For The Love Of Food

by | Jun 24, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Our oceans seem to be in much worse shape than anyone imagined, food irradiation is back in the forefront of discussions and someone wants to feed you a shit sandwich. All this and more today in my top 10 food and health articles of the week.

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17 Responses to “For The Love Of Food”

  1. I love the tips on packing food for a flight – totally impressed by that woman making hot pasta!

  2. Brian says:

    I loathe the requirement that restaurants post calories on their menus. In short, it’s just another political exercise by a clueless establishment that wants to throw money around to justify its continued existence. I can’t even decide from which angle to start my criticism, so I’ll just throw out a list in no particular order:

    1. Calories by themselves give you no useful information. A steak and baked potato with butter might get you up to 750 calories. Two Cokes and a donut would total the same. Ditto for a half cup of nuts, a chicken breast, and a cup of broccoli. Some of these choices are “healthier” than others, but the calorie counts don’t tell you anything about that.

    2. The statement in the article that “even” big bad McDonald’s has seen the light is misleading. McDonald’s has always offered lower calorie items. A Big Mac is under the magical cutoff of 600 calories; the problem is that people order two of them at once, plus fries.

    3. The “nutritionist” who said “the obesity epidemic is probably explained by about 100 calories per person per day” is an idiot. Love that “probably.” People get fat as a result of eating WAY above their maintenance level. It’s quite easy to eat 3500 calories when you only need 2500 to maintain your weight. Sure, the math says that eating just 100 calories per day over maintenance will cause you to put on 10 pounds of fat over the course of a year. But the human body isn’t so black and white. 100 calories is close enough to the margin of error that it’s difficult to say how much of an effect consistently “overeating” by that amount would have in reality.

    4. Expanding on the concept of maintenance calories: I would bet that most people have no idea what their maintenance level is. For most sedentary people it’s probably lower than they think because their lean body mass is not very high. But having that information is CRITICAL for making dietary choices. If you’re a tall, active man with lots of muscle on your frame, you can afford to have a 1000+ calorie dinner. If you’re a small woman who sits at a desk all day, then that same dinner would be the majority of your calorie needs for the day.

    5. Body composition is the most important thing here. If overweight people look at menu calorie counts and choose lower calorie foods, then they will lose fat, assuming they don’t just eat more helpings (which is entirely possible). But a person that follows that approach will simply become a smaller fat person. Are they any healthier as a result? Doubtful, except perhaps in the case of coming off of extreme obesity. Exercise and resistance training are essential components in building a healthy body, and I would argue that neurotically counting calories is counterproductive for most of the population. For models that want to maintain 6% body fat, sure, count away. For everybody else, it’s simply not worth structuring your life around calorie minutiae when there is something far more important to focus on: exercise.

    6. Finally, the public debate about this is as usual simply turning into a convenient way to vilify chain restaurants and fast food. New flash: if I make a giant pizza at home, it’s going to have a lot of calories, just like the one from Pizza Hut. Pasta with cream sauce is calorically dense whether I make it myself, buy it at CPK, or eat at a $100-a-plate fine dining establishment. It’s the pasta that’s the source of the excess calories, not the restaurant. The law is skewed so that ONLY a certain class of restaurant is required to post calorie information. That 1000 calorie, $30 burger at your local petite brasserie? Enjoy without a second thought! That 1000 calorie, $5 burger at Carl’s Jr.? Hey buddy, you could stand to lose a few pounds, why don’t you get a salad instead?

    • Darya Pino says:

      That was quite a rant! Well done sir, you make excellent points. I totally agree with you, which is why I find the whole thing amusing.

      • Brian says:

        Thanks. 😉 I had an unpleasant run-in with calories on the menu a few days ago, so I’ve been formulating my thoughts for a while. Your LA Times link gave me a perfect chance to vent publicly about it. And by the way, when I asked at Quiznos what response they were getting to the calorie info, the girl said: “It just makes people confused because they think it’s the price.” Sigh…

      • I basically agree with your objections as well, but there may be one benefit to this: more awareness of portion size. One of the reasons that restaurant meals (esp. chain restaurants) have so many calories is because the portions are two or three times what the majority of people should be eating. That’s one of the reasons I avoid these places, even the ones I like such as Chipotle–I know that either I will end up eating too much, or I’ll waste the food. (Usually I would go there when I am on all-day jaunt visiting parks and such, so not really convenient to take leftovers home. Plus a lot of it is just not good reheated the next day, probably because the ingredients weren’t that good to start with.) So if having to post calories encourages these places to offer smaller portions, I would welcome it.

      • Brian says:

        Good point about portion sizes. I see Starbucks now has teeny tiny little cupcakes for sale. Still, they’re 200 calories of mostly sugar. It will be interesting to see over time if people’s tastes develop to desire smaller servings.

      • Darya Pino says:

        I think portions are a HUGE factor, and one of the biggest differences between the US and other countries where weight is less of a problem. Few cultures forego sugar altogether, but the portions are on a completely different scale. Also, we put more sugar in regular food, not just desserts, which makes portions have an even greater impact.

    • Brian, I enjoyed your rant. You said everything way better than I could have, but would have liked to.

  3. Danielle says:

    1. I feel awful about the ocean article. Makes me want to do something immediately! I’m a total water baby and have always felt really passionate about the ocean.
    2. (unrelated to the chocolate milk article but…) I hate hate hate when dieticians suggest chocolate milk for an after workouts. Because it’s high in protein and carbohydrates. Hello?! Straight sugar carbs. Ridiculous. But kudos to Jamie Oliver. I assume he was a big influence on the chocolate milk ban
    3. I don’t feel very surprised by the statins study. It seems the more chemicals you put into the body, the more it will get screwed up. Eat healthy! Seriously – cures everything with only positive side effects.
    4. I personally am thankful for the calorie information on menus. I have a tendency to go big when I go to a restaurant, but the new law (in Vermont) reminds me to be mindful and look for more whole foods or low calorie in the least. Though I don’t look to calories so much as the form they come in, it’s still a great secondary measuring tool.

    PS When is the next show, Darya and have we done one on artificial sugars? Including agave and stevia?

    • Darya Pino says:

      The next show is June 28, and it will be on salt. I’m covering soy after that, but sugars and substitutes is a great topic. I’ll add it to the list.

  4. Susie says:

    Interesting that Safeway came out with a natural brand that they say is:

    -100 percent natural—only natural ingredients from natural sources.
    -free of artificial ingredients (no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, additives and preservatives).
    -rBST-free (if a dairy product).

    with ingredients printed on the front of packages.

    A step in the right direction for big food!

  5. Rachel says:

    We’ve had the calorie rule here in NYC for a good long time. Since I always counted calories, it made it nearly impossible for me to order anything where the numbers were published. I usually kept my meals to about 500 per meal (no breakfast, and a snack or glass of wine) so whenever I went out and saw that all I could get at most of these places was half a side dish, it was always really depressing, and I felt like a killjoy not ordering a “real meal”.

    Nice restaurants seem to be exempt from this, which is a relief. These days I’m not counting calories and am eating mainly at home, but if I see that my dinner has 750 calories, honestly that’s still going to freak me out and add a lot of guilt for me, which I am not looking for when dining out.

    While it is eye opening, to see the stats at places like Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory, where the entrees often top 1500 calories (this is before people add bread, wine, soda, dessert, side dishes, etc.) and many are over 2,000. However, I think it’s more shock value and the only people it makes a difference to were health conscious anyway.

  6. In reference to the article about obese dieter’s brain chemistry being different. I read the article and was buying into it…then suddenly I realized this was about mice. People are far more complicated in their problems/solution to obesity. A lot of my world view… how I think about my Creator, my faith and the value of life affects my sense of responsibility and gives me level of fortitude to eat healthy and exercise that I doubt mice have.

    I’m not saying there isn’t something to look at, but a test of fat and skinny mice doesn’t give us enough of the picture.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I totally agree that humans are more complicated than mice, and sometimes work completely differently. But studies like this are valuable because they can give us a hint of how our brains might work with all the complication stripped out. It also serves as a way to generate hypothesis of how things work in humans. I included it here because I want people to consider the possibility that crash deprivation diets can be doing more harm than good on more levels than we might suspect.

      • Brian says:

        Agreed. Studies like this show the mechanisms involved, without the psychology baggage. We can’t forget that food is fuel and the body has very smart ways of dealing with what it views as potential threats to survival. Sudden absence of food (or too little) could very well trigger mechanisms that slow metabolism and conserve fat. Which, when you think about it, is a brilliant idea in times of famine. Sadly we can’t tell our bodies, “Hey, it’s okay, I’ve got plenty in the fridge, I just want to lose some fat.”

      • I agree with you on this and I understand what you say about knowing more about the chemistry of our brains. But, I think most studies are far too simplistic searching for that “answer” to obesity, when it’s not a simple answer. I agree that yo yo dieting has proved disastrous and only has served to hurt the obese person more, and extreme dieting isn’t good for anyone. But, I’ve also seen people shed pounds with extreme dieting and never gain it back. This intrigues me and I should we find out more about what makes such success in the face of so much failure, and how these people seem to manage to trick their metabolism.

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