In what may well be the beginning of a nationwide trend, a federal court recently upheld a New York City regulation that requires chain restaurants to publish the calorie content of foods on their menus and menu boards. In response, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has put out a set of guidelines and tips to help Americans who eat out frequently to use calorie information wisely. It is no secret that most of us consumers are fairly bad at estimating the calorie content of restaurant food. For example, which has more calories — a tuna salad sandwich or a roast beef with mustard? Believe it or not, the average tuna fish salad has twice the number of calories of the average roast beef sandwich with mustard.

According to the ADA, counting calories, whether in your own kitchen or at a restaurant, is important to maintaining a healthy weight. Consuming excess calories can lead to obesity, a major risk factor for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, conditions which affect about a quarter of all Americans.

"It is easy to underestimate the number of calories in food items, especially in a restaurant where you didn't prepare the meal yourself," commented Ann Albright, PhD, President of Health Care & Education at the ADA. "Since Americans are eating out more, they are receiving more of their calories via restaurant meals. People need to be well informed to make healthier choices."

According to the ADA, the first step to making healthy choices is knowing how many calories a day to consume. While the daily calorie ranges below are a general guide, you should consult your health care provider about specific dietary goals.
  • 1,200-1,400 calories/day — Women who want to lose weight, are small in size, or are sedentary
  • 1,400-1,600 calories/day — Women who are older and smaller, are larger and want to lose weight, or are sedentary
  • 1,600-1,900 calories/day — Women who are moderate to large size, men who are older, are small to moderate size and want to lose weight
  • 1,900-2,300 calories/day — Children, teen girls, women who are larger in size and active, men who are small to moderate size and are at desired body weight
  • 2,300-2,800 calories/day — teen boys and men who are active and moderate to large in size
The ADA also offers these tips for healthy eating out:
  • Use a doggie bag — If the portion is more than you usually eat, split it with a friend or take half home for later.
  • Snack time — If you had a lower calorie option for lunch, grab a healthy snack mid-afternoon, such as an apple or a handful of nuts, to avoid binging later in the day.
  • Want a drink? — Substitute 16 oz. or water for 16 oz. of soda. This will save you 200 calories.
  • Skip the mayo and other fatty sides, which can save you hundreds of calories.
  • Rather than putting the dressing in the salad or sauces on the entree, try dipping your fork in the dressing or sauce before putting a bite on your fork.
  • Ask if meats or fish can be grilled instead of fried. Order an extra vegetable instead of a starch as a side.
For more information, contact the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES or visit Information is available in English and Spanish.