Friday, March 18, 2011

Do You Want To Know? Nationwide Mandatory Displayed Calorie Counts-Yay or Nay?

Photo Cred- J. Zolnierz
Would you purchase something without knowing it's price?  Would you walk into a store pick out an item, walk to the register and hand them your credit card without ever knowing how much is being charged?  Or do you do the "price dance"?  The back and forth of looking at the price and weighing the justifications- is this something I need, is it something I can't live without, will purchasing this item harm my bank account/credit score unnecessarily?  I would be willing to bet that most of us fall into that last category.  Every purchase is weighed against its price tag, and determinations are made as to whether we can "afford" the item in question.  We stick to our budgets, or we face the consequences-money is finite.  So why don't we treat our bodies the same way?  Next week the Food and Drug Administration will be voting on implementing mandatory displayed calorie counts in chain restaurants across the country, as New York did several years ago.  My question is- why is this a vote at all?  

Every day we are allotted a "budget" of calories to spend on nutrients for the day.  This, of course, changes based on body type and need, but generally speaking the US has decided that 2,000 calories per day is the average a person should consume.  If we compare this idea to our financial budgets-it's very much the same thing, and yet rarely do we look at it this way.  All day long we purchase items to eat, but do we have any idea how many calories we are consuming? 

Photo Cred J. Zolnierz
I have been considering this for a couple of weeks now, since my trip to New York where Starbucks slapped me in the face with their calorie counts.  A couple days later I received an email from a friend asking how on earth it was possible that her sandwich (a grilled veggie sandwich without cheese added) could add up to over 800 calories.  She well noted that had a calorie count been displayed on that sandwich, which sounded like the best option to her, she would never have purchased it.  It's like going into a 7/11 for batteries, paying and later finding out that they cost $50.00.  Would you spend $50.00 on batteries?  

Lets look at a typical day of an office working male (I observe these daily).  The FDA has placed his average calorie count between 2,000 and 3,000 daily ( We'll target him for a 2,500 day.  I got my calorie counts here from and from  Each morning starts off with coffee (8 oz cup, no cream or sugar added-9 calories) and a bagel with cream cheese (approximately 340 calories).  Lunch comes around and our guy is hungry, he goes out and gets himself a sandwich-turkey (because he's being good), two slices of whole wheat bread, with cheese (because he's not THAT good) and a little mayo (give or take- 500 calories). He also munches down on some carrot sticks (~50 calories).  So our jolly worker is about 1/2 way through his day and he has so far consumed upwards of 900 calories.  He has been eating pretty healthily as well- going for some lean meats, skipping the donut, adding in some far so good- he has 1,600 calories to burn.  

Then 3:00 hits- he needs that afternoon coffee break and to stretch his legs a bit.  He runs to a chain coffee shop and is faced with his first tough decision of the day-coffee would be better with a donut right?  They look great sitting in their displays- all sugary and sweet.  He goes for it.  A cup of coffee (9 calories-no cream no sugar) and a glazed donut (via Dunkin' Donut's website- 260 calories).

Work finally ends, and he escapes his office to head home, and since it was a rough day, he and the missus decide to head out to eat.  Craving Italian, they head to Romano's Macaroni Grill.  They choose to split the Calamari Fritti (coming in at 1,210 calories for the full serving, our guy has just added 605 calories to his day).  He chooses the Grill Salmon as his entree (sounds healthy right?  He just tacked on another 1,090).  Finally, to round out the meal, our buddy and his wife decide to end on a sweet note- and share the dessert ravioli- and they each add another 815 calories to their days.  (Calorie counts found on

Full day calorie count: 3,678.  Over budget for the day- 1,178 calories-almost the next days calorie allotment as well.

Photo Cred J. Zolnierz
How do you think this day would have changed had those calorie counts been listed next to the prices?  Do you think our friend would have weighed out his choices, perhaps kept a running tally of his expenditures?  Shouldn't we all be at least conscious of how much items that we eat are costing us? 

Reading through A Boston Food Diary you can see that this is something that I struggle with(this IS the same blog I posted about Chocolate Covered Bacon not long ago).  I often run into days where I really want a sweet treat.  I have a terrible sweet tooth, and with a variety of bake shops its tough to pass up.  But like a balance sheet, I have to weigh the option.  Clearly posted calories would absolutely help me come to the reality that that chocolate chip cookie I so desperately crave will blow my budget for the day.  Just like those killer boots I've been eyeing need to be passed up. 

What do you think?  Do you think that clearly posted calorie counts would help us weigh our choices, or do you think that we would ignore them in favor of satisfying out urges?  


Kathy said...

I am so on the fence about calorie counts being printed. On the one hand I think if I'm eating out (which I don't do terribly often) then I want to be able to indulge and not be self concious about how many calories I'm eating. On the other hand I think the lack of calorie counts is one of the factors leading to obesity in the states - but in general we have kind of sedentary lives so the caloric content tends to stay tacked on.

Honestly - I tend to be a bit over indulgent so I ignore caloric counts in general which I feel is a bad habit, which means that a colie count printed and in my face would at least obligate me to acknowledge the insane amount that I consume in a day.

Such a tough subject though...

Ann said...

Part of me says good call FDA give us calorie counts. But the other part of me, the part that likes food, asks if I want to feel guilty every time I eat out. We cook at home A LOT and the things we eat could certainly be healthier, but I do my best to make tasty and relatively good for you meals. But when I go out I like to enjoy my food. I mean for places like Starbucks, I want my coffee, I don't necessarily want to know how many calories it's going to cost me to indulge in a thing that I only get around once every 2 weeks.
Sigh, it is a tough subject.

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

Such a good, controversial topic! I think that the public needs to be better educated on how to eat a well balanced diet and that should be step one. Sure, posting nutrition information might sway someone from ordering something indulgent but I think it needs to go further and I'm not necessarily sure that posting nutrition information is way to go. I've always subscribed to the "everything in moderation" theory and think that people should indulge in rich foods, so long as it's not on a daily basis, done in moderation and balanced with other nutritious foods. I think the FDA needs to go further than posting information. For starters, our food pyramid is ridiculous as it focuses on starches and carbs and let's not even touch touch the subject of what kids are served in schools. Then, there's the lost art of the simpler and (usually) much healthier art of cooking at home.

Oh my, I think I just wrote a book. Such a hot button topic!

Anonymous said...

I don't know why there should be controversy at all! Knowledge...everyone should have the right to be knowledgable of their choices. And that is the key. You will still have the CHOICE to eat how you want.

Look, if I want chicken wings, the 1200 calorie label is not going to stop me, but it is going to give me the knowledge I need to make the rest of my day's decisions around that one.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why there should be controversy at all! Knowledge...everyone should have the right to be knowledgable of their choices. And that is the key. You will still have the CHOICE to eat how you want.

Look, if I want chicken wings, the 1200 calorie label is not going to stop me, but it is going to give me the knowledge I need to make the rest of my day's decisions around that one.

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