Are Low-Calorie Restaurant Menus Making Us Unhealthier?


The menu may say it doesn't sacrifice taste, but according to this recent study, consumers don't believe the fast-casual restaurant industry and go for higher-calorie options.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to right the wrongs of super-sized fast food meals and 1,000-calorie TGI Friday’s potato skins by banning trans-fats and making restaurant chains post calorie contents on menus.

Fast casual restaurants have generally responded by offering separate low-calorie or Weight Watchers’ icons on their menus, but despite good intentions, a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research has found that restaurants that have low-calorie sections on their menus can inadvertently cause people to eliminate healthy foods right off the bat.  

“Because most restaurant menus are quite complex, diners try to simplify their decision,” wrote Jeffrey R. Parker of Georgia State University and Donald R. Lehmann of Columbia University, authors of the study.  “People have come to expect low-calorie food to taste bad or not fill them up.”

So what’s the solution? The study found that consumers are more likely to eat healthier when they are presented with calorie labels, but not when low-calorie options are grouped together. 

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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi