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Restaurants need to change the way they feed us

April 10, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 406 lbs.

Last week: 416 lbs.

Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.

Total lost: 64 lbs.

Our world isn’t built for people counting calories, and I firmly believe that restaurant owners who feature calorie counts on their menus — for food and drink — will attract more health-conscious consumers.

Think about it. Every day, more markets are opening up to cater to people who are overweight, obese and morbidly obese. We need more room — on restaurant seats, in bathrooms and in automobiles. We need more medical attention for heart disease, diabetes, etc. We need more aids to help us do things we can no longer do because of our size — sock machines, for instance.

And for those, like me, who want to get healthy, we need the tools to switch to a healthier lifestyle. We need more medical attention with practitioners who specialize in overweight issues. We need fitness centers and more opportunities to exercise. We need psychological counseling. We need support groups. We need dietitians and nutrition consultants. And we need wholesome food.

We also need nutritional information accompanying our food so we can count calories in our daily food journals. Luckily, we can get these labels with prepackaged food in grocery stores because they are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Big chain restaurants are even required to post calorie information on their menus and drive-through signs. But most restaurants don’t offer nutritional information, and that must change if America is truly serious about getting healthy.

Restaurants are essentially built for the pleasure of treating people to food, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we have the information to make healthier decisions about the food we are about to eat. A menu without nutritional information is perfect for people who can afford to eat anything, but it leaves dieters like me few choices, and it creates horrible dining experiences that are filled with stress, guilt, shame and embarrassment. In the end, if we are behaving ourselves, it also leaves us hungry, which defeats the purpose of going out to eat.

America cannot shake off its obesity epidemic with the status quo. Thousands of people are working hard every day to change their attitudes toward food and their eating habits, but if those who provide food don’t change the way they deliver it, America will continue to get fat.

I’m calling out small restaurant owners here. You are a major part of the problem. It’s sad because it doesn’t take much to be a major part of the solution.

All you need to do is provide nutritional information about the food and drink on your menus.

First and foremost, I’d like to know the amount of calories so I can log it in my food journal, which is the cornerstone of my weight-loss program. Without it, I cannot succeed. Secondly, I’d like to know the ingredients of the food I’m eating, hopefully with the portions so I know the nutritional information such as protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium. I’m on a low-sodium diet because of my fluid retention. Knowing these macro-nutrients is important to my weight-loss program.

Chefs may argue that it’s time consuming to figure out the calories for everything on their menus. And they’re right; it does take a lot of time. But that was my major argument for not maintaining a daily food journal, and I’ve since downloaded a food journal app to my smartphone and trained myself to write in it every day. After a while, it becomes a habit. It’s worth the extra effort if it’s going to make a growing portion of your customers happy.

Chefs may also argue that writing down the ingredients and portions of their dishes is like handing the competition all their recipes. And they’d have a valid point. I don’t have a counter-argument for that one. All I know is that it’s in my best interest to know what I’m eating.

I just spent four nerve-wracked days eating out of my comfort zone. With my brother in town, we spent some time in restaurants. I wouldn’t have had the chicken wings, onion rings, French fries or brownie I ate while on the road to and from the Burlington airport if I wasn’t in that situation. There were salad options, but really, I’m not going to live my life eating salad every time I go to a restaurant. I get enough of that at home. I need variety. The chicken wings would have been fine, but I didn’t know how many calories were in the dish because it was a house sauce, so I couldn’t maintain my food journal that day without knowing all the ingredients. If I had that information, I could have adjusted the food for the rest of my day and not felt stressed and guilty about my dining experience.

The bottom line is dieters need more information to make healthier choices. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying food in moderation, even chicken wings, brownies and onion rings. After all, I was able to eat those and still lose 10 pounds this past week. It seems I’m learning how to balance life’s food challenges a little better. Eating out was a huge test of will power but an extremely stressful one. It could have been less stressful — even enjoyable — if I had nutritional information on the menus.

Sadly, non-chain restaurant owners won’t change the way they deliver food unless their customers ask for it. Even then, many wouldn’t offer nutritional information on their menus unless the government forced them to do it. Instead, they hide behind the law and take the easy way out. Perhaps we need legislation to change that.

We’re certain that not all restaurateurs are lazy, overly protective or unafraid of change. There are many well-intentioned restaurant owners who want what’s best for their customers. Perhaps they don’t know that not having nutritional information on their menu is a problem for some of their customers. Perhaps they offer healthy choices other than salad and feel that’s enough effort to satisfy the health-conscious consumer. Now that they know there’s a problem, maybe they’ll do something to fix it.

I’d like to find at least one restaurant owner in Lake Placid, Keene, Keene Valley, Wilmington or Jay brave enough to change the way he/she does business and offer nutritional information for all the food and drink on all their menus.

It just takes one person to start a movement. Do I have a volunteer?

Green Goddess delivers

Several weeks ago, I approached Wynde Kate Reese and Tammy Loewy, co-owners of the Green Goddess Natural Market at 2051 Saranac Ave. in Lake Placid, and asked them to help me with calorie and nutritional information for their takeout items on the menu, or at least for a wrap or two in the reach-in cooler.

With my busy schedule, I want healthy grab-and-go food for lunch on the road or for dinner before a workout at the gym. The problem was that, while Green Goddess lists the ingredients of its deli food, it did not list the calorie counts. While on the Lake Placid Diet — specifically during the Take It Off weight-loss challenge at Fitness Revolution —?I need to count my calories in a food journal every day. Therefore, while the food at Green Goddess is healthy, I can’t eat it because I can’t log the calories. Knowing the ingredients was a start, but I couldn’t even figure out the calories on my own because I didn’t know the portions (how many chickpeas or how much sesame tahini, for example, in the hummus).

I was stuck. So I asked Wynde for help, and this week she delivered. After downloading the MyFitnessPal app on her smartphone, she was able to figure out the calorie and nutrition information for four wraps and four salads on her menu. She could have done it without the app, but it helped speed up the process. The time factor is always an objection for people asked to count calories, so I just told her that I had luck with MyFitnessPal.

“The amounts are approximate, but as close as I can get to accurate,” she wrote in an email.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that Wynde did this for her calorie-counting customers. After all, I can’t be the only one logging my calories in the Olympic Region.

The four wraps (regular and gluten-free) are the Gobble Gobble, From the Farm, Avolicious and Heavenly Hummus. The salads (small and large), including the dressing, are the Garden Salad, Goddess Salad, Chef Salad and Quinoa Tabouli Salad.

“My suggestion for you would be to call the deli before 3 and have them make a wrap or salad of your choice to pick up before your workout,” she wrote. “That way, you can be sure that what you want is here for you, and as fresh as possible.”

Tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Wynde made my day. Now I can order a wrap, eat half before the workout with a piece of fruit and half after the workout, and mark it down in my food journal.

Wynde also put a copy of the nutritional information for the four wraps and four salads at the market’s Scape Cafe deli counter. I hope other people find this information helpful.

For more information, contact the Green Goddess Natural Market at 518-523-4676.

Gobble Gobble

Ingredients: natural turkey breast or Tofurkey, veganaise, tomato, red onion and greens on a wrap.

Whole Wheat Wrap

Calories: 485

Fat: 20 grams

Sodium: 1,045 mg.

Carbs: 55 grams

Fiber: 8 grams

Sugar: 1 gram

Protein: 22 grams

Gluten-free Wrap

Calories: 335

Fat: 14 grams

Sodium: 765 mg.

Carbs: 35 grams

Fiber: 6 grams

Sugar: 0 gram

Protein: 14 grams


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Blog Photos

Wynde Kate Reese poses in front of the Scape Cafe counter at Green Goddess Natural Market. She recently posted nutirional information, including calories, for four wraps and four salads at the deli for her calorie-counting customers. (Photo — Andy Flynn)