Changes in the Energy and Sodium Content of Main Entrees in U.S. Chain Restaurants from 2010 to 2011


Healthy changes to restaurant menu items offset by many unhealthy changes, signaling that restaurants are not working to improve their menu offerings.

The Issue:
Even as Americans consume more of their food away from home, restaurant menu offerings exceed recommended United States Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines for calories, sodium, fat, and saturated fat content. With passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, restaurants are required to disclose calorie and sodium information for menu items. Has that changed what restaurants offer?

Key Findings

  • New entrées were not different in calories from those removed from menus, but were 70 mg lower in sodium.

  • Children’s entrées overall were not different between those added and those removed from menus except at fast food restaurants where new items were 57 calories lower than those removed.

  • Slightly more restaurants made changes in a healthy direction versus unhealthy (10% decreased calories versus 7% increased calories).

Average energy and sodium content of entrées did not change in any meaningful way over a one-year period.

About the Study:
Nutrition information on 26,256 menu entrées was collected from websites of 213 chain restaurants and changes analyzed in 2010 and 2011.