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National Restaurant Association - Better nutrition, lower sodium, less fat tops with consumers

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Better nutrition, lower sodium, less fat tops with consumers

As 2014 starts to kick into high gear, restaurants are turning their focus toward offering more healthfully prepared items that will coincide with consumer demand for better nutrition, lower fat and less sodium.

“Sodium is an important issue,” said Anita Jones-Mueller, founder and president of California-based nutrition consultant Healthy Dining. “Many chefs and restaurateurs are making incremental reductions and finding formulas that are successful for them,” she said.

The American Heart Association’s new guidelines for daily sodium intake have started a whole new conversation among consumers and operators alike, the nutrition expert said. The AHA currently recommends that the average American consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Jones-Mueller said that because of the increased focus on sodium, people are becoming more aware of sodium and sodium values, and that education is going to create continuing change.

She also predicted that consumers are going to change the way they make choices at restaurants once more chain restaurants add calorie information to menus.

Right now, restaurateurs are waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to release final regulations explaining the menu-labeling mandate, which will apply to restaurant companies with 20 or more locations. The National Restaurant Association has asked the FDA to give restaurants at least 12 months to comply once regulations are issued.

“People are going to get used to seeing calories on the menu and that is going to help them make smarter decisions about what they choose,” Jones-Mueller said. “Customers will look more at nutrient values and restaurants will be smart to start decreasing excess calories, saturated fat and sodium. They can cut down, even in small amounts, s  with items like dressings, sauces, butter, cream and salt.”

She added that restaurateurs also will have to address the FDA’s new guidelines for marketing gluten-free items. The regulation redefining “gluten-free” claims takes effect in August.

“It’s going to take a commitment and dedication but it can be done,” she said. “Many restaurants have been focused on offering gluten-free menus or menu items, but many of these items will not meet the new FDA regulations. As restaurants put new processes and cross-contact practices in place, operators will see that providing gluten-free items is doable. The number of celiac and gluten-sensitivity diagnoses is growing and restaurateurs will want to meet the increased demand for gluten-free foods.”

She further stated that Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians, co-creators of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program, are encouraged about the increasing attention being paid to child nutrition and the offering of more healthful kids’ meals at restaurants.

“Restaurants are telling us they are so excited to offer their young guests more Kids LiveWell choices,” she said. “They are creating a wider variety of choices that are healthful by featuring more lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains and low-fat dairy.”

The Kids LiveWell program follows nutrition criteria based on leading health organizations' scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.

The initiative launched in July 2011 and boasts more than 140 brand participants at nearly 42,000 locations nationwide. Mueller said the program is attracting positive feedback and the number of inquiries about joining the program continues to grow.

“Parents want to eat more healthfully and want their kids to eat more healthfully, too. The number of participating restaurants and qualifying menu choices featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com is continuing to grow, with new restaurants joining every week. That demand, coupled with the creativity of this industry’s chefs, is contributing to a healthier America in a delicious way.”
 

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