CHICAGO – Descriptions on menu items referencing cholesterol, gluten, sugar and other health-related topics are being featured more on restaurant menus as more restaurant operators realize a growing total of Americans need controlled diets.

“Our data shows that certain areas within restrictive diets are growing in popularity, at least from a menu standpoint,” said Mary Chapman, Technomic director. “Restaurant operators are increasingly rolling out gluten-free, cholesterol-free, low-fat and no-sugar menu offerings. At the same time, we’re seeing operators trying to accommodate consumers with health-related conditions by being transparent about their menu ingredients and making it easy to see which items include certain food allergens or are lower in, say, fat or sodium.”

Highlights of Technomic’s new Restrictive Diets Market Intelligence Report include:

  • Seventy-three percent of consumers feel restaurants should be transparent about their food’s fat, sodium and sugar content, as well as potential food allergens. Women feel stronger about menu transparency than men.
  • Gluten-free menu items increased 61 percent between 2010 and 2011. Operators are starting to realize the audience for gluten-free fare is growing and it includes consumers with gluten allergies or intolerance, as well as those who just feel gluten-free items are healthier alternatives.
  • Menu items described as “low salt” or “low sodium” were virtually stagnant—and remain very low in number, although mentions of “salt” increased dramatically on menus.
  • High cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure are the top-three conditions that restrict their diet or that of a household member were cited by consumers polled in Technomic’s survey.
  • Asked to categorize their level of adherence, most consumers on special diets (70 percent) say they follow their diet but occasionally indulge.
  • Special dietary needs make it harder to eat out than to eat at home, said one out of four consumers on a restrictive diet or consumers living with someone on a restrictive diet.