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Calories on menus may push customers (and online-review readers) toward healthier choices

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Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma

Who hasn’t felt that moment of jaw-dropping horror after seeing the calorie count of their favorite dish on the menu for the first time? Take McDonald’s kale salad, for instance, which is a whopping 730 calories alone—AKA similar to a Double Big Mac.

Sure, seeing those numbers can feel rough, but the exercise can help you make smarter decisions. (But keep in mind that calories are only a fraction of the whole nutritional pie you should be considering.) Giving customers more information about what’s on their plate is a trend worth keeping, according to a new study that claims disclosing nutrition stats has already made a positive difference.

New York City restaurant chains have been required by law to post the calories of menu items since 2008, and, according to a press release, the rule has done some good. After analyzing 761,962 online reviews of 9,805 restaurants, results showed the disclosed nutrition data led people to discuss the health of the establishments in the write-ups, potentially leading review readers to choose healthier restaurants and food.

“The increase in health discussion in opinions was not confined to restaurants in more affluent localities, commonly associated with more health-conscious consumers.” —Dinesh Puranam, PhD, study co-author

“Interestingly, the increase in health discussion in opinions was not confined to restaurants in more affluent localities, commonly associated with more health-conscious consumers,” said study co-author Dinesh Puranam, PhD, in the release. “This is an encouraging sign of the success of the rule across the socioeconomic divide—especially given the greater incidence of obesity among lower socioeconomic classes.”

While this is already great news for chain restaurants, the outcome could expand to fine-dining establishments, too: New York City recently expanded its ruling about menu posting, giving customers calorie counts on menu items at additional locations, the press release reported. And Puranam thinks that will initiate even more health-conscious reviews.

“Our result that calorie posting on menus impacts online reviews is significant for this rule expansion since consumers are even more likely to consult reviews for fine-dining restaurants than for chain restaurants that they habitually visit,” Dr. Puranam said.

So the next time you go grab a bite, check out the nutrition info—even the most seemingly healthy menu items could be hiding dark secrets when it comes to what’s actually inside. Then, pay it forward and review your experience (including the healthy details) online.

Here are the 20 buzziest healthy restaurants in Los Angeles right now. On the opposite coast? Check out these delicious options in NYC.