Proposals to require California restaurateurs to provide diners with analyses of the nutritional profile of dishes on their menus are plodding through the legislature, but by the time they reach the governor's desk, if they ever do, the restaurant industry itself may have resolved the matter.
Tuesday, for one, Healthy Dining, a private San Diego company that since 1990 has been working with nutritionists and restaurateurs to encourage diners to eat more healthfully, formally will launch an interactive Web site to guide guests to wholesome dishes at restaurants in their neighborhood.
Here's how it works: Go to the group's Web site, which already is up and running. Click on "search for restaurants." On the form that pops up you can type in the address of a restaurant you are thinking of visiting or the zip code of a neighborhood where you will be. You also can select a price range. Eventually, you also will be able to narrow the search by type of cuisine, though that function isn't yet working.
I typed in zip code 95816, hit the submit button and got 27 restaurants that so far have signed onto the program. For several restaurants, the nutritional profiles of their more healthful dishes haven't been done, however. But for the Old Spaghetti Factory along J Street, I could have six wholesome choices, including the spaghetti with mushroom sauce, which weighs in with 460 calories, 7 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber and no cholesterol.
In selecting items to include on the Web site as healthful, Healthy Dining's dietitians chose dishes that feature "lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains." Entrees aren't to exceed 750 calories, 25 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat, while the cut-offs for appetizers, side dishes, and desserts are 250 calories, 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat, say Healthy Dining officials. The standards were developed in accord with the recommendations of several health organizations, including the USDA"s dietary guidelines. They don't conform, however, with the FDA's more stringent criteria for what constitutes a healthy dish.
Healthy Dining authorities developed the Web site with the National Restaurant Association and a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.