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Calorie Labeling

I read recently that the New York City Board of Health will adopt a regulation on March 31 to make restaurant chains post calorie counts for the food on their menus. I’m unsure of the ins and outs of the regulation, and confess to having mixed feelings about its usefulness for both personal and professional reasons.

While the regulation is intended to enable diners to make more appropriate food choices, I’m not certain that’s how things will play out based on my—albeit narrow—eating experiences at a spa that offered extensive nutritional information on its menus. One of the first things I noticed sitting down to eat was that the calorie and fat gram counts on the menus instantly grabbed diners’ attention and became the focus of endless discussion. I could almost see the calculators clicking away in their brains as I tried to ignore the not-so-tiny numbers listed next to each selection and intuit what my inner eater felt like having. I had spent far too many of my early decades dieting and restricting and never wanted to return to such a slavish relationship with food. The fact is, I resented the figures trying to horn in on my decision-making.

On the other hand, the information seemed highly useful to many folks who were amazed at how high- or low-calorie their intended choices were. Some of them had never thought in terms of calories and fat grams and were amazed at the new and startling information. A whole new world had opened up to them in which they could consciously think about eating rather than make mindless decisions. Did they enjoy their food any less because they knew its calorie count? It didn’t appear so.

Then there were others who ate only by numbers, using them to hone close to their diets. Sadly, they seemed to have no idea that food was meant to be enjoyed rather than merely calculated. These women were overjoyed that nutritional information was available—right in front of their eyes. They went back and forth, bouncing around figures, seemingly forgetting that they were attached to something they intended to eat. Frankly, I felt badly for them.

I’m not sure what will happen in the NYC experiment. Will Big Applers wise up because they know how many calories they’re consuming and eat more healthily, or will they avert their eyes and place their fingers over the numbers to pretend they don’t exist? I have no idea, but I’m in favor of any reasonable experiment that tries to educate the public about making healthy food choices and I can’t wait to learn the outcome.