comply if you make the claim.
- Cite sources, record calculations, and document any assumptions made when determining nutritional values.
We've compiled a list of the most commonly used nutritional terms and their definitions. For additional information, The National Restaurant Association's publishes "A Practical Guide to the Nutrition Labeling Laws for the Restaurant Industry." To order, call 1-800-482-9122. And for all of you who are health conscious, we've attached a downloadable version of the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Healthy eating!