If you have been following the news lately you have probably heard the that the Affordable Care Act will require vending machines and restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to begin posting their calorie counts more prominently. Listing the calories and other nutritional information is not necessarily wrong and potentially some people may be more thoughtful regarding their food and beverage choices. But are people who purchase regularly from vending machines and fast food chain restaurants typically thoughtful about their food choices in regards to health?
The American health crisis of obesity, heart related diseases and diabetes is not primarily an issue of calories. Yes, it is true that if you consume more calories than you burn you will gain weight and this could lead to health problems; however, the issue is not truly about calories. It has to do with how our entire system surrounding food is set up and functions. If you trace going backwards where food items originate and the trails they are connected to there are not just physical health problems for the individual, but the issues are related to social justice, the environment, ecosystems, natural resources, and economics.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that only 8 percent of Americans pay attention to the nutritional information on packaged food items. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have a theory. Their idea is to put calories into context - list the number of minutes walking or running it would take to burn those calories. For example, a 16-ounce soft drink could take an adult 45 minutes of exercise to burn. The research has found that 35% of those who actually paid attention to calories presented in context made choices that were 50 calories lower on average. This is a positive step, and hopefully more awareness will bleed into other health choices. But to truly make changes we as a country must change the entire food system. We need people who are committed to this on a macro level. It is not a one-generation war on food production. It could take a generation, two, or three. But do not be discouraged! Each of us on a micro level makes a vote each time we choose what we put in our mouth, and it makes a difference for you and for everyone.
If you want to be a more thoughtful and intelligent eater and enjoy food, it is not about calories. Focusing on calories is the wrong focus. Counting calories is not a sustainable habit for most people, and it is not fun. Each person's metabolism is unique like a fingerprint. We have all observed people who eat whatever they want and never put on excess weight, and we have all seen people who try and try and they gain weight. All calories are not created equal. A 100-calorie apple is not the same as a 100-calorie candy bar. The apple will cost more in caloric expenditure than the candy bar...so, 100 calories is not always 100 calories. But it does not stop there. What people need to understand is that eating real food is the solution and needs to be the focus. The deeper question is what are the calories delivering to your 300 billion cells. Whatever we eat will make it to the cellular level, and we are literally what we eat. We either deliver toxins, disease and death to cells or we deliver nutrients, wellness and life to our cells. So, which promotes life... the apple or the candy bar??? We need to move the focus away from calories and to real food.
Real food delivers life and is self correcting in terms of calories. Have you ever eaten a sweet treat and wanted more and could barely stop until you felt a bit sick??? Sugar sends the wrong physiological message and the way our brain, colon, pancreas and the involved hormones work only drives us to eat more. However, have you ever eaten a whole apple, some nuts, and glass of water??? If you have, you have found that you become full and satiated. And guess what? You naturally become satiated at the right time before you consume too many calories. Real food contains water, fiber, protein and fat, and it makes you full on time. You cannot eat too much real food, and it delivers life to 300 billion cells.
The answer is real food. If you are interested in these issues I encourage you to read some books by Carlo Petrini founder of Slow Food and Michael Pollan the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.