Calorie-Counting At The Fast Food Shack

In Ohio, many fast food outlets post the calories of the items they offer.  As you roll up to the drive-through lane, you learn that the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder has X calories or the Dairy Queen bacon grillburger has Y calories.

The theory behind posting the calorie counts is to arm the consumer with information that will allow him or her to make good — or at least knowledgeable — decisions when it comes to ordering their food.  Yet you wonder:  do many fast food customers really make productive use of that information to change their eating habits?

burger-and-friesA recent study indicates that the calorie postings really don’t matter that much.  The study occurred in Philadelphia — which requires fast-food outlets to post the calorie, sodium, and fat content of their menu items — and it concluded that only 8 percent of fast food consumers use the information to make healthier eating choices.

Why?  Many of the people surveyed in the study claimed they didn’t see the nutritional information, and others had no context in which to assess the calorie counts, because they didn’t know what a healthy daily calorie intake would be.  Without knowing the context, they’re unaware whether that 760 calories for the cheeseburger of their choice is reasonable.  And, study authors note, the people ordering the food have to be “motivated to eat healthy.”

I think the last point is the only operative one.  I try to avoid fast food at all costs, due to taste, salt content, and calorie count concerns.  When I’ve been forced to order it, because I’m on the road rushing to get somewhere and don’t have the time to eat a normal meal, I try to order the most low-calorie, low-sodium offering that is available and that is readily consumed while driving a car.  The posted notices are perfectly adequate for that purpose, and you don’t need to know the USDA recommended daily calorie intake for your gender and age to know that lower calorie and sodium numbers are better.

The reality, however, is that most people who frequent fast-food restaurants don’t care about the calories.  They don’t go there to seek healthy eating options, they go because it’s quick and convenient and they crave the Big Mac, fries, and chocolate shake.  Survey recipients who say they don’t notice the signs are engaging in self-deception; they’re blaming others for their own choices.  Why bother forcing fast-food restaurants to post larger and more detailed signs, when the real culprits in the bad decisions category are the consumers themselves?

Fresh Fish

  
Hey, Dr. Z!  Look, I took your instruction that I need to eat more fish, and had some absolutely fresh off the boat grouper for lunch.  It made me realize, once again, what a difference freshness makes.

I feel so much healthier now!  Of course, I had French fries and a few beers with the fish, and the fish was fried . . . but hey, it’s a start!

The Pitfalls Of Advocating Healthy Eating

Michelle Obama has been a fervent advocate of healthier eating. She’s planted a White House garden and raves about the value of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Now it appears that her advocacy has come at a cost. The White House executive pastry chef, Bill Yosses, has resigned his position. Yosses was hired by former First Lady Laura Bush, and when Mrs. Obama took the reins she asked him to prepare healthier treats in smaller portions. He accommodated Mrs. Obama’s wishes by using substitutes like fruit puree for butter and honey and agave for sugar, but now he’s made the “bittersweet decision” to leave. “I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs,” he says. Mrs. Obama graciously accepted his resignation, saying it was “incredibly sad” to see him go.

The First Lady gets to make the rules, and I’m sure the White House will have no trouble in finding a new, highly skilled pastry chef who welcomes the challenges of blending healthy eating concepts with tasty pastry concoctions. Still, I think about being a lucky visitor who has the once-in-a-lifetime chance to eat at the White House. Would I want to cap off my special meal with a slice of a sumptuous, beautiful butter-and-cream cake, or an agave-based flan? I think I’d want the former.

My Latest Food Addiction

I’ve been trying to eat healthier, and I’ve found the perfect food — wasabi peas.

Bear with me here.  First of all, you start with the fact that you are eating peas.  Peas!  They are a green vegetable, last time I checked, so closely associated with good eating that mothers hectoring their children to “eat your peas” has become part of American lore.  If your latest food addiction involves eating peas in somewhat modified form, you are off to a good start.  The fact that the peas are dried and are there mainly to serve as the launching pad for wasabi doesn’t remove the checkmark from the healthy eating box.

And what about wasabi?  It’s made from a plant, too, of the same family that includes horseradish and mustard.  Plus, it’s Japanese in origin, which almost by definition means it’s healthy, right up there with sushi and sashimi.  Wasabi’s fiery taste and burn clears sinuses better than Vicks Vaporub, and doesn’t leave you smelling like the filter of a menthol cigarette, either.  The sinus-clearing effect, obviously, further enhances the healthy impact of the peas.

And finally, the combination of the crunch of the dried peas, and the sharp taste of the wasabi, makes wasabi peas the perfect food to accompany a cold beer.  We know that beer has a crucial impact on the development of civilization and was a healthier beverage for our ancient ancestors than water from often fouled, disease-ridden waterways.

So there you have it — a healthy food trifecta that is so addicting I could eat my weight of the little volcanic nuggets and burn permanent holes in my stomach lining.  O, happy coincidence!

The Telltale Sign Of The Fruit Bowl

Richard is home for the holidays, and tomorrow Russell will be joining us.  It will be grand, indeed, to have them both at home.

If Sherlock Holmes were visiting our house, he would know with one glance at the kitchen fruit bowl that the boys will soon be home.  They are healthy eaters — unlike me — and Kish always stocks up on fruit when they are due to arrive.  The bananas, apples, oranges, and other goodies not only allow for healthy eating, they also add some bright colors to the Thanksgiving festivities.

Chocolate Therapy

Usually when a doctor starts talking about “healthy eating,” you groan inwardly and steel yourself to hearing about leafy green vegetables or other slimy, bitter, or tasteless items.  Now, there’s hope that “healthy eating” won’t limit us to awful foodstuffs that must be choked down over the gag reflex.

A recent study, of more than 37,000 Swedes, indicates that eating chocolate may protect the brain from stroke. Study participants who ate the most chocolate were 17 percent less likely to have a stroke.

That study follows on other research that indicates that consuming chocolate may improve the health of your heart, that chocolate has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-clotting effects, and that chocolate may reduce concentrations of “bad cholesterol” and lower blood pressure.  And — as any true chocoholic knows — munching on some of that dark, sweet goodness is going to improve your mood, too.  It’s a wonder drug!

Of course, researchers warn that you shouldn’t react to the study results by going on a four-Snickers-a-day diet; moderation remains important.  Still, it’s nice to know that when Mother Nature decided on foods that would promote good health, she decided to give us a break now and then.

Death To The Bake Sale!

When I was in school, the bake sale was a fundraising staple.  Whether it was for band uniforms, field trips, or a new suit for the school mascot, kids and parents turned on their ovens, got out their mixing bowls, and cooked the goodies that brought in the nickels, dimes, and quarters of which fund drives were made.

Now bake sales are becoming an endangered species.  In the Montgomery County, Maryland school district, bake sales are barred.  It’s just part of a growing national trend.  Why?  Because we’ve got lots of fat kids in school these days, and school administrators and food services kingpins think cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and pies are unhealthy.  As a result, kids can’t sell “non-nutritious” food in schools anymore.  Of course, as the article points out, what’s nutritious, anyway?  Pop-Tarts, which are allowed, or home-baked carrot cake, which isn’t?

Even more ridiculous, the federal government will soon weigh in on this topic (pun intended).  Uncle Sam will be publishing its “national school nutrition standards for food sold outside cafeterias.”  Just what we need!  More federal employees getting taxpayer-funded salaries to advise us about things that really should be left to parents.  No doubt there are other federal employees to police compliance, and still other federal employees to administer grant programs to award money to school districts for programs to encourage healthy eating, and state and local employees who will write grant proposals and administer the federally funded efforts — all to combat the lure of the humble brownie and kids who can’t say no.

C’mon, people!  Have we really reached the point where our schools are outlawing bake sales, and the federal government is giving us advice on what our kids should be eating?  Is there any facet of our daily lives that is safe from the heavy hand of taxpayer-funded government regulators?