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Happy calorie counting!

Posted: September 20, 2012 8:18 p.m.
Updated: September 21, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Several months ago, I was on one of my health food kicks and I decided to check out how many calories were in this delicious salad I’d previously eaten at a Zaxby’s.

Their nutritional menu, which I found online, said the salad contained 1,115 calories; 65 grams of fat; 2,605 mgs of sodium and 42 grams of sugar.

So much for healthy eating.

Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA said the company feel it’s important to the customers that they add the number of calories each item contains. Now, McDonald’s will offer calorie information for every item they sell on their inside and drive-through menus.

My time spent working at a natural and organic food store provides me with a hefty guilt trip when I visit a fast food joint, but I’m human, and I enjoy eating out just as much as I like eating a home-cooked meal. If you are a person or a family constantly on the go, you probably don’t have time to cook a whole meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Margo Wootan, nutritional policy director at the Center for Science in Public Interest, said this bold move by one of the most recognized fast food companies in the world will put pressure on other restaurants to “follow suit.” Calorie counts inherently regulate fast food companies, Wootan said, because competing fast food places  just couldn’t continue disguising high calorie items as healthy.  

“It can be embarrassing, or shocking, so they end up changing the way the product is made,” Wootan, reportedly, said.

That’s exactly what I’m hoping; a calorie count is a step in the right direction, but there is always more work to be done to fight obesity and disease in this county.

One interviewee in McDonald’s headlining announcement said he is careful not to “order a gut bomb,” by choosing to only eat at places that post calories on the menu items.

I hate to break it to him -- calories are an important aspect of maintaining energy levels during the day, weight loss and gain, but they are only one of many important factors people should consider when choosing to live a healthier lifestyle.

The quality of the food and the amount of fat, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and sodium are also important factors that affect your overall health. 

If we don’t get the vitamins and minerals we need from a meal, we just are just eating useless calories; but our bodies are still going to require more nutrients to function properly. Too much of a good thing can make us sick. McDonald’s, and most other fast food places, don’t make much that I considered healthy, or what many nutritionists consider food, even. Fast food restaurants “create” what Michael Pollan, of “In Defense of Food” fame, calls “food-like substances.” Just a hamburger bun at a fast-food restaurant, has so many ingredients it’s unreal, unnecessary and, more importantly, unhealthy. Fast food restaurants have to create food items that are low cost, look pretty, and will not go bad quickly.

A calorie count, in itself, will not solve obesity woes, the quality of the food you are eating is substantial, but it is a small step in the big overhaul to change the way people think about caring for themselves.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with eating at a fast food restaurant, you just have to be careful.

There is a law on the table that is supposedly going to take affect this year: any fast food chain with more than 20 restaurant locations would have to place a calorie count on their menu. The law is a part of President Barack Obama’s health care reform. Traditional restaurants need to post their nutritional information on their menus too; might as well do this all at once.

Maybe the smack-dab-in-your-face-information will give Americans’ the push they need to live better. Some people will continue to eat as they did before -- because I can attest that is hard giving up your favorite fast food treats -- but I do believe a calorie count is a step in the right direction in personal accountability, it’s at least  good for a guilt trip. If you don’t have health, you can’t muster up the energy to achieve anything else.

 I took the liberty of checking on the calorie content of some of the items offered at fast-food joints in Kershaw County.  I simply chose to list the things I would typically eat on any given day and what I think are some of the popular items; I’ll leave the rest for you check on your own. Most fast food chains have complete nutritional content charts available on their website. Chick-fil-A, for example, allows you to create a meal -- that beloved chicken sandwich, a small fry and a sweet tea is 830 calories and 103 carbs. Not terrible in comparison to the aforementioned salad; but if you are anything like me, you are going to need at least two Polynesian sauces (110 calories each) and an Icedream (290 calories) to dip your fries in. That’s a whole day worth of calories at one meal.

Happy calorie counting!


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