When Dining Out, Is Ignorance Bliss … or Bad For Your Health?

Donna PhotoGetting a better handle on what we are eating in order to make better, healthier meal choices when dining out

By Donna Cardillo, RN

I had lunch this week in a well-known restaurant chain where I hadn’t dined in some time. I noticed that they now list the calorie content of every item on their menu. I was shocked to learn that what would have likely been my first selection had between 1,200-1,900 calories – a full day’s worth of calories for some!

My initial reaction was disappointment, feeling that I would have rather just selected what seemed most appealing and enjoyed my meal without having to think about the impact it would have on my metabolism and waistline. I momentarily longed for a bygone decade when I would have just ordered whatever I wanted on a menu without a second thought about calories, fat and sugar. But were those really the “good old days” or was my ignorance potentially leading me down a path to an early demise or a life of chronic illness?

Once I snapped back to the present, I was grateful and humbled by the information presented to me. To think that, with an appetizer, drink, entrée and dessert I could feasibly have consumed almost a week’s worth of calories without realizing it! It was a very sobering experience. It is interesting to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been directed to create a new national standard for menu labeling for fast food and certain restaurant chains (those with 20 or more locations). This is a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

I am conscientious about what I eat and am certainly well aware of good nutrition basics. But when eating out, one really has no idea exactly how the food is prepared, what has been added or in what quantity, how big the portion size is, and so on. In my case, the listing of calories next to each entrée helped me to make a healthier choice for myself. I scanned the menu for items under 500 calories (this was for lunch) and was able to find something appealing. Of course, calories alone are not the only consideration in making healthy food choices as some of us want/need to restrict sodium, salt and saturated fat too. One of the “under 500” menu items I saw consisted of all high fat foods so I passed on that one. You also have to use common sense.

I’m sure some people would just as soon not know any of this information and will likely ignore or disregard it. And even with the calories listed on a menu, I know I will occasionally order something that I really love with a higher calorie or fat content, too. But at least I’ll be clear on where I stand and know how I have to eat for the rest of the day or week to compensate for it. I do love to eat well, but also want to stay fit, healthy, agile, and keep my weight under control.

So bring it on, restaurants of America. The sooner every restaurant lists nutritional information, the sooner we can all get a better handle on what we’re eating and be able to make better, healthier meal choices.

Donna Cardillo, RN travels the world helping nurses to be happy in their careers and to reach their full potential. She is fiercely passionate about nursing and about life in general. You may know Donna as “Dear Donna” at Nursing Spectrum and NurseWeek magazines where she writes a regular column and doles out daily online career advice at nurse.com. She is also an “Expert” Blogger at DoctorOz.com – the first and only nurse blogging there! Donna is author of 3 books: Your First Year as a Nurse, The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, and a Daybook for Beginning Nurses.  She has received numerous awards and recognitions but is most proud of being named a Diva in Nursing by the Institute for Nursing in NJ for outstanding achievements and excellence in practice. Donna has been referred to as the Ann Landers and the Dr. Phil of the nursing profession. Regardless of who she’s compared to, there’s no denying that she has her own unique style, indomitable spirit, and uproarious sense of humor.

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