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McDonald's Adds Calorie Counts And Maybe Grilled McNuggets To Menu

If you didn't know that a Big Mac has 550 calories, or the Southwest Chicken Salad has 290, those numbers will be hard to miss the next time you visit McDonald's.

That's because the fast-food giant announced today that it will begin posting calories on its menu boards right above customers heads in the restaurant, and at the drive-thru starting next week.

McDonald's USA President Jan Fields says after talking with customers, it's clear they want more information. "They asked us to make it easier to find nutrition information at the restaurants," she says. (In fact, the company has offered nutrition information about its products for decades, if you knew to ask for them or to flip over the paper on your tray.)

As we've reported before, studies suggest it's not clear that adding calories to menu boards will change consumers decisions. A recent International Food information Council Foundation survey found that most of us are pretty bad about calculating our calories — only 15 percent of Americans know how many calories they should be eating each day.

But the hope among public health experts is that consumers will use the calories boards to make healthier choices. So even if only some people use them,posting calories could have an effect on weight over time, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest tells the AP. Wootan tells The Salt that "calorie labeling is encouraging companies to reformulate products."

McDonald's says it will always be known for its burgers and fries, but a change in that deep-fried McNugget (6 pieces, 280 calories, 18 grams of fat) might be on the way.

"We are playing with the idea of grilled nuggets," McDonald's VP Greg Watson told reporters. "It's not as easy as you would think," because he says kids like the existing McNugget more than a grilled option. But "give us some time," Watson says. "And I think we'll find a way to crack that code."

In making the announcement today, McDonald's shows it's stepped out ahead of likely federal rules requiring calorie counts stemming from the new health law. Although the calorie counts are only for the U.S. market for now, it's part of a broader move the company is making to address global health concerns.

Company leaders say they plan to continue adding new options, such as wraps, smoothies ( a blueberry-pomegranate, served seasonally is in the menu pipeline) and oatmeal.

As we stepped off the elevator to attend the announcement this morning at the Newseum here in Washington, D.C., we were offered an oatmeal by a server who asked, "Would you like to try it? It's under 300 calories!"

Yes, it was a good way to start the day. But ahem...hold the Big Mac.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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