Menu items with descriptions that reference gluten, cholesterol, sugar and other health-related topics are expanding on restaurant menus as more operators recognize that an increasing number of Americans require controlled diets.

"Our data shows that certain areas within restrictive diets are growing in popularity, at least from a menu standpoint," says Technomic Director Mary Chapman. "Restaurant operators are increasingly rolling out gluten-free, cholesterol-free, lowfat 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."

In order to help restaurant operators and suppliers understand the opportunities with regard to the behaviors and needs of consumers on controlled diets, Technomic has developed the Restrictive Diets Market Intelligence Report. Noteworthy findings include:

The vast majority of consumers (73 percent) feel that restaurants should be transparent about their food's fat, sodium and sugar content, as well as potential food allergens. Women feel even stronger about menu transparency than men.
Menu items billed as "gluten-free" experienced significant growth between 2010 and 2011, increasing by 61 percent.

Operators are beginning to see that the audience for gluten-free fare is growing and that it includes consumers with gluten allergies or intolerance, as well as those who just feel gluten-free items are healthier than items containing gluten.

Although straightforward mentions of "salt" increased dramatically on menus, menu items described as "low salt" or "low sodium" were virtually stagnant—and remain very low in number.

Consumers polled in Technomic's survey cite high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure as the top three conditions that restrict their diet or that of a household member.

When asked to categorize their level of adherence, the vast majority of consumers on special diets (70 percent) say they follow their diet but occasionally indulge.

One out of four consumers on a restrictive diet, or living with someone on a restrictive diet, believes that special dietary needs make it harder to eat out than to eat at home.

Restrictive Diets, like other titles in Technomic's growing series of Market Intelligence Reports, mines Technomic's extensive collection of recent consumer and industry data, including consumer research conducted for Technomic's Consumer Trend Reports and menu data and insights from Technomic's exclusive MenuMonitor online trend-tracking resource (a constantly-updated, searchable online database of menus of more than 1,200 top chains, emerging concepts and high-volume independent restaurants).

The report also uses industry and trend data from Technomic's Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report and other publications compiled in Technomic's exclusive Digital Resource Library, a unique online restaurant industry database. Rounding out the data are examples of restaurant industry successes in accommodating patrons on controlled diets.