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Dubai Municipality on Saturday issued a circular to food establishments making it compulsory to indicate on their menus the calorie content of all ready-to-eat items served. Image Credit: Javed Nawab/Gulf News

Dubai: Restaurants in Dubai are waiting for guidelines from Dubai Municipality to know how they should implement a new rule that requires them to display calorie count of each item in the menus to help diners make informed choices for healthy food.

The civic body on Saturday announced that it had issued a circular to food establishments making it compulsory to declare in their menus the calorie content of all ready-to-eat food items served.

As per the new rule, restaurants, cafeterias and cafes with more than five branches should implement the rule by November and all other restaurants, catering establishments and hotels should implement it by January 2020.

Eman Al Bastaki, director of Food Safety Department, told Gulf News that the department had also prepared guidelines for food services establishment on calorie labelling of food.

“These guidelines will help businesses with the most common questions about implementing this decision.”

Confusion on calculation

However, restaurants Gulf News spoke to on Sunday said they were yet to receive the circular and the guidelines on the implementation of the rule. Hence, they were confused about how exactly they should implement it.

Zubair Abdullah, manager of the Tecom branch of Indian restaurant Wide Range, was apprehensive that eateries will have to hire nutritionists to aid them with the calorie calculation of food items.

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“There are many initiatives being done in view of the Expo 2020 coming to Dubai. But, we have not received any instruction about how this calorie counting should be done.”

He said it was difficult for traditional restaurants like his to count calories in a standardised way as the ingredients used in one particular recipe tend to change according to the style of the chefs.

“I think restaurants will have to hire nutritionists to check calories of each and every dish. When we write it on the menu, we will have to reprint all menus and also increase the number of pages maybe.”

Will prices go up?

Abdullah expressed concerns that this might eventually result in more expenditure for restaurants. “Many restaurants are already struggling in the current market situation. If this becomes an additional burden, restaurants are likely to increase the price which is not good for consumers.”

It was also not clear if the municipality would have recommendations about the qualification of nutritionists whose services can be availed for this. Nakul Meherish, co-founder of Raju Omlet, is one of those who are looking for support from the municipality to enforce the rule.

“It is a good initiative. As long as there is any information which is printed for the public, it has to be accurate. But it will be great if the government could help us in this.”

He said he was expecting the municipality to launch an app where restaurants can put in the details of the ingredients and get the total calorie count of a meal. “These are my initial thoughts now. We need to wait for the municipality to announce the finer details.”

Sajesh P., partner of a catering company, said there was no printed menu in most catering companies. “We serve only a few items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As per the order, we supply the food. I don’t know how this rule can be implemented in this scenario.”

The Food Safety Department is expected to issue guidelines to the eateries in the coming days.

Nutritionist speaks

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Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News Archive

In light of the recent calorie-count rule at all Dubai eateries, Juliot Vinolia, Chief Dietician at Medeor Hospital Dubai, said there is a bigger need for people to educate themselves on reading nutrition labels.

“The majority of obesity cases are a result of people ignorantly taking in calories, and with the UAE being multicultural, it is hard for people to know how many calories are in other traditional dishes,” she said. Referring to McDonald’s recent move to include the calorie count for each of their burgers and meals, Vinolia said the impact on her patients has been significant.

“More people are becoming health conscious, and adding the calorie count especially to junk food will reduce the frequency at which people eat out at fast food restaurants, pushing them to choose better options,” she added.

According to Vinolia, the only drawback from the adding calorie count to menus, is its impact on those who don’t understand the nutritious value of foods and the benefits of good fats, for example.

“Some people may avoid healthy dishes or even oriental foods because they don’t understand the nutritious value and only look at the calorie count,” explained Vinolia. She also pointed out that with a rise in anorexia among teenage girls and young adults, introducing the calorie count rule, could push them further into their eating disorder.

-By Jumana Khamis, Reporter