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Following Up: Restaurant Food Labels, Gardasil, Vitamin D

A week ago The Checkup asked whether requiring chain restaurants to prominently post information about the nutritional content of the food they serve is likely to actually curb this country's obesity crisis.

I voiced skepticism: I think people have a pretty good sense of whether the food they're ordering is of the health-promoting or the obesity-promoting variety. Sometimes -- often, even -- we choose the latter, despite what we know or suspect about its caloric and fat content.

Some of you agreed with me. Others made good cases for menu labeling, particularly when it comes to providing information about sodium content (which is important for all of us but especially for those managing high blood pressure) and "hidden" calories in foods that you'd assume were lean and healthful, such as steamed vegetables or grilled fish that are coated with butter.

I took the argument to one of my food heroes, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and, early this year, In Defense of Food. His view differed from mine; he noted that he (a guy who knows his way around a Nutrition Facts panel) continues to be surprised by what he learns when food purveyors do offer nutrition data: Until he checked, for instance, he says, he "did not know that some of McDonald's salads have more calories than a Big Mac." (For example, top a Premium Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken -- 430 calories -- with 2 ounces of Newman's Own Ranch Dressing -- 170 calories -- to beat a Big Mac's 540 calories.)

"Common sense is not always reliable" in helping distinguish high-calorie foods from low-calorie choices, Pollan says, noting that "Food science is all about ramping up fat, sugar and salt, so you can sell a lot." In many restaurants, particularly those of the fast-food ilk, "You're really at the mercy of food scientists and the tricks they play."

"Fast-food companies are very good at getting lots of calories into corners of the diet where you wouldn't expect it," Pollan says.

So, he concludes, "Much is not obvious." And making good choices "depends on reliable information."

"It's hard to point to personal responsibility," Pollan observes, "if there's so much deception at the level of the recipe, the preparation, the ingredient."

Okay, I'm convinced.

Other updates:

- A recent report showed that a quarter of all girls ages 13-17 have had the Gardasil vaccination against human papillomavirus, or HPV, a leading cause of cervical cancer. The Checkup's August 19 entry about the vaccine generated lots of response from folks who favor and those who shun the vaccine. Any further thoughts?

- As I note in today's Lean and Fit newsletter, the American Academy of Pediatrics yesterday recommended that the daily value of Vitamin D for kids and teens be doubled, from the current 200 International Units to 400 IUs, a move that would prompt many to take Vitamin D supplements, as it's hard to get that much of the vitamin from food. Milk, fortified cereals, fatty fish, eggs, and cheese are all good sources of Vitamin D, which is thought to offer protection against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and perhaps even multiple sclerosis; experts attribute a recent resurgence in the bone-softening disease rickets to Vitamin D deficiencies. (To subscribe to the weekly Lean and Fit newsletter, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com and search for "newsletters.")

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 14, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Next: Drinking and the Shrinking Brain

Comments

Here is a report on food labeling and how deceptive menu descriptions can be.

http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/anyone_s_guess_final_web.pdf

Posted by: SSMD | October 14, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Re: restaurant food labels.
Yes, it's very odd when your salad is more fattening than a burger. More advanced "tricks" take place at the supermarket, where a cereal with over 50% sugar poses as healthful start to the day, and slapping an omega-3 health claim on a TV dinner turns it into a wholesome meal.
For practical advice and tips on healthy grocery shopping check out www.fooducate.com/blog

Posted by: Hemi W | October 14, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

The Gardasil vaccine mandate for immigrants and the strong push of the Gardasil vaccine on school aged girls is just a way for Merck to get free testing for a vaccine they never officially tested. Seriously. Merck did not want to finance a longitudinal study on the safety or inherent dangers in such a potent vaccine that has already caused several deaths and paralysis in young girls, so, having 25% of girls vaccinated will easily provide a nice cross section for Merck, free of charge.

Posted by: Justine | October 14, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Vitamin D deficiency:
Lack of exposure to sunshine is one culprit. Children don't spend as much time outside, and when they do they are likely to be slathered in sunscreen. Less likely to develop skin cancer, but at risk for rickets.

Posted by: mneal | October 14, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I would also like to see calorie counts on more things in restaurants. And, it would be nice to get "total" counts on things in the grocery. "If you eat this entire bag of chips, the total calorie count would be ...."

Posted by: pg | October 20, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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