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Does Access to Calorie Information
Make You Eat MORE?

© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc. Updates


A national health care debate on reducing obesity* has resulted in mandatory postings of calories on some of the menus in fast-food chain restaurants. A recent study tracked what people ate at four popular fast-food restaurants -- McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken -- and found that customers consumed even more calories after they were posted on menus.

*Obesity… Three points of measure:

  1. “If the waist measurement doubled (x2) is same or greater than height” (a simple point of measure according to Dr. Oz)

  2. According to the CDC, For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the "body mass index" (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat.

    • An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.

    • An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

  3. For children and teens, BMI ranges above a normal weight have different labels (at risk of overweight and overweight). Additionally, BMI ranges for children and teens are defined so that they take into account normal differences in body fat between boys and girls and differences in body fat at various ages. For more information about BMI for children and teens (also called BMI-for-age), visit BMI for Children and Teens.

Would knowing the calorie count of menu items at your favorite restaurant influence your choice of entrée?

Yet, after calories were posted on the menu boards of the popular restaurant chains, around 28 percent of the customers said that the calorie count information influenced what they chose from the menu, and 9 out of 10 of the customers said that they opted for healthier items after reading the calorie posting.

But what the customers said didn’t match up to the receipts that were reviewed afterward. As a matter of fact, it was just the opposite. It was discovered the typical customer ordered even more calories after a calorie labeling law went into effect in July 2008. The details of the study shed light on these discrepancies:

  • Study focused on poor black and Hispanic fast-food customers in neighborhoods of New York City experiencing high rates of diabetes and obesity

  • Researchers collected 1,100 receipts two weeks prior to the calorie posting in chain restaurants then again four weeks after

  • Customers in New York City placed orders on the average of 825 calories before the calorie label law took effect and proceeded to order 846 calories after it was in effect

Customer Feedback Versus What the Experts Say

When asked about the findings of the study, fast-food customers revealed taste and cost led their decision-making process when it came to ordering.

One customer who was in Harlem for a job interview ordered two cheeseburgers, about 600 calories, for $2 and said that he bought it because it was cheap.

Another customer who bought a Happy Meal with chicken nuggets for her son and a Snack Wrap for herself said that she’s not interested in counting calories because life is short and because she’s pregnant she could eat everything she wants now.

Most experts agree that fast-food decisions made by low-income families are primarily based on cost and items that they perceive as filling.

“Low-income families may use calorie postings to get more for their money. I tend to do that too. When I go to Subway for lunch, I often order what can get me more calories [to fill me up], not what’s healthiest. To people who don’t have a lot of money, it may seem like getting the 95 calorie salad would be throwing money away,” said Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the UW Center for Obesity Research on why people are eating more despite the posting of calories.

Drewnowski believes the answer to this dilemma is two-fold -- identifying affordable nutrient-rich foods and supplying an affordable nutrition index, which calculates nutrients per dollar, not calories per dollar.

In order of importance, taste, cost, convenience, health and variety were cited as the main factors surrounding the psychological process that goes into eating, added Drewnowski.

How to get the most out of the least …

When you eat a meal, your body does not automatically absorb all the nutrients it contains. The term "bioavailability" refers to how many nutrients are actually absorbed by your system, and uncovering just how much of different nutrients are bioavailable in the foods we eat is no easy task.

If a substance is ingested, as foods are for example, its bioavailability is determined by the amount that is absorbed by your intestinal tract. So how do you know how much that is? The problem is you really don’t.

Nutrition experts are fond of saying that to get the most benefits, eat a varied diet, one that includes an array of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and whole grains. This is good advice but there is more to it than that.

Digestive enzymes are what allow your food to be broken down, and the nutrients absorbed by your bloodstream, however if you eat a mostly processed, cooked food diet you may be lacking in these crucial catalysts to nutrient absorption.

So if your diet consists primarily of cooked foods it's important to take an enzyme supplement. There are numerous enzyme supplements available on the market to help increase your levels.

Remember that your digestive enzyme production drops with age; it also declines greatly during times of stress such as when you are too cold, too warm, too tired, ill, recovering from injuries, or suffering from life’s pressures physically, mentally or emotionally, making a high-quality digestive enzyme important for nearly everyone!

Further, by stocking up on the following four food groups, you can eat nutritious meals and feel good about the amount of money you are spending on groceries by getting more nutritional intake (vs. spending same or more for nutritionally less).

1. Brown Rice

Brown rice offers a lot of versatility in meal planning and contains numerous health benefits, including weight loss, increased satiety, blood sugar stabilizing effects and prevention of cancer and heart disease. It can also be used to create a variety of meals such as soups, stews, stir-fries, beans and rice, rice salad, rice pilaf, rice and bean cakes, rice pudding and healthy fried rice.

Brown rice is a whole grain and is high in the following antioxidants and vitamins:

  • Manganese: helps with energy production

  • Selenium: helps prevent colon cancer

  • Thiamin and Niacin: B vitamins that support production of hydrochloric acid for the digestive system and play a critical role in carbohydrate metabolism and energy production

2. Frozen Produce (Can be Just as Nutritious as Fresh Fruits and Vegetables)

Frozen fruits and vegetables retain their soluble vitamins because they are processed at their peak ripeness state and then flash-frozen just hours after being picked.

One report revealed that fresh produce may lose their nutrients and deteriorate during the time spent in the chain of wholesalers and producers before they reach the retail stores.

Frozen vegetables are inexpensive and nutritious, and can be added to soups, stews, stir fries and side dishes and frozen fruit can be dropped in muffin mixes, used in smoothies or as a topping in your yogurt or oatmeal.

Buying healthy staples like brown rice and beans in bulk is a simple way to save money.

3. Eggs

Buying a dozen eggs is an inexpensive way to make many easy meals. Not only are eggs high in protein and low in carbohydrates, but they are also a source of brain-boosting choline, a chemical similar to B 1 vitamins.

Some creative egg dishes are frittatas, omelets, egg salad, hard-boiled and sliced on top of crackers or hard-boiled eggs with salt and pepper for a quick and healthy snack.

4. Beans

If you’re looking for a healthy, inexpensive meat substitute, stock up on beans. Keep in mind you’ll reap a great savings if you buy them in bulk when they are on sale. Beans also help keep you at a healthy weight because they are low in calories and high in fiber, protein and iron.

Other healthy benefits from beans include:

  • Helps lower your cholesterol

  • Keeps your system regular

  • Removes cancer-causing substances from your digestive tract

  • Helps stabilize your blood sugar levels

  • Can lower your risk of cancer

  • Heart-healthy

In addition to purchasing these four types of foods to have on hand you can take on the challenge of eating healthy and save money by planning your meals ahead of time and making a few, simple lifestyle changes.

Seven Tips to Eating Healthy, Saving Money and Staying at an Ideal Weight

  • When you go shopping, be sure it’s on a full stomach as there is a tendency to buy more when you are hungry

  • Prepare big-batches of food -- you’ll then have leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day(s)

  • Take a pass on prepared or pre-cut foods such as vegetables -- these items often cost twice as much as whole ingredients

  • Avoid buying pricy boxed cereals: instead buy rolled oats, steel cut oats, millet or other grains to prepare hot cereal for breakfast in the morning

  • Eat mainly fresh, whole foods, rather than processed varieties.

Create Your Own Stylized Healthy Meals and Fitness Plan

  • Grow your own food when you can. This is one way you can ensure that your food is pesticide-free. It’s also a great way to save money even if you start by putting together a small window garden for growing fresh herbs. If you don’t have the time to grow your own food, the next best thing is, an excellent Web site to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of safe and sustainably grown food in your area.

  • Don’t forget your exercise plan! Daily exercise is a healthy behavior that compliments your eating habits.


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