In New York City, yhis icon must be posted next to items with 2,300 mg or more of sodium in food service establishments that are part of chains with 15 or more locations nationwide.

Strategic reductions

When restaurants want to develop healthier menu items, many turn to Healthy Dining, San Diego. It is especially the case when a mandated deadline and new parameters have been announced for calorie labeling. More imminently, sodium labeling regulations in New York City mandating restaurant chains with 15 locations or more post a sodium warning icon beside menu items that contain 2,300 mg of sodium or more — the maximum daily recommendation.

Healthy Dining’s Lauren Rezende, director of nutrition and quality assurance for the past eight years, along with Nicole Ring, vice-president of nutrition strategy and a 12-year Healthy Dining veteran, said restaurants and brands encompass a broad spectrum in terms of nutrition knowledge; while some are committed to providing good nutrition, others don’t have much nutrition insight.

“It can be eye-opening for some of them when they get information back from us after we’ve analyzed their menus,” Ms. Ring said. “One company was definitely shocked that their most popular breakfast item was so high in calories; they were pleased we could help them simply by decreasing the portion size.”

Then, too, not all restaurants want to lower calories.

Lauren Rezende, director of nutrition and quality assurance for Healthy Dining

“Often, it’s a matter of customer demand — customers aren’t expecting lower calorie counts from certain brands,” Ms. Rezende said.

She and Ms. Ring agree there are plenty of opportunities for a cultural shift to occur in the way consumers dine out with more being aware of what they’re consuming.

“And a lot of guests are focusing on quality and quantity,” Ms. Rezende said. “We have a lot of brands that have revamped their menus and are calling attention to the lower calorie items.”

She said she won’t be surprised when, as nutrition awareness increases and guests become accustomed to seeing new calorie information on the menu, they’ll look for even the small mom and pop outlets to comply with the menu labeling regulations.

For research chefs, it’s a matter of being able to balance industry regulations with guest satisfaction, Ms. Ring said.

“Having that skill set to provide cutting edge, calorie-conscious cuisine with high flavor is essential in today’s nutrition-conscious environment.”

David L. Katz, founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University

Creating high flavor with lower calories is always a goal since “calories do count,” said David L. Katz, founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University. Mr. Katz recently served as one of three research advisers to the National Institutes of Health-funded research conducted by Healthy Dining looking at reductions in calorie, saturated fat and sodium levels without compromising flavor.

So, yes, calories do count, “but the best way is not to count them but to trade up,” he said.

Mr. Katz contends the objective is to change the number of calories it takes for people to feel full.

“The only way to fix the problem of ‘constant hunger’ is to trade up to better food choices,” he said.