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Menu labeling and nutritional analysis: what’s involved

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist, MenuMax

Placing caloric content next to a menu offering might seem like an easy task, but when all the factors affecting the integrity of an accurate nutritional analysis are considered, it can become quite a chore. With the FDA regulation on menu labeling looming, it is important to be aware of all the elements involved in nutritional analysis of a recipe.

Let’s look at a few examples.

1.  Stocks

Stocks are made from a number of ingredients which are removed after they serve their purpose. Calculations must be made based on the types of ingredients used, and on the estimated values of the nutrients leached into the final product.

2. Marinades

To get more accurate nutritional data on marinades, we need to treat them as if they are individual recipes. Why? Because the amount of marinade we use will primarily depend on the method of preparation. For example, such factors as the overall consistency and composition of the marinade (highly acidic marinades penetrate more), brushing vs. soaking, the porousness of a food (eggplant vs. carrot), and surface area (whole filet vs. cut up pieces) will all affect how much of the actual marinade a recipe requires. Careful before and after measurements give more reasonable estimates of the overall nutritional content.

3. Frying

Whether deep fried or pan fried, nutritional analysis of fried foods has a number of factors associated with the final outcome. Similar to marinades, it is important to consider the absorption rate, the surface area, porousness, brushing vs. immersion, etc. Oil temperature is also important as well as the initial state of the food to be fried (i.e. fresh vs. blanched).

4. Alcohol Retention

When cooking with alcohol, anywhere from 4% to 85% of it can be retained in the dish. Lost calories need to be estimated and accounted for to get accurate nutritional content.

5. Loss of nutrients during cooking

A lot can be said about lost nutrients during cooking. For example, a roasted chicken can lose some of its fat in the process; boiled vegetables leach nutrients into the water, etc. The amount that’s left will depend on the cooking time and will have to be estimated.

These are just a few examples of the many factors that can affect the outcome of a nutritional analysis. However, the process does not need to be overwhelming. Remember, estimated values are a common occurrence given the nature of the business, and even databases use averages and allow for a 10% range in variation.

When putting your recipes through a nutritional analysis, use common sense. Think of comparable ingredients and plug them into the recipe to derive your values. If you need more guidance, hire a professional in the field to walk you through the process.

The good news is food databases today contain nutritional data on ingredients that have already undergone preparation and cooking. In ESHA, for example, you will find nutritional information for various cuts of meat prepared in a variety of different ways, saving you a lot of time and effort. You can test it out for yourself by going to www.MenuMax.com and take advantage of their free trial offer.

How is your restaurant prepared for the new FDA menu labeling regulations?

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