I start a new column today – Food Matters – in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section. It’s a Q and A, with room for comments on the online version. I will answer a question or two whenever it runs (how often? I’m not sure). This first one deals with the editors’ question: “What’s the most pressing nutrition issue today, and why?” In a word: calories.
Currently browsing posts about: Calories
Yesterday’s New York Times published a gorgeous recipe for chocolate chip cookies but I was stunned by the size. The recipe calls for pounds of ingredients but only makes 18 cookies (5 inches in diameter). I couldn’t resist looking up the calories on the USDA’s food composition data base. If I added them up right, they came to about 500 calories each. If you want to understand the vast change in the food environment that has taken place in the last 30 years, take a look at an old (1964 or 1975) edition of the Joy of Cooking. Its recipe for chocolate chip cookies calls for almost exactly half the ingredients of the one in the Times but makes 45 cookies. Two batches would be the same as the Times’ recipe and would make 90 cookies! These would be just under 100 calories each.
Mark Schrimsher writes to tell me that his CalorieLab site has just posted a U.S. map indicating the states with the highest levels of obesity. The site has a calorie counter for a huge number of items and meals, and does things like adding up the calories expected to be consumed in the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest–19,600. Did this happen?
Yesterday’s USA Today had a front page story on the latest method for selling bad seats at baseball games: raise the price and give people all they can eat. According to the Aramark manager at Atlanta’s Turner field, the typical customer takes 3.35 hot dogs, one 20-oz soda, one 7.9 bag of peanuts, one 3-oz nachos, and 32 oz popcorn. Anyone want to take a stab at adding up the calories? Hint: a 20-oz soda is 275.
I’m just getting caught up with the Wall Street Journal’s report on calories in “low-calorie” meals served in chain restaurants. It’s worth a look. The reporter sent meals to a laboratory to test for calories. The good news: most calorie contents were as advertised. The not so good news: the calories are as advertised if–and only if–you don’t eat side dishes or additions like bread, cheese, or salad dressing. If you do, the calories go way up. And calories count. Alas.
It’s the end of the year and snowing in upstate New York and a good day to respond to some questions. How about this one from Migraineur about whole grains: “What I would like to see is evidence that shows that whole grains are a better place to spend part of our daily calorie budget than are vegetables, meats, dairy products, fish, eggs, high quality fats, and fruits. That is to say, am I better off consuming whole grains or omitting grains entirely?”
My philosophy: the answer, of course, is “it depends.” Nutrition is about two things–calories and nutrients. Humans are omnivores. We can get calories and nutrients from just about anything we eat, plant and animal. If getting enough calories is the problem, grains are a big help because they are relatively concentrated in calories. Whole grains are better choices because they provide more nutrients than processed grains. But: if eating too many calories is the problem, then foods with fewer calories are better choices. Whole grains may have more nutrients, but they are just as caloric as processed grains. The science shows that people who eat whole grains are healthier, but good health practices track: people who habitually eat whole grains tend to eat better diets, stay active, and behave in other healthier ways. So it is impossible to tease out the effects of whole grains or any other single food or nutrient from dietary patterns as a whole. What does all this mean? If you like eating grains (and I do), then it’s fine to eat them. If you do not or don’t want to, you don’t have to. I cannot think of one single food or food group that is essential in human diets. And single foods and nutrients always have to be considered within the context of calories. That’s how I see it. Happy new year!
If the previous post was about taking off fat, this one is about putting it on. Ray Sokolov, a former editor and food writer for the Wall Street Journal, had some fun with the USDA’s food composition data base (click on Search and take it from there). He estimated the calories in a main course from Mario Batali’s Babbo and Thomas Keller’s Per Se. I doubt the comparison is fair, but it sure is fun. Guess which one had the most!