Monday, November 19, 2007

Caloric Intakes

When I visit the in-laws, I occassionally subject myself to television shows that I would not normally watch. Last night I was reminded once again why I don't bother watching the travesty that is 60 Minutes.

A story was aired concerning calorie counts on fast-food menus. Those of you who have been to Subway lately may have noticed that their menus now proudly display the numbers of calories next to each sandwich. They note that the calorie count is for a 6-inch sandwich, which is fine with me. As the report so expertly noted, the calorie count does not include customizations to your sandwich, a feature which has always been key to Subway's business. Let's face it, you'd have to be an idiot to think that changing the ingredients in your sandwich wouldn't change its calorie count.

In what I'm sure was supposed to represent America as a whole, the reporter (who most assuredly knew better) played the part of the idiot. Her sandwich, which according to the menu would have contained less than 400 calories, ended up weighing in at just shy of 800 calories. This was because she opted for a 12-inch sub, and requested that it be loaded up with mayo. She complained that now she had to do math in her head (which must have been an excruciating experience for her), and that the obscene amounts of mayo that she requested were not tabulated anywhere. Her supposedly-healthful sandwich was now going to add nearly 800 calories to her daily intake! Can you imagine if she had three of those in a day? She'd be just shy of the recommended daily intake of 2400 calories a day! Oh, the horrors!

Of course, if she just drank water with her sandwich (not a bad idea) and decided not to get a bag of chips, then she would be just fine. But America doesn't stand for flavorless drinks and missing side dishes. In truth, the sandwich (including the mayo) would have been perfectly within reason. This point was largely ignored. The reporter's supposed intent was to prove that fast-food chains make it difficult for customers to accurately determine their caloric intake, and therefore stay healthy. Obviously, the real intent of the story was to cause shock and dissent among the masses, which I'm sure leads to increased ratings, but that's not really my point.

A supposed expert, a certain Thomas Frieden, spent the length of the report making a direct comparison between calories and health. "You might think that tuna salad, because it says it's salad, is healthier. But you might see it's many more calories than a roast beef sandwich. And you might prefer the roast beef sandwich, too. You were having the tuna salad because you thought it was healthy," Frieden explains.

I've got news for you, Frieden. While the salad may have more calories than the sandwich, it might still be more healthful. Of course, this all depends on how much mayo and other such ingredients were worked into the salad. The type of tuna used in tuna salad is little more than cat-food, and the only way to feed that to many Americans (and probably other nationalities) is to augment the taste with a little (or a lot of) fat. Still, the salad is likely to also contain greens (which most Americans could use much more of), olives (remember how good for you olive oil is supposed to be?) and perhaps tomatoes (love that lycopene). In contrast, the roast beef sandwich is going to contain some lovely saturated fat, much of which inherently contains trans-fats), some diabetes-inducing white wheat flour in the bun, and with any luck, some ever-so-tasty preservatives to keep the bread from getting stale on its trans-continental journey from factory to restaurant. But hey, at least the sesame seeds on top are good for you.

The point is, while there is a correlation between caloric intake and a person's health, it's not the only factor at work. I don't know of anyone (outside of TV) who is actually stupid enough to believe that a fast food burger is more healthful than a lush, green salad. Then why do people eat burgers instead of salads? Because the burger probably tastes good and the salad probably doesn't. Until America (and cooks in particular) realizes that there is as much art to preparing vegetables as there is to preparing meat, this problem will always exist. And while this problem exists, it doesn't matter how many restaurants put calories on their menus, people will still order the burger because the burger tastes good, and the salad is rabbit food.

What other factors are at going on here? I think it's common-knowledge nowadays that animal-based fats and protein are not nearly as good for you as plant-based fats and protein. There are a variety of reasons for this, my favorite being that trans-fats do not exist in plant-based fats without external intervention, whereas trans-fats (even in small amounts) are common in animal-based fats. Sugars also play an important role, as we all know that heavily-processed starches and sugars have been linked to things like Type II diabetes, largely because of the insulin spikes that they tend to cause. Nevermind the fact that excessive protein intake has also been shown to cause significant insulin spikes.

I could go on and on with a variety of other factors that I picked up from nutrition classes that I have taken, and personal research that I have done (I wonder if any CBS reporter has ever thought to do that, rather than just pretending to?). In the end, I'm just some guy with a blog that's mad about part of mainstream American making such an effort to delude the rest of mainstream America. If you're reading my blog, chances are you're not part of mainstream America, because that's not really who I generally find leaving comments. But if you're reading this, then hopefully I've inspired you to go out and do some research of your own. Don't bother with the crack-pots on 60 Minutes. Listen to somebody who's goal in life is to help you, not cause fear, uncertainty and doubt.

1 comment:

  1. As SOMEBODY recently pointed out to me, fat is like salt. It's what makes food taste bad when it's not in it. I figure this is why bacon and potato chips taste so good. Now, if someone would just invent a bacon and potato chip salad, we could all be healthier...

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