Down for the calorie count? King County menus help diners monitor nutrition

A giant chicken burrito from Qdoba in Federal Way is listed as having between 540 and 1,020 calories, depending on whether diners add cheese, sour cream or guacamole. The USDA recommends that the average American should consume about 2,000 calories a day. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
A giant chicken burrito from Qdoba in Federal Way is listed as having between 540 and 1,020 calories, depending on whether diners add cheese, sour cream or guacamole. The USDA recommends that the average American should consume about 2,000 calories a day.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

Les Henderson is more concerned with his pocketbook these days than his waist size.

That's why, at a Federal Way McDonald's last week, Henderson chose a chicken sandwich and Big Mac for $3 instead of a salad.

"Cost over waistline," he said, adding that he is usually more health-conscious and he regularly counts calories to maintain his weight.

King County's new menu labeling requirements have made it easier for people like Henderson to monitor their caloric intake when dining out.

"It's made me reconsider some of the choices I've been making, but it hasn't made any drastic difference," said Henderson, who dines out for lunch seven days a week.

Henderson's lunch at McDonald's last week totaled 900 calories and 45 grams of fat. He said he was also concerned about the 1,000 milligrams of sodium in the Big Mac.

Beginning this year, King County enacted a new measure requiring restaurants with at least 15 branches nationwide to provide customers with nutrition information. Restaurants can choose to present the information on a menu, a supplemental menu, a posting on the wall or an electronic kiosk at each table. Calories, saturated fat, sodium and carbohydrates must be posted.

King County was among the first large metropolitan areas nationwide to enact menu labeling requirements. New York City currently has a similar measure in place. California recently passed a menu-labeling bill that will be effective statewide in 2011.

At Red Robin in Federal Way, manager Mike Lastoka said the staff offers a supplemental nutrition information menu when seating customers.

About 20 percent of the customers choose to look at the supplemental menu. Those who do look at the nutrition information don't seem to change their menu selection, Lastoka said.

People that come into Red Robin know the restaurant's menu, Lastoka said. He doesn't think the nutritional information influences their selections that much. Customers might notice that some dressings have more calories than others, so they might choose a dressing with fewer calories, he added.

Lastoka suggested that people who are concerned about calorie and fat content might choose a lighter salad or meatless alternative when dining at Red Robin.

At Fatburger in Federal Way one afternoon last week, diners weren't concerned with the calorie or fat contents of their meals.

Travis Davis of Puyallup said he stopped in for lunch and had no idea how many calories were in his meal. He didn't read the poster listing the information near the front door.

"I walked right by. I thought it was a menu and I glanced at it and when it wasn't, I walked past," he said.

For lunch, Davis ate a Fat Burger with cheese, a side of onion rings and a chocolate shake — all for a total of 2,160 calories.

The USDA recommends that the average American consume 2,000 calories each day.

Dianna Noffsinger, who also dined at Fatburger last week, said she usually considers calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates, but decided to disregard nutrition concerns that day.

"Usually I read it, but not today," Noffsinger said as she enjoyed a mushroom and swiss burger that totaled nearly 1,000 calories.

Noffsinger said she wished that Pierce County, where she lives, would also require restaurants to provide nutrition information.

Restaurants in King County could be cited by health inspectors if they fail to comply with the menu-labeling requirements, King County Board of Health spokesman Matias Valenzuela said. About 1,600 restaurants are affected by the law. So far, no citations have been issued.

"Generally there's been overwhelming success in terms of compliance with the regulations," Valenzuela said.

Health officials hope access to nutrition information will help people manage illnesses and their weight, Valenzuela said.

"In King County, the majority of adults actually are overweight or obese," he said. "The rates are going up. We want to stop and reduce that trend."

The next step in the menu-labeling requirements will be a public education campaign. The King County Department of Public Health will begin posting advertisements in buses, on radio stations and posters throughout the community, informing people about the menu labels and encouraging them to make healthier choices.

Shocking menu items in Federal Way

Cold Stone Creamery: PB&C shake (Gotta Have It size) — 2,010 calories, 131 grams of fat

Red Robin: Royal Red Robin Burger with steak fries — 1,581 calories, 100 grams of fat

Denny's: Flat Jack Sizzling Skillet — 1,210 calories, 60 grams of fat

Less shocking choices

Jack in the Box: Chicken Fajita Pita — 307 calories, 9 grams of fat

Red Lobster: Wood-grilled tilapia with broccoli and garden salad with balsamic dressing — 400 calories, 12 grams of fat

Baskin Robbins: Rainbow sherbet (2.5 ounce scoop) — 100 calories, 1.5 grams of fat

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