Counting Calories

20 11 2010

Never under-estimate the power of lobbying, for it can help sway and lead legislators in such a way as to favor your company or industry. But never assume this sway will last forever.

Such is the case for the restaurant industry, which in the near future must come clean and visibly post calorie contents in their menus as early as 2011. That quadruple bypass hamburger really is unhealthy, and the numbers won’t lie.

Historically, only packaged foods in the US have been required to list nutrition facts, but starting soon, restaurants will be required to tell just how good…or bad…their food really is. Unprocessed food sold in supermarkets (e.g., raw meats, seafood and veggies) will continue to skate through without labeling laws.

For health freaks like me, this information is welcome. Restaurants are already notorious for serving ever-growing portions. And I know those extra mouthfuls don’t come calorie-free. I want to know what I am eating and how many miles I will have to ride the next day to make it go away.

But I wonder just how effective these things are going to be. The warning statements on beer and other alcoholic beverages don’t appear to be working (do any of you even know what they are?). Even the warnings on products containing either Saccharine or NutraSweet are virtually invisible. And one could argue that the warning labels on cigarettes and other tobacco products have not been as effective as hoped, lest we wouldn’t see the FDA proposing much more graphic labeling.

Still, I can see the restaurant industry becoming a little nervous. No doubt there will be much media coverage and hand-wringing once this information becomes easily available. Never mind that there will certainly be variations from one plate to the next, unless precise measurements are used to dole out everyone’s orders.

The fact that this new law even exists is proof that America’s obesity problem has gotten the attention of politicians. That alone is a scary thought. And politicians are often wont to try to effect change by regulating the providers rather than the users. They have effectively made restaurateurs complicit in our growing waist lines, and everyone from the healthiest vegetarian vendor to the grossest heart-attack-on-a-plate purveyor is going to have to play by new rules.

And what of the resulting guilt with which many patrons will no doubt have to deal? So much for a nice romantic dinner. Rather than fantasizing where the night may lead, you will be dreading tomorrow morning’s double workout.

But this is one intervention with which I can live. It’s not that the government is telling vendors it can no longer sell unhealthy food. No, it is just requiring them to give us the facts so that we might all make more informed decisions.

If you’re obsessively trying to count what goes in vs. what is burned, this is a godsend. For once I will be able to know just how good the pasta marinara is, or just how bad (I suspect) the eggplant parm with cheese is. I’m old enough to understand cause and effect, and at 51, I’m trying to preserve life, not spend it dangerously. Give me the facts, good or bad. I plan to be around a while.

I’m counting on it.

Dr “It All Adds Up” Gerlich


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