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Archive for Monday, September 4, 2006

Restaurant Web site to assist diners in making healthy choices

September 4, 2006

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— Restaurants, under fire from health advocates for too-big servings and not enough detail on nutrition, are fighting back.

The National Restaurant Assn. is building a Web site that will provide a hefty list of healthy meals and restaurants across the country where they can be found.

While the Healthy Dining Finder site isn't as upfront as the onsite brochures and posters that health experts have called for, it is a step in the right direction, said Christine Gerbstadt, a nutritionist with the American Dietetic Assn.

The Web site is a way to discreetly court dieters willing to do research without offending others who may not want to be confronted with shockingly high calorie counts.

"It's a happy medium," said Sue Hensley, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Assn.

Arming diners with nutritional information is especially critical now, with Americans eating out more than ever, Gerbstadt said. "People need to know what they're consuming," she said.

The site, www.healthydiningfinder.com, is collecting nutritional information on the four to 10 healthiest dishes at restaurants in a community. Users can punch in their town or ZIP code and search for restaurants by cuisine or price range. It already is available for preview, but a formal launch with more than 10,000 restaurant listings is scheduled for January.

"When people go on a diet, they think 'Oh, my God, I'll never be able to eat out again,"' said Netty Levine, a nutritionist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

But with some help, Levine said, people can find ways to stick to their diets wherever they go. It's a matter of doing a little research and asking servers the right questions. (Is the spinach sauteed in oil? Is the sea bass breaded?)

The Healthy Dining Finder will make that work easier, although Levine cautions that online calorie counts might not always be accurate. Two plates of chicken parmigiana, even from the same restaurant, can vary greatly.

The Web site begs the question: Why not post the information in the restaurants or on menus?

"It's sort of sneaky that they do it online but not in the store," said Elizabeth Picker, a 19-year-old Albany resident. "When people go out, it's usually a spur-of-the-moment thing, and they aren't going to be able to go online."

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