Get REAL, a new certification program has launched in Washington D.C. in hopes of connecting health-conscious consumers to restaurants serving healthful and sustainable food. The United States Healthful Food Council, a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to fighting obesity, has awarded its new REAL certification to several restaurants, including Chipotle's Washington D.C.-based ShopHouse.
"The long-range mission of the USHFC is to eliminate food-related disease and make our food system sustainable," said Lawrence Williams, president of the USHFC. "The way we intend to accomplish our mission is by increasing the profitability of the more healthful and sustainable foods."
REAL, which stands for Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership, uses a flexible points-based system similar to LEED, and the USHFC provides third-party verification of nutrition and sustainability best practices.
"People are increasingly concerned with health and sustainability when eating out and REAL Certification provides a holistic way to distinguish between those that 'walk the walk,' from those that simply 'talk the talk,'" Williams said."Putting calorie levels on menus may be helpful, but it's not a good proxy for healthfulness and environmental sustainability."
Restaurants earn points based upon the "REAL Index," which was developed in collaboration with an independent panel of experts, and covers topics such as:
- Use of vegetables and fruits.
- Portion sizes.
- Local and regional sourcing practices
- Special dietary offerings
- Use of healthier oils
- Health of children's meals
- Use of reduced processing and additives
- Use of lean meats
- Use of organic and sustainable food and
- Animal welfare
"The program, so far, has appealed to restaurants that have a focus on serving healthier and more sustainable products, and it's probably not designed for everyone," Williams said.
Williams said the group decided to launch the Eat REAL campaign in Washington because of the city's unique collection of leaders in culinary arts, nutrition, sustainability and health.
"Our inaugural class of REAL Certified restaurants are an excellent representation of chefs and businesses that understand the important role they play as the new stewards of the American diet," he said.
Getting REAL Certified
REAL Certification is issued at multiple levels, beginning with REAL Verified. The USHFC also provides REAL Certification to contract foodservice operations and is currently certifying locations in Boston, San Francisco, Oakland and Omaha, Williams said. Restaurants and contract foodservice providers interested in participating may request certification at: http://ushfc.org/contact.
"As with LEED certification, there is a fee for certification," Williams said. "We are a nonprofit, but we still have to cover our costs so we can pay our bills. It's quite nominal though — a few hundred dollars a year per store, depending on location and total number — and it simply goes to offset our cost of bringing in an outside registered dietitian as well as a contribution toward the program marketing costs."
Funding and future plans
The United States Healthful Food Council is funded through donations, but it also provides fee-based services, including third-party verification (REAL Certification) of nutrition and sustainability best-practices, nutrition analysis, menu labeling and recipe consulting. The group is also developing an education and credentialing program for registered dietitians and other nutrition professionals, which will allow them to market the REAL certification to their local restaurants, Williams said.
REAL Certification information is available through an open Application Programming Interface and will ideally be integrated into Urban Spoon, Open Table, Google, Yelp, etc.,Willaims said.
Nearly 20 restaurants are now REAL Certified, including D.C.'s Restaurant Nora, which was the nation's first restaurant to be certified organic.
Read more about sustainability.
Cherryh Butler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.