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Need more labeling

Don Mauer (Chicago Daily Herald) -- Many folks, including me, stood up and loudly cheered when all supermarket product labels finally included standardized nutritional information.

At that time, my personal unofficial survey indicated that, on average, two out of three shoppers read product labels. They commonly commented: "I want to know what's in what I'm buying."

To many, those new supermarket labels were revealing. For example, until I read the "facts" I never knew that dry cake mix contained much fat, since most require adding shortening. The ingredient list on canned tomatoes listed salt, but the new labels told me exactly how much (a lot).

Fresh supermarket meats got left off the list for required nutritional labeling. Explaining it as an over-sight seems far-fetched. Think about it: Eighty percent lean ground beef seems good until a calculator shows a 1-pound package contains more than 3 ounces of fat. Why would meat producers want to spell that out?

Meat producers weren't the only ones let off the hook; restaurants, too, are excused from revealing nutritional statistics.

McDonald's has a number of high-fat, high-calorie menu items, but the only reason we know that for certain is because of its corporate policy of freely sharing that information. Yes, other fast-food places also share information, but some require a written request before divulging the facts, making quick decisions impossible. Mickey D's deserves a pat on the back.

Just like food manufacturers, I propose that all food service establishments reveal nutritional information for their meals. Calories carbohydrates and/or sugars, fat and sodium would be sufficient.

Nutritional information would not have to be presented in large type. No. For many years Sheraton Hotel restaurants included the calories and fat grams of each menu item as two simple numbers: 420/13, for example. That system would be sufficient to present all the nutritional information, as long as the order of that information was standardized; nutritional information would be a simple series of numbers divided by slashes.

Those who need to know the values could easily refer to them; those who didn't want to know, could ignore them.

Alternatively, there could be two menus, one with nutritional information and one without, similar to providing smoking and non-smoking areas. You merely ask for whichever meets your needs.

These days, thanks to the many highly accurate, computerized nutritional analysis programs linked to the current U.S. Department of Agriculture database, determining nutritional information is simple and easy to supply. Registered dietitians can also furnish that information for a reasonable fee.

Let's see now, nutritional information can be accurately and quickly determined, and can be presented on menus in a subtle manner so that informed decisions can be made by a diners who eat away from the home more every year and want to know what's in the food they consume.

It's such a simple concept, yet few restaurants volunteer the information; I wish more would.

(c) 2001 Chicago Daily Herald

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