by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calories

Sep 26 2018

Calorie labeling works. A little.

A study from The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that calorie labeling on restaurant menus reduced calorie consumption by about 3%, mainly from appetizers and main dishes, but not from drinks or desserts (oh dear).

The Cornell investigators’ description of the study is worth a look.  Here’s what got my attention:

In one restaurant, the number of calories in the appetizers ranged from 200 to 910. The entrees ranged from 580 to 1,840 calories, and the desserts from 420 to 1,150 calories.

Gulp.  No wonder people have trouble maintaining reasonable weight.  Most people require between 2000 (small, inactive) and 3000 (big, very active) calories a day.  One meal in that unnamed place takes care of that and then some, and a 3% reduction won’t make a dent.

Thanks to the Hagstrom Report for finding these studies.

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Aug 15 2018

Eating 14.5 pints of ice cream in 6 minutes is not enough to win an eating contest

It’s summer, it’s hot, and I enjoy ice cream, so I was riveted to learn the sad fate of Joey Chestnut who lost the Indiana State Fair’s World Ice Cream Eating Championship because he only consumed 14.5 pints (!) in six minutes (the winner consumed 15.5 pints in that time).

Chestnut, who took second place Sunday, is an 11-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion. He became well-known locally after dominating the 2014 St. Elmo Shrimps Eating Competition, downing 10.42 pounds of shrimp in eight minutes to set a then-world record. He won it again in 2016 by wolfing down 15 pounds of shrimp. And again in 2017, eating 10 pounds and 6 ounces.

The story in the Indy Star only describes the ice cream as vanilla and gives no information about what kind, so it’s difficult to estimate its calories.  A pint could run from about 400 to 1,000 calories, depending on the fat content, so we are talking here about 6,000 to 15,000 calories—in six minutes.

Meet Major League Eating, an organization that sponsors—and gives schedules for—national eating contests.

Somehow, I missed the ones in Wisconsin and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest in Coney Island last Sunday.   Big mistake.   That same Joey Chestnut was the winner, beating his previous records with 74 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

The mind boggles.

Thanks!

May 7 2018

Today: Menu labeling goes national

Remember menu labeling?  In 2010, Congress said fast food places should reveal calories on their menus (New York City required this in 2008).

Food companies fought the measure and got delays, but the eight-year delay is up.  Menu labeling goes national today.

In a blog post, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained FDA thinking about such matters: the agency is pro-consumer and pro-market.

Information about how healthy our food is gives us the chance to make better choices about our diets. This same information also inspires competition among producers to formulate food in ways that make it more healthful…. food producers should be able to compete on the ability to develop foods that are healthier, and make reliable, science-based claims about these attributes to consumers.  So at FDA, we’re reforming our policies to make it more efficient to develop these claims. This clarity may encourage more manufacturers to invest in making foods healthier.

Uh oh.  More health claims (these, I insist, are about marketing, not health).  So that’s the trade-off; we get menu labeling at the price of more and inevitably misleading health claims.

Gottlieb defended the measure on Fox News.

If you have information on menu labels, the average consumer will reduce their caloric intake to 30-50 calories a day,” Gottlieb said during the interview. “That turns out to be about 3 to 5 pounds per year that you can lose just by having better information.

This is correct in theory, if you assume that one pound of fat contains about 3500 calories (this estimate comes from multiplying 454 grams per pound by 9 calories per gram for fat and rounding off).  Then it will take 3500 divided by 50 = 70 days to lose one pound.

In practice, such small calorie deficits are hardly measurable.  Most estimates suggest that losing weight requires a deficit of 300 to 500 calories a day (My co-author and I discuss all this in our book, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics).

For an quick summary of the studies of menu labeling, JAMA has a useful review.

It’s great that Commissioner Gottlieb defended menu labeling on Fox News.  Looking at the calories on menu items is fun!

And it most definitely works for me.  If I see a muffin labeling at 700 calories, I share it with friends.

Dec 12 2017

Oops. Fat replacing sugar in US diets.

In the late 1980s, nutrition scientists identified fat and saturated fat as key nutrients that needed to be reduced in US diets.

One result was the Snackwell’s phenomenon in the early 1990s—“no-fat” cookies with just as many calories as the ones with fat.  They flew off the shelves.

Image result for snackwell's no fat cookies

Now the push is to get rid of carbs, especially sugars.  The result?  Fat is back, along with its calories (fat has more than twice the calories per gram as carbohydrates, 9 as opposed to 4).

A tweet from Kevin Bass tells the story:

The USDA tells the same story, but with respect to specific products:

These products may be more satiating, but watch the calories!

Also watch out for the saturated fat:

 

Aug 3 2017

Is this for real?

Sent to me from a Cracker Barrel in Florida.

Yum.

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Feb 22 2017

Taking sodas out of SNAP: the debate

I’m out of the country for a few weeks (México) and missed the House hearing on whether SNAP-eligible food items should continue to include sugary beverages.

From what I gather, most witnesses opposed any change in the program, with one from the American Enterprise Institute the lone holdout.

As I discussed in the chapter on SNAP in Soda PoliticsI continue to think that taking sugar-sweetened beverages out of the package is a no brainer.

  • They are sugars and water and have no nutritional value.
  • Tons of research links their consumption to a higher risk for obesity and its consequences.
  • SNAP recipients spend a lot of taxpayer money on them.
  • SNAP recipients may well have worse diets and higher proportions of chronic disease than equally poor people who do not get SNAP benefits.
  • Surveys say that SNAP recipients would not mind this change.
  • SNAP recipients can always buy sodas with their own cash.

I recognize that not everyone sees things this way.  I suspect that people opposed to this idea are worried that any change to SNAP will leave it vulnerable to cuts, and they could well be right.

Here are their arguments:

Politico provides some sound bites on the topic:

  • “Food surveillance violates the basic principles of this great country.” — Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.)
  • “What can we do to incentivize rather than punish?” — Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.)
  • “If you want to do a pilot program, I’m happy to co-sponsor one at the White House. I’m worried about our president’s eating habits.” — Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Ma.)

The state of Maine, however, has just renewed its request to USDA to remove sugar-sweetened beverages and candy from SNAP-eligible items.

Maine believes the purchase of sugar sweetened beverages and candy is detrimental to the health of the SNAP population, and is antithetical to the purpose of the SNAP program.

SNAP is supposed to be a nutrition program, no?  Nutrition is about a lot more than calories (and this from someone who wrote a book about calories).

Feb 2 2017

USDA’s latest data on food trends

The USDA has just issued a report on trends in per capita food availability from 1970 to 2014.

Here’s my favorite figure:

The inner ring represents calories from those food groups in 1970. The outer ring includes data from 2014.

The bottom line: calories from all food groups increased, fats and oils and the meat group most of all, dairy and fruits and vegetables the least.

The sugar data are also interesting:

Total sugars (blue) peaked at about 1999 in parallel with high fructose corn syrup (orange).  Table sugar, sucrose, has been flat since the 1980s (green).

Eat your veggies!

Sep 15 2016

Calories, alas, do count

I did a bunch of interviews about the sugar industry’s funding and manipulation of research this week (see the list at the bottom of the post).

I tried to point out that in the fuss over sugars vs. saturated fat, calories get forgotten.  They shouldn’t be.

The balance between fat and carbohydrate matters much less when calorie intake is balanced by physical activity.

The Atlantic notes that Americans eat and waste vast amounts of food, using USDA data on the amount of calories made available by the food supply.

I love the USDA’s “Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.”  Here’s how to use it:

  • Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to Nutrient Availability.
  • Click on Nutrients.
  • Download Excel Spreadsheet.
  • Click on the worksheet, “Nutrients and other components of the US food supply.”  Have fun checking out the trends from 1909 to 2010.  We have available to us 4000 calories per day per capita.
  • Click on the second worksheet, “US Food supply: Nutrients contributed from major food groups.”  Now you can see where the calories come from:  Grain products and fats and oils together account for more than 1800 of the 4000 calories in the food supply.  Add in sugars and sweeteners and you are up to 2500.  Meat, poultry, and fish brings it over 3000.

Hmmm.

This is why I co-authored a book on the topic: Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.