The first Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out in 1980. As an RDN, I understand the significant changes that have occurred since then regarding the way we view the intersection of health, disease and nutrition.
As a chef, I know the restaurant industry has gone through dramatic changes in that time, too. Gone, for the most part, are the days when a chef would spend much of his or her day basting in butter and adding salt ad lib. Today, while many restaurants have embraced the use of fresher ingredients and simpler cooking techniques, there still is often very little attention paid to ideas such as nutrient balance, portion size or sodium content.
Will the Restaurant Industry Listen to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines?
The secret to many restaurants’ bottom line is simple: “meat = money.” For the most part, restaurants want consumers to focus on the protein aspect of the dish so they feel like they are getting their money’s worth.
As dine-in restaurants serve double chicken breasts on beds of pasta with cream sauce, sprinkled with a few broccoli florets, all for $15, does it matter that the sauce is laden with sodium, there is a pound of cooked pasta on the plate or that there is barely a cup of cooked broccoli?
Or, what about the fresh and organic burrito place that regularly dishes out 1,000-calorie meals? — who is worried about the negative health impact this may have on the consumer? Or, what about the rapid growth of food trucks and gastropubs serving fried and salty foods?
The Dietary Guidelines state that the information it contains is meant for health and nutrition professionals, not the general public. Registered dietitian nutritionists must educate consumers how to eat out healthfully, but the restaurant industry has a role to play in making us healthier, too.
Chefs are increasingly aware of nutrition and, as more people understand the importance of healthy eating and demand healthier choices, it should be in the best interest of businesses to prepare more nutritionally balanced dishes. Today, chefs have the ability to turn food into art, turning out beautiful, delicious and nutritious meals. The real question is, when will they turn this capability into reality?