Nutritional information via phone a good call

Dieters curious about how many calories are in their favorite restaurants’ pizza, taco or hazelnut latte won’t have to wait for pending state legislation to find out, provided they have a cell phone or computer.

A San Mateo startup of physicians, nutritionists, and technology and restaurant gurus spent years manually compiling nutritional information for virtually every chain restaurant in the country. The company last week launched a free Web site and text messaging service that will tell eaters all the relevant nutritional information of dishes ordered and even suggest a similar but healthier alternative at that restaurant.

“Lots of people are talking about healthier living and their desire to understand better whatthey eat when they go to restaurants,” said Ron Gutman, co-founder of Wellsphere.

Plenty of lawmakers around the country have a hunger for nutritional information, too. The service comes three months after state legislation was introduced to require all California restaurants with at least 14 locations in the state post relevant nutritional information on menus starting on July 1, 2009, if passed by the Legislature.

A similar bill was passed by the Legislature last year but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger after restaurateurs complained that the requirements were an onerous and intrusive burden. A U.S. District Court judge in New York City ruled in April that restaurants with at least 15 locations be required to post calorie counts on menus.

Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge, who helped design the product for Wellsphere, said the service would still be useful if the California legislation is passed because of the healthier menu alternatives it provides to users.

Gutman said that compiling the data on hundreds of thousands of menu items was cumbersome but that he and his co-founder originally embarked on the project when they were attending Stanford University in 2004 to help reduce American obesity. U.S. residents eat 64 percent of their meals at chain restaurants, according to Gutman.

The Wellsphere service can be used by visiting wellsphere.com or by sending a text message to 878787 with the name of the restaurant and dish. The company will also soon be launching a web widget, mini-web application you can put in your web page, blog or social profile.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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