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HURF DURF 1000 CALORIE EATERS
March 24, 2010 8:00 PM   Subscribe

The health care bill requires chains with 20 or more restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, as is already the law in New York and Philadelphia. A study published last fall suggested that the labels didn't change the eating behavior of low-income New Yorkers. A recent study at Yale, conducted under laboratory conditions, found the opposite. Corby Kummer at the Atlantic says calorie labeling works -- once you understand the point is to change the behavior, not of the consumer, but of the vendor. Will calorie labels lead the way to a healthier America, or a part-skim socialist dystopia? Or is the call of the Thickburger just too strong for mere numbers to dispel?
posted by escabeche (119 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
A friend of mine once ate two Thickburgers in a single sitting. Something like 5000 calories all in one go.

For the rest of the weekend, every time we ate, we'd offer him some food and he'd only reply, with a Zen-like smile, "No, thanks. I'm full."
posted by Scattercat at 8:02 PM on March 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


Even if it doesn't change behavior overall, it will be helpful for people who are actually trying to control their calorie intake.
posted by delmoi at 8:04 PM on March 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


“and when people eat away from home they eat more and they eat worse. And part of the reason may be because they don’t know care what’s in fast foods, and they’re often shocked too fucking poor to find out give a toss.”

ftfh
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:06 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about automatic scales in the doorways? In: 216 lbs. Out: 217 lbs.
posted by swift at 8:08 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a weird prediction. This will improve the eating habits of men more than women. I point to this graph. Note: Surgeon general warning labels started in 1966, if I recall correctly.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:13 PM on March 24, 2010


Whether it works or not, informing consumers is rarely a bad thing for them.
posted by Talez at 8:14 PM on March 24, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'm actually surprised that the Big Mac isn't worse than around 500 calories. Add fries and a soda and it's worse, but it's hardly the express ticket to obesity that it's played up to be. I wonder if that impression ("it's not as bad as I thought") might also encourage people to order more than they would otherwise?

There are other very good reasons not to order one, including that they taste awful, but the calorie count would hardly horrify me.

On the other hand, I really am curious about how some of the "healthy" options stack up against other menu items. Like the salads slathered in meat and dressing...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:17 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eeek. Calorie counts are a big eating disorder trigger for me, so I think this means that I won't be going into chain restaurants from here on out. It's not like I go to chain restaurants very often anyway, but I think avoiding them entirely will probably be a good thing.
posted by craichead at 8:20 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


i live in philadelphia and this has already changed my behaviour. 350 calories in a medium beverage? no thank you dunkin donuts.
posted by 256 at 8:21 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I personally have almost ordered several things I've seen on menus with astronomical calorie counts and then changed my mind when I noticed "WTF 1300 calories??!," and I've also completely stopped going to one entire chain because of the fact that everything on their menu was astronomically high. So I think this is a great thing. Knowledge is never a bad thing.
posted by nevercalm at 8:26 PM on March 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


The health care bill

More like the health care LAW, amirite??
posted by av123 at 8:27 PM on March 24, 2010 [40 favorites]



Whether it works or not, informing consumers is rarely a bad thing for them.


I don't disagree. I guess my issue is from a scientific standpoint. Haven't we established that we should be measuring food energy in kilojoules?

Not that I'm one of those metric system flag waver types, it's just... you know...

ok, I'll shut up, now.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:28 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Informing people is great, informing consumers on the spot is even greater, but also add me to the ranks of "calorie counts can set of some weird things..in me" group.
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I still thinks this is a good idea.
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 PM on March 24, 2010


As a diabetic, the carb/fat/protein composition of foods in restaurants would be extremely useful to me. Along with maybe knowing if there were any trans-fats or HFCS.

Calories wouldn't help me with anything at all, including weight loss.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:35 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I am picturing the youtube videos now where the kids go out to eat the most calories in one sitting, sort of a Man vs. Food. High score!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:36 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


You just have to get the foods without the labels.

Like with cigarette labels, where you try to get the one that gives you cancer instead of the one that gives you impotence.
posted by qvantamon at 8:38 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn I somehow missed that this was in the legislation. Alright by me--I don't eat at chain fast food places all that much, but when I do I sometimes visit their websites to get nutritional info. Such sites are typically flash and pdf encrusted monstrosities.
posted by aerotive at 8:39 PM on March 24, 2010


True Tea Party fact: Did you know Hitler did calorie-counting? Weight Watchers got its start in Nazi Germany as Vayt Vahtchers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:40 PM on March 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


Sounds like a great idea. It's nice not having to figure out what's healthy based solely on the little food blurb and ingredients, because that can be really misleading.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:41 PM on March 24, 2010


How is fhis bad? How is fully informing the customer so they can use a rational choice to input into the system where the "best" results are suppposed to occur when people act in their best monetary interest every time a bad thing? Why not the fuck faciliate the ability of consumers in a capitalist society to make the informed decision which is supposed to make capitalism fucking awesome.

The only other explanation is that instead, certain forces are not working for the system of capitalism, but the current holders of capital instead.

If you dislike these facts, please write to your senators and encourage them to insist on a financial reform bill that sets up an independent securities and banking consumer protection agency with strong powers. Ask also that the SEC be given stronger powers to investigate fraud and a bigger operation. Specifically ask for:

(1) the new agency have enforcement authority over all of our 8,022 financial institutions
(2) the new agency have the ability to propose a new rule as any other agency can and not require the approval of banking regulators who would have veto power over any rule they deemed "a safety and soundness or systemic risk concern."
(3) that the Federal Reserve not control the new agency or its budget.
(4) that there be no budget ceiling for the new agency.
(5) that the ideas of Elizabeth Warren are a good basis for the new Agency.

I'd google these things and learn a bit about them so you can wow the average phone-answering drone model 756. Note also that the most effective method of reaching any office of any kind is the faxed and mailed, signed formal letter. Gotta go in the file, can't be buried like an e-mail. The more your communication shows a basic grasp of the issues, the larger the impact your opinion will be. This tells the politician that you are engaged and will be watching every step he or she makes on this particular issue.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 PM on March 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


I would think that the intent in forcing restaurants to post calorie counts would be to prod said restaurants into offering some more healthful menu items. I try to avoid chains, so it doesn't help me personally. Now my mother-in-law, who is dangerously overweight and recently diagnosed with diabetes, can really use this; she seems to be trying to follow dietary guidelines but has an "oh well" attitude when information isn't readily available. She also likes to eat out.
posted by coldhotel at 8:46 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just feel like I have a right to know. I should be able to make smart choices for my diet. That said, I eat out way less when I can say, "That muffin is three bucks AND 500 calories!"
posted by GilloD at 8:49 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mr. Kazman said that consumers who want that information could look it up on the Internet.

One item the bill left out was the prohibition of so-called advocacy groups and the useless, asshole quacks that work for them.

A public relations firms should be labeled as such and should state whom they are speaking for and who is footing the bill.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:50 PM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I would think that the intent in forcing restaurants to post calorie counts would be to prod said restaurants into offering some more healthful menu items.
I think it's a mistake, though, to equate "low calorie" with "healthful."
posted by craichead at 8:50 PM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


A few weeks ago I had a burger from Five Guys. I don't know how many calories I consumed, but I know that each one of them was delicious. On a side note, I was pleasantly surprised when the cashier suggested that I not order the large fries. Guessing from how many fries came with the non-large order I can only assume that a large fry could feed a family for a week. Most other fast food places would be happy to make the upsell.
posted by borkencode at 8:55 PM on March 24, 2010


I dread the day I see the number of calories in an order of Five Guys' fries.
posted by sallybrown at 9:03 PM on March 24, 2010


Many big chains already have nutrition information at the counter. Not on the big menu, but on a poster or in a flier. It has been there for years.

Calories alone don't do much, but a 690 cals next to a shake at In-n-Out would make rethink it.
posted by birdherder at 9:06 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dread the day I see the number of calories in an order of Five Guys' fries.

Large fries 1490
Regular 620
posted by birdherder at 9:09 PM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Kummer, I think has it right. The Starbuck's snack calorie counts went down not very long after law was passed.
posted by borges at 9:11 PM on March 24, 2010


I dread the day I see the number of calories in an order of Five Guys' fries.

Large fries 1490
Regular 620


This displeases me greatly.
posted by sallybrown at 9:16 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


At the bottom of the last article, there a link that reads:

Click here to see a slide show of bad things Americans love.

It can't possibly live up to my expectations though so I'd rather preserve the mystery.
posted by danb at 9:32 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't eat a lot of drive-thru, but when I go out to eat, as a rule I don't concern myself with the calorie counts of restaurant food. Dining out is a treat; I'm treating myself. Chocolate milkshake? Meh, that's an extra 5 minutes running stairs. If I wanted a 200 calorie lunch, I'd stay home and eat a salad, and plenty of days I do. Plus, it seems like obsessing about that stuff is way worse for your heart than an occasional Big Mac. I guess maybe I'm not the guy the chart is for.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 9:33 PM on March 24, 2010


Large fries 1490
Regular 620


Those are some tasty goddamn fries though.
posted by graventy at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


How is fhis bad? How is fully informing the customer so they can use a rational choice to input into the system where the "best" results are suppposed to occur when people act in their best monetary interest every time a bad thing? Why not the fuck faciliate the ability of consumers in a capitalist society to make the informed decision which is supposed to make capitalism fucking awesome.

How is this good? It's not fully informing the customer of anything. It's requiring businesses to highlight one aspect of the foods they sell, even when it's silly or inappropriate to do so. If you have been to New York or Philadelphia and seen the cluttered post-of-sale information, then you understand what I am saying. Does it really improve health to know how few calories are in a cup of coffee, or a medium cup of coffee versus a large cup of coffee?

At the same time, the mandatory disclosure does not require businesses to disclose sugar content, fat content, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, or any of the other dietary information that may be just as relevant to health as calorie count. So I know how many extra calories are in a grande coffee versus a venti coffee, but I have no idea how much caffeine I get by choosing full-caf over half-caf. It's just silliness. More pointless regulation.

In terms of the basis of capitalist society, yada yada, I want to know that I can have access to the nutritional information that I want about the food I purchase. I've never had a problem with that at chains with more than twenty restaurants. Even less so now, with the "Eat This Not That" book series, and the information that is accessible on the internet.

So why is this a good thing? And if it's a good thing, why wouldn't more of it -- mandatory disclosure of grams of sugar, for example -- be a really terrific thing? And I am a little surprised that this is the first I have heard that this was in the health care reform bill. Is anyone else?
posted by Slap Factory at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Chocolate milkshake? Meh, that's an extra 5 minutes running stairs.

An Oreo shake at, say, Jack in the Box, well over 1000 calories. Something closer to a few hours of running stairs.
posted by chimaera at 9:40 PM on March 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


Just when I learned to read calorie counts from menus they invented edible menus.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:42 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chocolate milkshake? Meh, that's an extra 5 minutes running stairs.

I do 105 floors in 20 minutes and that does about 350 calories. That's half a milkshake from in-in-out or other ice-cream based shake. If I could burn off a mikshake in 5 minutes, I'd have them every day.
posted by birdherder at 9:52 PM on March 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't know if the "Claim Jumper" restaurant chain is universal, but I was unfortunate enough to be coerced into eating there shortly after the caloric labeling law went into effect in my area. Talk about a shock. Not just calories, but sodium, are amazingly high for all their meals. Sometimes much more than daily recommended limit of sodium in one meal: their cobb salad has 3104 mg of sodium.

So yes, I love the labeling laws. I've seen it from the other side, at work: pity the poor menu designer. The point size of the calories must be the same as the size of the price, and it is not easy to cram that onto some menus. But I believe it's worthwhile.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:11 PM on March 24, 2010


I'm a big fan of this not necessarily because it will lead to better decisions by people, but because it will delay the calls for the banning of unhealthy food. I'd rather be bombarded with information I don't consider to be relevant than to not be able to get something at all because it's too dangerous for some people or because some people can't control themselves.
posted by Taco John at 10:33 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seattle has required the posting of calorie counts on all fast food menus since the start of 2009. And yeah, it does lay out for you that the calories in fast food aren't as much the burger as much as the fries and Coke.

When we finally got a Five Guys at Northgate, I went there and stood agape at these huge burgers... and the monster calorie counts. I wonder -- does the 620 calories for the regular fries count the ones in the cup only or all the extra ones they put in the bag?
posted by dw at 10:34 PM on March 24, 2010


If you care even a little bit about your calorie intake, what the fuck are you doing in Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds in the first place?
posted by signal at 10:46 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you care even a little bit about your calorie intake, what the fuck are you doing in Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds in the first place?

You mean food at all other restaurants have no calories whatsoever?

THAT'S what I've been doing wrong all these years.
posted by dw at 10:54 PM on March 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ha, this is great. I love seeing calorie counts in NYC restaurants; they really do change my eating habits for the better.

There are certain restaurants that have almost no calorie information online---Famous Dave's, for example. I'm curious to know the extent to which they were covering up exactly how incredibly bad they are for you.
posted by painquale at 10:55 PM on March 24, 2010


You know how Windows now pops up a security warning whenever you try to do anything? and forces you to confirm that you really mean to do it?

And you know how you've stopped reading the security warnings and how you automatically pounce on the "Yeah, I mean it, now get out of my face" button?

Too many warnings lead to people learning to ignore warnings. We're rapidly getting to that point. Too many warnings is like the boy who cried "wolf!"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:55 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is fhis bad? How is fully informing the customer so they can use a rational choice to input into the system where the "best" results are suppposed to occur when people act in their best monetary interest every time a bad thing? Why not the fuck faciliate the ability of consumers in a capitalist society to make the informed decision which is supposed to make capitalism fucking awesome.

There is a nonzero cost for calculating calories, changing menus, and adding to the already huge body of regulation in the US. Plus, specifying what can and can't be included on a piddling restaurant menu just seems a bit creepy and overbearing to me.

That said, this is small beans, the benefits may outweigh the costs, and if it placates the people who lean toward banning unhealthy food then sign me up.
posted by ripley_ at 10:57 PM on March 24, 2010


It's good because I realize that the marshmallow poof thing at starbucks is actually a meal, not a snack!

A delicious poofy meal!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:29 PM on March 24, 2010


We've had this in Seattle for a year now, and it's absolutely fantastic. I've been meaning to go around taking pictures of all of them - guess I'd better go do that now while it's still a novelty.

Seriously, this is a non-brainer - just as useful and easy as requiring standardized nutrition labels on processed food. Should have been done a long time ago.
posted by heathkit at 11:49 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, I wish I'd been documenting this over the past year. In early 2009, Starbucks had a menu design that was just a wall of numbers - the calories and prices were in the exact same font and color. They fixed it pretty quickly, though, and it's great now.
posted by heathkit at 11:54 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can hardly imagine that more information is a bad thing. And if you have twenty-odd restaurants, you certainly have the resources to meet the regulation.

I think it's a mistake, though, to equate "low calorie" with "healthful.

To be sure. Nonetheless, it's a good start, and particularly so in a nation where so many people are making very unhealthy lifestyle choices. Get them thinking about calories, and you might get them thinking about other healthy things.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:59 PM on March 24, 2010


Too many warnings lead to people learning to ignore warnings. We're rapidly getting to that point. Too many warnings is like the boy who cried "wolf!"

This comment makes absolutely no sense in the context of this thread subject.

Except for a handful of places in the US, we didn't have "warnings" or nutritional data posted, at all.

How can we complain about crying wolf, where there's no crying and no wolf?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heh. It's known that portions in America are getting larger and larger (and richer in sodium, and full of hfcs, etc, etc). I'd imagine someone, somewhere, will look at these nutritional values and go "1000 calories a big mac? I used to eat three of those in one sitting when I was in high school. I guess I got a faster metabolism, and can burn 3000 calories per meal. Waiter, a large bowl of deep fried lard, please!"
posted by qvantamon at 12:43 AM on March 25, 2010


Many big chains already have nutrition information at the counter. Not on the big menu, but on a poster or in a flier. It has been there for years.

Fast-food places, sure. I think this is meant more to cover the Olive Gardens, Applebees and Cracker Barrels of the world.
posted by luftmensch at 12:55 AM on March 25, 2010


Anyone else sick of the standard journalistic formula that requires finding someone for the 'against' side of the story, no matter whether they are a PR snake or fundamentalist crackpot.
“Frankly, it seems to me that whether I’m buying an apple or a Big Mac from McDonald’s, if they want to sell it to me without any information, I have a perfect right to buy it,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market advocacy group. “This simply is not a federal issue.”
Comments like these are going to be looked upon the same way that the comments of pro-cigarette lobbyists are now in a few years. Grow some editorial balls nyt and make a judgement call.
posted by Joe Chip at 1:39 AM on March 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


I just wish someone had come up with a better metric for the healthiness of food. Calories don't tell you anything. Is it caloric because there is an ample serving that you won't finish? Is all of the calorie count in the dressing you ordered on the side? Is it from lean protein, dietary fiber, fat, hfcs, deep fried liver?

With this new hfcs / rat obesity study, it's looking more and more like what we eat has far more significance for obesity and health than how much we eat. When I was younger (and not yet type I diabetic), whatever calories I put in would get burned off by non-exercise activity (twitch much). But you can be perfectly thin with clogged arteries, and you can become fat without eating more than the RDA of calories for your height.

Don't forget, the industry wanted a standardized federal law on this for a reason. Not just because they were afraid of a patchwork of state/local regs, but because they were afraid CA or some state would require full FDA style food labels, and they couldn't get away with feeding us cheap addictive crap anymore.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:40 AM on March 25, 2010


There are people who can afford to eat out right now?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:22 AM on March 25, 2010


I stumbled on the Burger King calorie counter some time ago, and learned a very handy fact, Leave the mayo and the catsup off your burger, and you save a massive 170 calories, 25% of the calories in the burger, and bring the fat content down below the protein where it belongs. I'm sure it works at other fast food joints as well.

Information is power, and those scoffing at the premise of giving people more information are fools.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:03 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


PS French fries = heart attack in a bag
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:04 AM on March 25, 2010


Any item people are likely to consume should be required to provide the basic dietary information required by the FDA, but the menu itself might list only calories with additional printed information available upon request. I feel the menu should contain a scannable barcode linking the full information however, as such barcodes would make smartphone dieting software practical.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:17 AM on March 25, 2010


Comments like these are going to be looked upon the same way that the comments of pro-cigarette lobbyists are now in a few years. Grow some editorial balls nyt and make a judgement call.

Um, sure. This "both sides" concept is way overrated. I only listen to the news to hear about the latest victories in the war against East Asia anyway.
posted by Slap Factory at 3:34 AM on March 25, 2010


Too many warnings lead to people learning to ignore warnings. We're rapidly getting to that point. Too many warnings is like the boy who cried "wolf!"

This isn't a warning. This is information; information that many people are already seeking to make informed decisions.
posted by Hiker at 3:46 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've already been in a couple places in Philly that have these like Cosi and I totally altered my menu choice based on the calories posted. Face it, if you care about your health any time you walk into a place that has to post these you're already making a suspect decision about what you're eating, but there are decent reasons why you are able to justify that decision. Having this information just lets you minimize the damage of your suspect eating decision in terms of empty calorie consumption, and that's a good thing.
posted by The Straightener at 5:07 AM on March 25, 2010


In my ideal world, no substance would be illegal and all information would be readily accessible; in my ideal world, a McDonalds could sell you a Big Mac breaded and deep-fried in animal lard and slathered with psilocybin mushroom gravy, and every ingredient and nutiritional-information number would be listed beneath each menu item. Menus would be huge sprawling blocks of information, fit for grown-ass adults making grown-ass choices, rather than their current approach of picture-book-style arrays of the six most popular combo-plates.

The calorie thing is a nice start! I've noticed it, and loved it, here in New York. I hope even more info gets added, too! I would love to see the amount of protein and vitamins/minerals added to the menu as well!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:08 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I stumbled on the Burger King calorie counter some time ago, and learned a very handy fact, Leave the mayo and the catsup off your burger, and you save a massive 170 calories

I discovered that too. I was really surprised to see that the mayo they use has so many calories. Is it like super-mayo or something? But yeah, I just get burgers sans mayo and cheese at BK these days.
posted by custardfairy at 5:12 AM on March 25, 2010


If you care even a little bit about your calorie intake, what the fuck are you doing in Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds in the first place?
Last time I went to Starbucks I was at an airport, and I bought a black coffee, which has 0 calories. The time before I was at a train station and bought a small soy latte, which I bet has under 100. The last time I went to Dunkin Donuts was a while ago, but I'm pretty sure I bought a black coffee and a plain bagel, which is not very different from what I have for breakfast when I eat at home. Buying stuff at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts is a waste of money, which is why I don't do it, but there are plenty of perfectly reasonable things to eat there.

Obviously, if you buy a caffeinated milkshake it's going to have a lot of calories, and I guess it's possible that some people don't realize that. And I don't think I've been to a McDonald's in a decade, although the reason I avoid it has nothing to do with calories.

From a purely selfish standpoint I'm not very happy about this, but I don't object to it.
posted by craichead at 5:19 AM on March 25, 2010


You know what I'd like? Labels on those 100-calorie bags of cookies that say "100 CALORIES AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HEALTHY FOR YOU." Yeah, diet soda is really healthy.

I'm all for people being aware that there is shit like Nutrasweet (which my mom was allergic too) in food, but this idea that calorie menus are going to make people *healthier* makes no sense to me. My ex could be knocked down with a feather and had the record at work for eating the most chinese food in one sitting.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:23 AM on March 25, 2010


If you have been to New York or Philadelphia and seen the cluttered post-of-sale information, then you understand what I am saying. Does it really improve health to know how few calories are in a cup of coffee, or a medium cup of coffee versus a large cup of coffee?

I have been to New York and Philadelphia, and each time I go in a chain restaurant I use the labels and feel jealous we don't have them where I live, so I guess I don't understand what you're saying. Also, I don't feel like people mostly use this for coffee.

I mean, please understand that I didn't post this to say "Woo, labeling is great!" It's an extra regulation on lots of businesses and of course you have to consider the cost; and as I said in the post, it's certainly not clear what the public health effects will be. But look at the responses in the thread: as with smoking bans in bars and restaurants, there are some reasons to oppose it but "no one really wants this" is not one of them. It seems clear that lots of people really do want the labels, use them, and get information they believe to be useful from them, which is more difficult to get in other ways. (Try asking for nutritional information at a Panera, for example; they'll hand you a looseleaf binder with a page for everything they've ever had on their menu, unsorted.)

And if it's a good thing, why wouldn't more of it -- mandatory disclosure of grams of sugar, for example -- be a really terrific thing? And I am a little surprised that this is the first I have heard that this was in the health care reform bill. Is anyone else?

Because more of a good thing isn't always better?

And yes, I too was surprised to learn HCR included this. Up until a few days ago I was told it primarily concerned the revolution of the proletariat.
posted by escabeche at 5:26 AM on March 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


I remember during the loooong HCR debate how conservatives and libertarians kept saying that this bill "does nothing to change the unhealthy habits of Americans. I don't want to be paying for someone else's retarded life choices" etc. Well, why didn't anybody bring this up?
posted by fungible at 5:32 AM on March 25, 2010


Big Mac breaded and deep-fried in animal lard and slathered with psilocybin mushroom gravy

I'll take two.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:37 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you ever found a mayo that was anything but terrible for you?
posted by absalom at 5:37 AM on March 25, 2010


I'm actually surprised that the Big Mac isn't worse than around 500 calories.

Big Macs don't have mayo, which is the largest single caloric element in McDonald's food. Also, very thin patties of meat and cheese aren't actually THAT terrible. The problem is that fast food is practically bathed in salt for flavor purposes. I had a double cheeseburger from Burger King yesterday, it's only 450 calories, but has more sodium than the side order of fries that came with it. And that's something that has salt poured on top of it.

I knew I had to stop at drive through last night because it was my only chance to eat in the 20 minute break before my second job. And I checked the nutritional info on the BK website before I went there. Calorie listing is something people want, and are going to benefit from. I only hope it can expand to show more than calorie info.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:52 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


signal: If you care even a little bit about your calorie intake, what the fuck are you doing in Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds in the first place?

A small diet coke, McChicken with mustard and no mayo, and a small fry are all tasty, all on the dollar menu, and have less than 600 calories total. That is a perfectly sized, extremely quick, very cheap meal for someone on a diet. It's probably not healthy, but you can't have everything.

Also, as to why - can you really not imagine any scenario in which any person concerned about their diet would ever eat at a fast food place? Really?
posted by TypographicalError at 5:52 AM on March 25, 2010


As an outsider to American culture it seems odd to me that people would find this a stupid idea or useless. Why wouldn't more information about what is in the food you eat automatically be considered a good thing? It confuses me. Yes, lower calorie doesn't equal healthy eating but it can be a good start. Everyone focuses on the obesity epidemic and mouths about starting w/ small changes but then seems to give this opinion that if you can't figure it out yourself, change your diet in a day and have an exercise routine down flat then you have personally failed and are the stupidest person to boot. That it is personally offensive to *them* that you're fat. At least that's what I pick up on the internet and tv of late. It seems so bizarre to me.
posted by kanata at 5:56 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


CHOW™ contained spun, plaited, and woven protein molecules, capped and coded, carefully designed to be ignored by even the most ravenous digestive tract enzymes; no-cal sweeteners; mineral oils replacing vegetable oils; fibrous materials, colorings, and flavorings. The end result was a foodstuff almost indistinguishable from any other except for two things. Firstly, the price, which was slightly higher, and secondly, the nutritional content, which was roughly equivalent to that of a Sony Walkman. [...]

MEALS™ was CHOW™ with added sugar and fat. The theory was that if you ate enough MEALS™ you would a) get very fat, and b) die of malnutrition."

Good Omens - Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
posted by sciurus at 6:01 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine that I'm the only one that was surprised to see that a donut has about half as many calories as a muffin at Dunkin Donuts. For me, it meant that I ordered a donut that day instead of the muffin, and rarely ever eat muffins at all anymore because, well, they are cake.
That being said I also can't make myself eat donuts nearly as often.
I've always known that they are sugar laden deep fried balls of badness, but there was a time a few years back where a donut and a large coffee was my breakfast of choice at least a few times a week. Having the calorie counts staring at me has stopped me in my tracks and made me walk out of whatever fast food place I was on more than a few occasions.

Also, anecdote on why it won't work for everyone: A recent encounter at the local BK, where I attempt to eat a few times a year:
Me staring at giant sign, trying to find the regular plain hamburger on the menu, not finding it.
Cashier asks if they can help me,
Me:Do you still have the plain small hamburger?
Cashier: Yes
Me: I can't find it on the sign
Cashier: Would you like cheese on that?
Me: No, basic burger please
Cashier: It's the same price for the cheeseburger
Me: I don't want cheese. Regular burger only.
Cashier: Do you want the meal?
Me: No, seriously, I just want one hamburger. Thats it.
Customer standing next to me waiting for his order: You know, you can get a bacon double cheeseburger for 99 cents.
Me: I don't want that, I want a hamburger
Customer: But its 99 cents
Me: I don't want that though, I want a hamburger
Cashier: $1.09 please
Customer: (Pointing at small hamburger when it arrived) How much was that?
Me: $1.09
Customer: (shaking head-grinning triumphantly) See? You shoulda got the bacon double cheeseburger.

As long as they make this crap food so cheap, there are people who are going to eat it, regardless of how unhealthy it is.


The calorie counts don't work for everyone, but I think its good for starters. If a small percentage of the people who would normally go to BK or McD's to eat decide not to because there isn't anything there that they can eat and not blow their diet for the day, than that is a good step, I think.
If it makes people decide to eat at a different fast food place that has healthier options available (and I know that the healthy that we are discussing here is relative) that is a good step.
If it forces the restaurants to become more conscientious about their ingredients, or how their food is made, that is a great step.

Calorie counts are not the barometer of what makes food healthy, no, but it is something that most people already understand the basic concept of. High calories= bad, lower calories= better. I don't think its a bad way to start to get people thinking about what they consume.

After that bajillion comment thread on healthcare where half of the people commented that 'perfect is the enemy of good', can't we agree that at least giving people some information is a step in the right direction?
posted by newpotato at 6:03 AM on March 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


When this law passed in New York, I was still eating meat, and still eating a lot of fast food due to a total lack of diversity in the restaurants around my workplace.

And, indeed, it sometimes actually made me choose a higher-calorie option.

"Y only has 300 calories? Well, no WONDER I'm always chewing my own arm off by 6:00."
"Z only has 300 calories? Well, no way am I going to pay $X for it then."

And sometimes I thought, "Oh, guess I was silly for thinking that A was a healthier option than B. Yum, B!"

And it totally makes sense to me that at least some low-income people would approach it as a value proposition: if your meal is low in calories, you're going to be hungry again sooner, you're not really getting a good value for your money.

Information is good. And I think this will make restaurants rethink the Fake Virtuous items on their menus, salads full of meat and dressing that they hope health-conscious people will order because it's salad.
posted by Jeanne at 6:06 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm actually surprised that the Big Mac isn't worse than around 500 calories.

Big Macs don't have mayo, which is the largest single caloric element in McDonald's food.


What do you think "Special Sauce" is made of? It's Thousand Island dressing which is just mayo and ketchup.
posted by notmtwain at 6:11 AM on March 25, 2010


On a side note, I was pleasantly surprised when the cashier suggested that I not order the large fries. Guessing from how many fries came with the non-large order I can only assume that a large fry could feed a family for a week. Most other fast food places would be happy to make the upsell.

Is there any difference between the large and regular sizes of Five Guys fries? Every time I go, I order the regular size and they just give me all the fries. They couldn't give me anymore, because there aren't any left, not just in the store, either, in the entire world.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:17 AM on March 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I like it, because more information is good.

However, if companies start gaming the calorie count system by substituting in artificial sweeteners, for example, I wish that those changes would also be clearly labeled.

Really, I wish that they could use a slightly different metric than just calories. Weight Watcher points incorporate not only calories, but also fiber and fat, which produces a somewhat more meaningful number; I think my ideal number would be one that intersected calories with nutrient density and an index of how processed the food is. So an apple has few calories, reasonably high nutrient density, and is unprocessed; a chicken nugget has a lot of calories, medium nutrient density, and is highly processed. But failing this, I'll happily settle for just plain calorie counts and do my own selecting based on how weird the food is.
posted by Forktine at 6:19 AM on March 25, 2010


I wish that they could use a slightly different metric than just calories.

I think Nuval is one of those.
posted by cashman at 6:25 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine that I'm the only one that was surprised to see that a donut has about half as many calories as a muffin at Dunkin Donuts.

And bagels are extremely high in calories, though low fat.
posted by smackfu at 6:31 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm glad for this. When I diet, I mostly eschew fast food and restaurants. But all steamed fish and rice makes you go mad after a while. Trying to pick through fast food websites to find the nutritional information was a pain in the ass. And often, when you found the info, it was difficult to use.

For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken will give you calorie counts by the meat gram sans breading and skin, and mashed potatoes in grams- good thing my food scale does imperial and metric, huh? It's only then you find out that a "serving" is something bizarre like two tablespoons of potatoes.

Forcing restaurants to show how many calories are actually in a unit they sell, as it's sold, would be *incredibly* useful.

(Also, trivia- mayo is high calorie because all mayo is is vegetable oil and egg, whipped. Sometimes with a little sugar.)
posted by headspace at 6:32 AM on March 25, 2010


I discovered that too. I was really surprised to see that the mayo they use has so many calories. Is it like super-mayo or something


I opened up a sandwich shop several years ago. When buying the vats of mayo, the distributor noted that most restaurants buy what is called "extra heavy mayo". Much heavier, creamier, fattier. They don't sell this type of mayo in supermarkets.

I opted to use the light version for my restaurant, not only because I myself would also be eating the sandwiches there, but because I preferred to not slowly kill my customers.
posted by newpotato at 6:33 AM on March 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sugar. Less of it would be so much better. Less sweetener would be so much better. Now many sodas, foods and even chewing gum have either a combination of sugar/HFCS and artificial sweetener, or a cocktail of artificial sweeteners. even bread, for crissakes, has sugar and sweetener, but, unforgivably, no big red label that says WARNING FAKE SUGAR GROSS YUCK!

when you stop eating sugar, after a while, everything tastes sweeter. I'm still holding out for a soft drink formula with half the sugar and no artificial sweetener.

now if they would only go back to making french fries with lard...
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:33 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


What do you think "Special Sauce" is made of? It's Thousand Island dressing which is just mayo and ketchup.

...and pickle relish.
posted by electroboy at 6:37 AM on March 25, 2010


when you stop eating sugar, after a while,

You feel like shit warmed-over when you eat it again. Special thank you to the creme brulee my poor judgment let me eat last night. Groan.
posted by sallybrown at 6:48 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have lost about 25 pounds since Jan 1st after making a resolution to keep track of the calories of every single thing I eat. Yes, calories are not the be-all-end-all of healthiness, but c'mon -- this is good information to have.

And there is pretty much 0 cost to calculating calories if you know what ingredients in what proportions you're putting in a dish. I do it every day and it takes about as much time to do as to read the recipe. And once you do it for one burger, or chicken Caesar salad you never have to do it again because all these chains standardize their offerings. Plus, most of this food is developed in tasting kitchens where they are spending a lot of time trying to perfect the recipe. Figuring out the calorie count such a small marginal cost to what they are already doing as to be almost infinitesimally small.
posted by Jugwine at 6:55 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


We have this in NYC and I love it. I miss it when I go elsewhere, so I'm glad to see it's going to be a nationwide thing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:27 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am a little surprised that this is the first I have heard that this was in the health care reform bill. Is anyone else?

I think you're just hearing about it now because it's the first time that a major media outlet has highlighted it. But rest assured it was in there when the bill came out in December and the people who didn't want it in there were lobbying against it ever since.

This article from Treehugger on December 24 talks about it, and it was mentioned in this Slate article from last month. Those are just a couple from some of the bigger media outlets that I saw.
posted by ekroh at 7:44 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm actually surprised that the Big Mac isn't worse than around 500 calories. Add fries and a soda and it's worse, but it's hardly the express ticket to obesity that it's played up to be.

It's anecdotal, but Supersize Me features a guy who eats nothing but Big Macs but remains really tall and lanky. The trick? Just eating Big Macs - two a day, with no fries and no soda. He's certainly not getting the nutrients he needs, but he's likely underconsuming calories for his body type.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:05 AM on March 25, 2010


I shall now employ the labor saving device of self-quotation.
[W]e don't know how the metabolism works. Claiming a mechanistic understanding and system of metabolism (I.e. Food directly makes us fat) is facile and simplistic.
posted by kalessin at 8:22 AM on March 25, 2010


Thousand Island was my favorite salad dressing until I had to make it five gallons at a time at my first restaurant job.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:30 AM on March 25, 2010


Chocolate milkshake? Meh, that's an extra 5 minutes running stairs.

The most caloric thing on the McDonald's menu is, in fact, the chocolate milkshake. The 32 oz shake is 1160 cal, while the 12 oz shake is a mere 440 cal (more than a Quarter Pounder). Both are much more than 5 minutes running stairs, as has been pointed out. What's worse is that the shakes don't make you feel full in the same way that having an extra few Quarter Pounders will, so you'll eat more sooner.
posted by grouse at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2010


Holy cow, you can get a 32-oz shake?

Really, I wish that they could use a slightly different metric than just calories. Weight Watcher points incorporate not only calories, but also fiber and fat, which produces a somewhat more meaningful number.

Though, you can fairly accurately guess WW points by counting 1 point per 50 calories. In fact, I've done that in NYC - noted something down in points by that estimate and then corrected later via the restaurant website. I find I don't often have to change my numbers.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:07 AM on March 25, 2010


The 32 oz shake is 1160 cal

Ha ha, god damn! A 32 ounce shake! Fuckin' America, yes!

"Could I get two pounds of ice cream?"

"That's a hell of a meal, son. You want it in a cone or a bowl?"

"Can you just liquefy it, so that I can gulp it down between bites of beef, bread, and fried potato?"

"SURE CAN, HERO!"
posted by Greg Nog at 9:08 AM on March 25, 2010 [62 favorites]


I don't know if this is indicative of a trend (at least I hope not), but I know one person for whom the posted calorie count is actually having the opposite of the intended effect. They look at the calorie count when deciding between two items, and pick the one with more calories because they feel they're getting more for their money.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:27 AM on March 25, 2010


Anecdote: I noticed that when the NYC chain, Pump Energy Food, which marketed themselves as a healthy alternative for the Midtown lunch crowd, was required to display their calorie count, they immediately changed their menu. Now, not only are their meals different, but the portions are noticeably smaller.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2010


I don't visit NYC that often. What are the calories postings like? Are they like the classic nutrition facts that are on all packaged foods? Or does it just list the calories?
posted by bluefly at 10:00 AM on March 25, 2010


I don't visit NYC that often. What are the calories postings like? Are they like the classic nutrition facts that are on all packaged foods? Or does it just list the calories?

In most cases, imagine the standard menu-board you're used to. On top of each pictogram has been placed a sticker. So there's the box for the hamburger, and on top of it has been pasted "550 calories", or a box for the salad with a sticker saying "350-1100 calories." (apparently that's quite some salad dressing there!) For coffee houses, I 've seen the lines run "Large Latte (400cal).....$price" and also the sticker-style calorie count stuck on somewhere on the same line as the name of the item.

If you want the full back-of-the-package data, you'll want to look around for a posterboard, or you'll have to ask the person at the counter and they'll have a book or something to hand out to annoying demanding patrons who insist on wasting their time. (Ok, some of them are perfectly nice about it, but I do prefer to use the internet when I can instead.)
posted by Karmakaze at 10:12 AM on March 25, 2010


Today I learned that 4 entenmann's glazed donut holes contain 25% of daily value in Saturated Fat. 4 of those things wouldn't even fill my palm. Needless to say, I won't be eating those again.

I love those labels. Quickest way for me to find out what's actually not bad for me.
posted by toekneebullard at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2010


Large fries 1490
Regular 620


Well, the weird thing is I just got a menu from Five Guys yesterday, and it lists the regular fries as having 310 calories and the large fries as 620 calories. Eh?
posted by wondermouse at 10:51 AM on March 25, 2010


I don't visit NYC that often. What are the calories postings like?

Starbucks example. A bit small, but the calories are next to each price (and for each size).
posted by smackfu at 10:56 AM on March 25, 2010


The way this works in Seattle / King County, at a sit-down restaurant, is that you get your regular menu with colors and fonts and pictures and designs and all sorts of lovely things, and then you also get offered the "nutritional menu." The nutritional menu is printed in black Times New Roman on white paper, and is sometimes laminated. It is like the anti-fun. Anyway, everything in the anti-fun menu is broken out by calories, fat, sodium, and maybe a couple of other things.

I love the nutritional menu, and I'm hardly some kind of calorie miser. But when I was at the Cheesecake Factory and I realized that the lunchtime meal I was considering -- the "light" (HA) portion of fish and chips -- was SEVENTEEN HUNDRED CALORIES, I was real damn glad to have it. (I got the meatloaf instead. 900 calories, with the mashed potatoes, which I did not eat.)

Then I realized that had I gotten the fish and chips, and had a soda for lunch, and maybe gotten a piece of cheesecake afterwards because hey, I'm at the Cheesecake Factory, I would have been looking at a 3,000 calorie lunch. Three thousand calories! For lunch! I mean, yes, nobody thinks fish and chips is a diet food, nor cheesecake either for that matter, but having it laid out there in black and white was really stark.
posted by KathrynT at 3:26 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never heard of Five Guys. Sounds like I'm missing out.
posted by joedan at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2010


Well, the weird thing is I just got a menu from Five Guys yesterday, and it lists the regular fries as having 310 calories and the large fries as 620 calories. Eh?

310 calories is for a "serving" of fries (half the regular size, according to the nutritional info).
posted by armage at 5:43 PM on March 25, 2010


FWIW, most chain restaurants in Japan do it this way: underneath each menu item, they list the item's calories and salt content. This is true at most fast food places, AFAIK (though I don't recall seeing it at McDonald's--they have a very sparse menu).
posted by armage at 5:47 PM on March 25, 2010


310 calories is for a "serving" of fries

Oh, I love when they do that. "Nutritional facts: 20 calories per serving! (serving size, 3 fries)".
posted by qvantamon at 6:06 PM on March 25, 2010


All this Five Guys talk is making me want a hamburger, except for the part where I'll probably faint if I see the health data.

(Seriously, it's a good thing to be able to look at this information. I'm not sorry it's the law now.)
posted by immlass at 6:32 PM on March 25, 2010


Okay, you got me. Five minutes of regular stairs doesn't burn off the calories from a milk shake. But, in my defense, the shake was tiny, and my stairs are really tall and steep. My points about moderation, stress being bad for your heart, and mitigating an occasional treat with a little exercise still stand.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 10:27 PM on March 25, 2010


Oh, I love when they do that. "Nutritional facts: 20 calories per serving! (serving size, 3 fries)".

It's also fun when you look at a bottle of, say, fruity water. And it says "2.5 servings". Really? I'm going to share that with a friend and a half? Or drink it over the course of two and a half meals?
posted by Karmakaze at 12:32 PM on March 26, 2010


Although in a surprising number of cases, that's because serving sizes are specified by the FDA.

e.g., the serving size for "Beverages: Carbonated and noncarbonated beverages, wine coolers, water" is 8 fl oz (240 mL).
posted by smackfu at 2:51 PM on March 26, 2010


You know those little half-cans of Coke you sometimes see? That is, IIRC, about what a serving size used to be, back in the days cars with tail fins.

And now 7-11 would have you believe a serving size is 32oz.

Truly, we get what we deserve.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:04 PM on March 26, 2010


I'm actually surprised that the Big Mac isn't worse than around 500 calories.

That's partly because Big Macs aren't that big by today's standards. Two 1.5oz patties, apparently. Of course they're high in saturated fat and sodium and all those other things, but a Big Mac is smaller than a Quarter Pounder. It's mostly bun.

I guess the "Big" is compared to a cheeseburger, which is probably what it was being compared to in 1967.
posted by mendel at 7:58 PM on March 26, 2010


I like how they have a "double quarter pounder"... because "half pounder" sounds like too much food.
posted by qvantamon at 8:14 PM on March 26, 2010



It's anecdotal, but Supersize Me features a guy who eats nothing but Big Macs but remains really tall and lanky.


Uh, so he was supposed to get shorter by eating that food? He gained a ton of weight, lost his sex drive (couldn't get it up at all) and caused his liver to go bonkers. Oh, and he felt like shit. No problem!
posted by agregoli at 1:30 PM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm still holding out for a soft drink formula with half the sugar and no artificial sweetener.

There used to be one: Coke's C2. Half the calories, half the sugar, and it was goddamn delicious, tasted exactly like a regular Coke. You could have a 12 oz can for only 70 calories. But it had the bad fortune to be released at almost the exact time as Coke Zero, which everyone went apeshit over because it had NO calories, so Coke Zero lives on while C2 quietly went the way of the dinosaurs. I am still bitter.
posted by anderjen at 8:30 PM on March 28, 2010


You made me all excited at the idea of half-sugar coke, but according to wikipedia C2 had plenty of artificial sweeteners:

It contains aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose in addition to the high fructose corn syrup
posted by Forktine at 8:40 PM on March 28, 2010


Damn. The last soda I drank was three years ago, a Mexican Coke, and for the first time ever liked a pop. A natural half-sugar would probably addict me.

But I'm obviously a freak.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:07 PM on March 28, 2010


Grown Up Sodas and Dry Sodas are about half the sugar. I find them much more palatable.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:36 AM on March 29, 2010


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