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.
- 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.")
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