Originally posted by Salud America!

There are many options for dining out these days, but which restaurants offer healthier and more sustainable options for families?

REAL, standing for Responsible, Epicurean, and Agricultural Leadership, is a nationally recognized mark of excellence for food and foodservice operators committed to holistic nutrition and environmental stewardship.  The United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC), established in 2012, works to help restaurants become REAL Certified in three areas that show conscious health for the environment and the people.

The goal is to make sure healthy choices are highlighted and offered, and that unhealthy options are limited or changed for families dining out.

Through this certification, healthy changes are being made in restaurants all over the nation by offering consumers dining options that promote more fruit and vegetable consumption and highlighting healthy restaurant menus and sustainable food practices.

How does it work?

Registered Dieticians (RDs) work with restaurants or foodservice providers to take them through a 100-point scale of key performance indicators (KPIs) on nutrition and sustainability, which include everything from maximizing fruit and vegetable options, whole grain options and access to free water, to reducing deep-fried foods, added sugars, and default sugary beverages on kid’s menus.

On the agriculture end, the restaurants earn points if they serve local or regional products, or if they are making efforts to use non-GMO or USDA certified organic options, seasonal options, and sustainably sourced fish products.

Various restaurants across the United States are joining the REAL movement, hoping to be noticed for their good measures, values, and healthier food options. Once restaurants become REAL certified, they are promoted through the organizations geo-targeted website, EatReal.org. Certification offers restaurants bragging rights that a third party has reviewed and certified their efforts in sustainability and nutritional content.

Where are some of these healthy restaurant changes happening?

A healthier marketing campaign, REAL 25, created by the Tasteful app and USHFC was launched in February 2016 in Austin,TX (35.1% Latino) to help promote the top 25 healthiest restaurants for major cities across America.

Also, in Tennessee (5.2% Latino), where 33.8% of the population is overweight and the state is known to be the second in the nation with highest rates of Type 2 Diabetes, for the first time ever, the Tenn. local health department has joined forces with USHFC to create a healthier environment of restaurant choices for those dining out.

Ensuring healthier dining out options is important for many families, especially Latino families, who often are at risk for higher rates of diabetes and heart disease.

Schools can even get REAL certified, like the K-12 in Boulder, Colorado!

Nikkole Turner, the Tennessee Project Manager from USHFC, explained that restaurants that become certified are able to have bragging rights to explain to patrons that they have partnered with the state of Tenn. to help reduce diet-related disease and obesity within the state.

Although the Tenn. Health Department is the first health department that USHFC has partnered with, they plan on expanding this concept of partnership with other health departments across the nation to increase healthy options in restaurants and reduce diet-related diseases.

“We would love to work with health departments in other parts of the country and we’re definitely pursuing expanding what we’ve done here in Tenn. to other areas that could benefit from the work that we’re doing. If they [cities/states] have high statistics of diabetes, we know that this is the next step.”