Restaurants can help patrons eat healthier

Americans trying to eat healthier when they dine out will find the burden rests with them. But it’s encouraging to note a few restaurants are joining the battle to banish trans fat from their menus as companies scramble to make their products trans-fat-free. It’s a small but important change customers must demand, along with portion control, at their favorite restaurants.

Unlike companies that will be required to label the amount of trans fat on their products next year, restaurants face no such rule. Customers can’t check the bottom of their plate or glass to find out how many calories or fat grams they’re about to consume. They can’t even get an accurate measure of how much they’re eating. Studies show people will eat more food if it’s put before them without realizing they’ve just eaten a large serving.

Aside from the obvious problems caused by overeating, the trans-fat factor in many of our favorite foods has been linked to higher risks of heart disease and causing bad cholesterol to rise while lowering the good kind. That’s not what we think about when we’re eating steak fries at our favorite bar and grill. Nor is it what we expect when we bravely trade those fries for “steamed” vegetables that, often unbeknownst to the customer, are ladled with oil, butter and salt. Restaurants that take it upon themselves to eliminate that type of fat from their dishes and serve standard portions will be in the forefront of a health movement that could change the diets and waistlines of Americans everywhere.

Some restaurants are making the switch to products that are trans-fat-free and buying from manufacturers who produce certain foods, such as french fries, without using trans fats. Other restaurants will need a little encouraging. Some will never change.

And parents, don’t assume your children are safe with fast food kids’ meals. They contain the same amount of calories and fat grams as many adult menu items, experts say. Worse, what passes as a child’s serving today was considered an adult serving just one generation ago.

The move to make our restaurants – and ourselves – healthier won’t be easy, especially considering that fried chicken was the fastest growing restaurant food last year. Restaurants are good at accommodating our desire to get the most for our buck. They could help us out even more by giving us a doggie bag with our trans-fat-free dinner.

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