Chefs Can Fight Obesity, Reduce Calories in Restaurant Food


The chef at your favorite restaurant may soon reduce the calories in some of the menu items. A survey conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that chefs may aid in the fight against obesity by cutting calories in their meals without customers noticing the difference.

Most chefs can lower calories by 10 percent and some by 25

The survey included 432 chefs, restaurant owners, and culinary executives from across the country. Notably, however, this survey did not include fast-food restaurants, which are frequented by tens of millions of Americans every day. Numerous studies, including the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study (2010) have indicated that fast food can cause serious and extensive health problems, including obesity and cardiovascular disease.

In the new survey, 72 percent of the respondents stated they could reduce calories in meals they prepared by 10 percent without their customers noticing any difference in taste. Twenty-one percent claimed they could reduce calories by at least 25 percent.

Liane Roe, a research nutritionist in Penn State’s Department of Nutritional Sciences and a co-author of the study, pointed out that “reducing intake by as little as 100 calories per day can amount to a significant weight loss over a year.” The general rule of thumb is that you need to reduce caloric intake by 3,500 calories to lose one pound. Therefore, a 100-calorie-per-day reduction could result in a 10-pound-plus weight loss over a year.


The study’s authors found that less than half of the chefs were somewhat familiar with how many calories were in the meals they prepared, and 7 percent did not know at all. The chefs surveyed said they were more willing to create new reduced-calorie dishes than modify current ones. They are afraid customers may notice the changes to their favorites, and this could have a negative impact on sales and/or the restaurant’s and chef’s reputation.

Thirty-two percent of the chefs said little demand by customers for “healthy” food was their main concern regarding introduction of low-calorie meals, while 24 percent felt training was needed, and 18 percent named high ingredient cost as an obstacle. Seventy-one percent of the chefs said a low-calorie meal’s success revolved around taste.

How would the chefs cut calories? Most said they preferred to reduce portion sizes rather than reduce the number of calories per bite (cutting fat or adding low-calorie fruits or vegetables). The addition of water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, however, has been shown to help with weight loss.

In fact, Barbara Rolls, also one of the study’s authors and holder of the Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutrition, noted that her own research has shown that people do not notice calorie reductions up to 30 percent. The addition of fruits and vegetables also can improve the nutritional content of the foods to which they are added.

The study’s authors hope chefs will join in the fight against obesity and reduce calories in some of their dishes. Rolls noted that while each person is responsible for what he or she chooses to eat, “restaurants can make it easier for us” to reduce calorie content.

Penn State