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Restaurant helps diners count calories

By Mary Jo Melone

1/14/2010 © Health News Florida

The fish and chips at Alan Lucas’ restaurant may be terrific, but after you see the calorie count, you may never want to pick up a fork again. That dish will cost you 1,486 calories, way more than half of what most adults should consume in a whole day.
 
Nevertheless, Lucas wants you to know. His St. Petersburg restaurant, The Moon Under Water, offers a computer with touch-screen software he designed to tell patrons what’s in the food they want to order. It prints out a host of facts, including calories, proteins, fats, and allergens. 

Lucas imagines that someday his computer program will be in restaurants everywhere. Is he dreaming?

One of the few people so far on his side is State Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa, who is about to introduce for the second time a bill that would require all restaurants in Florida to post the calorie count of their offerings on their menus.

The emphasis is on all—independently owned restaurants like The Moon Under Water, as well as McDonalds. 

The inclusion of independent restaurants has stuck in the craw of the state’s restaurant operators. For small, struggling restaurants, said Richard Turner, general counsel to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, it amounts to a “tax.” 

Homan dismisses that. The message he hears, he says, is “‘We don’t like your bill.’’’ 

The Florida industry group supports a bill endorsed by the National Restaurant Association, which has become an amendment to both the House and Senate versions of the health reform package. The amendment would require chains with more than 20 restaurants to post the calorie counts of their meals on their menus or menu boards.

Menus would have to include information about nutritional guidelines, such as the recommended adult limit on calories to about 2,000 a day, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. 

Calorie counting measures have already been adopted in some U.S. metro areas, including New York and San Francisco. No Florida community has adopted such a measure.
Homan, an orthopedic surgeon, cares passionately about the national problem of obesity. He’s a mountaineer, a triathlete who likes to brag that, at 66, he weighs what he weighed in high school – 175 pounds. 

But he couldn’t even get his bill heard in committee last year and has had trouble attracting co-sponsors.

Homan says he may not get much help on this issue: “The public is not a special interest group who comes to Tallahassee and says, ‘We are tired of being fat.’” 

Alan Lucas hopes the calorie-count rules will expand to all restaurants because that will build a market for his $261 software, which he calls NuFacts. Not only the big chains can benefit, he said. “Eventually, it’s going to trickle down to everybody else,” Lucas said. 

--Mary Jo Melone, an independent journalist in Tampa, can be reached at this e-mail.