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Restaurant chains reformulate food to cut calories

August 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
One of the biggest surprises for diners is finding out their favorite foods, even salads, can run over 1,000 calories. While some patrons don't even glance at the new calorie postings on the menu, many chains aren't taking chances at losing customers due to calorically pricey plates.

"Skinnylicious is our new menu, which has just been introduced, almost 50 items, 590 calories or less," said Alethea Rowe, senior director of restaurant marketing to the Cheesecake Factory.

Rowe says the restaurant has had low-cal options for over 30 years, but many don't select them, instead coming to the restaurant for the generous portions and decadent desserts.

"With the Skinnylicious menu, we're really making it easier for people to find low-calorie items on our menu," she said.

A few options under 600 calories include Skinnylicious herb crusted salmon, chicken lettuce wraps and tuna tataki.

And beyond food, the Cheesecake Factory and other restaurants now offer low-calorie libations that hit the 150 calorie mark.

"Last year, Panera Bread was one of the first national restaurant concepts to roll out menus and menu boards with both calorie and nutritional information," said Ingrid Roberts of Panera Bread.

For example, Panera Bread's "You Pick 2," a half sandwich with soup, salad or other side, is a huge hit.

Applebee's, Denny's and IHOP are also on board with options that ease the calorie pain at the plate.

By law, California chain restaurants must post calorie counts, with government regulations for all states expected by the year's end.

"That is how we decide what we are going to eat," said Lynda Tishkoff of Westlake Village.

Diners like Tishkoff look at calories, but the jury is still out when it comes to whether or not posting calories is effective.

Health experts suggest that even making the most moderate changes overtime can really help with long-term weight loss, especially if restaurants are going to serve up lighter fare for proper portions.

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