Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Menu info meant to scare me

How do I feel about listing calories on a menu? Sick to my stomach. Well, maybe that's a little dramatic. Actually, I don't care. If I can look in the mirror and not see my second chin then I can read a menu without "seeing" the calories.
It's not only about the calories--even though I do have a t-shirt from last year's ADA meeting that says "It's the calories, stupid".
Yes, it's about the calories. Calories in vs. calories out. I accept that when calories are out of whack with expenditure, we get weight loss or gain. But I don't eat calories. I eat food. So when I look at a menu, I look at ingredients and cooking method. Do I want red snapper? Do I like carrots? Am I in the mood for grilled or fried food? Choosing a menu item just because it's lowest in calories seems out of touch with what's important about healthy eating--the nutrients.
We've pretty much scrapped the "all foods fit" mantra because I think many dietitians no longer believe that all foods fit. Maybe it's because we've gone overboard with eating the foods that are at the far end of the not so good continuum and forced them to fit. And in some ways, "calories" are to blame. Let's see, I could eat one whole eclair if I just drink water for breakfast because then my whole day's intake will be 1200 calories. Or I could eat 1/2 eclair and have one hard boiled egg for breakfast and still stay within my calorie limit.
I don't think that's the kind of thinking we had in mind with "all foods fit".
Back to menus. Life long weight maintenance (even if it means maintaining weight at a higher than "best" weight level) needs intuitiveness and mindfulness. Knowing when you've had enough. Paying attention to what you're eating; to what you're ordering. And maybe knowing the calories can help but that's just the beginning.
So a salad that includes avocado and nuts and salmon would be much higher in calories (from fat) than a salad of chicken breast, lettuce and cucumbers. In this case, are the calories that important? Or are the ingredients, all recommended for health, as important? I don't think any one would deny that both salads are probably good choices for healthy eating even though the avocado, salmon, nut salad would be way higher in calories. Choosing the lesser caloric salad would mean getting way less of some of the nutrients we consider important for health like omega 3 fatty acids.
Obviously people are interested in calories. That's why the "eat this not that" books have done so well. But choosing a cucumbers over an avocado just because of calories isn't necessarily good nutrition.
So can we expect to see menus list items in ascending order of calories with a dry lettuce wedge listed first and grilled chicken with steamed broccoli last?
I can't be "scared" into losing weight. Of course, knowing that the "big ass burger" (actual menu item in AZ restaurant) has twice the calories as a regular burger is interesting and scandalous news. But understanding why the burger is so caloric might be more instructive to help me make better decisions in the future than just trying to scare me out of ordering it by listing the calories. Oh, and since the big ass has vegetables on it and the plain burger is just meat, it might actually be better to eat 1/2 the big ass for the same number of calories. Making choices on calories alone is not always the best way to choose.

1 comment:

T said...

thank you for posting this! I live in Tennessee where restaurants will (most likely) soon be required to post calories on menus next to menu items. I personally hope restaurants will still provide "non-calorie" menus for me to look at when choosing my order!