Calorie Counts: Again and Again and Again

I read The Consumerist because it often gets on my nerves. Like today, when it squawks about consumer ignorance of Calories in fast food:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the American Heart Association recently conducted a scientific poll... in which they asked a sampling of consumers to tell them which menu items had the fewest calories. The results? Consumers had no clue....

If you guessed "Tuna Melt"—-you're smarter than approximately 96% of consumers. The Steakhouse Beef Dip with cheese and dressing actually has the fewest calories, with 730, whereas the Tuna Melt weighs in at a hefty 1,420.

You can tell where this is going.

It's a non-sequitur to state that since people can't guess Calories in fast food, public policy must require Calorie estimates in restaurants. While those leading the CSPI and AHA would almost certainly like this to be the case, whether the public would actually benefit from such high-level information is entirely unclear.

That's because there is a serious disagreement within and between scientific communities, doctors, advocacy groups, and consumers about which diet is best for human health and longevity -- not to mention enjoyment!

While almost all people seem to agree the *best* food is that which is fresh and is prepared by the consumer, they do not agree on which foods those should be!

I believe that the number of Calories, by itself, does not provide sufficient information for many, if not most, dieters. Unless you are solely counting calories and nothing else, a list of the total number of Calories on an overhead menus is nearly worthless. It simply doesn't provide what you believe you need to make a good choice.

Many philosophies of eating (e.g. low-fat or low-carb) do not depend on counting calories. Instead, they depend on counting a component of calories: fats, carbs, protein, and (usually left out) alcohol.

Even further, many diets insist should certain types of carbs (e.g. empty sugars and starches) or fats (e.g. trans and saturated fats) should be restricted.

Are we to require that every fast-food restaurant list every single subcomponent of Calories on their menus? Many already do online and in stores, and that's what I use to make my choices.

How does listing Calorie information help these below-Calorie dieters at all? It doesn't, and forcibly listing a crude estimate of the number of Calories in a food may falsely indicate to those not on a diet that counting Calories is the preferred or best or even the only way to healthy diet.


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on April 21, 2008 6:05 PM.

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