Chain restaurants have revamped menu selections in response to a coming federal mandate that requires them to disclose calorie counts right next to the food items.

The truly interesting thing is that even the restaurateurs that fought the federal mandate are now making money from menus with revamped calorie counts!

Calorie counts can help you even if you don't want to help yourself

I love the idea of you having access to calorie info. Instead of controlling what you can eat, the government is giving you the info so you can decide what's best for you to eat.

Read more: 13 'healthy' snacks that aren't healthy at all

The new federal rules, which follow in the place of various local and state efforts across the country, will only apply to restaurants with at least 20 locations. Because of continual pushback from many of the big chains, you won't see these rules at the federal level until sometime next year.

Now, I didn't know if people would change their behavior when confronted with calorie counts. But what the restaurants are finding is that if something is north of 1,000 calories, people tend to balk at ordering it. The Los Angeles Times reports that's lead to the following changes:

  • Panera had a breakfast sandwich that was 650 calories. After changing the ingredients, it's now down to 350 calories. They also have a variety of half-sandwiches at 250 calories.

  • IHOP's standard bacon and eggs breakfast was 1,160 calories. But now they have alternatives like the turkey bacon breakfast with egg whites that drops to calorie count to 350.

  • At McDonald's, I have changed what I order for breakfast. I used to get a Sausage McMuffin with egg that had 460 calories. Now I've switched to an Egg McMuffin that has Canadian bacon and checks in at 300 calories.

So here's the beautiful thing. Let's say that you don't change your ordering behavior based on being shown a calorie count. Well, you still get the benefit of fewer calories because many restaurants are slimming down their offerings. So even if you're still ordering that fattening triple cheese whatever...well, it's probably less bad for you than it once was!

Yet you should beware of some black hole items that seem healthy but really aren't. As The Los Angeles Times notes, salads can be particularly dangerous when you're eating out. With enough dressing and other toppings, a salad can easily be the unhealthiest thing on the menu.

Pay attention to the calorie counts the next time you're out. Those numbers put you in control, not the government. And you know I like that!

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Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. View More Articles

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