March 30, 2007

Everything is bigger in Texas including the bill for obesity

The phrase, “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” rings true when we consider the current state of Texans’ health. Nearly two-thirds (64.1 percent) of the state’s population is overweight or obese.

And it's costing billions.

In 2005, there were nearly 3 million more obese adults in Texas than in 1990. Only 12.3 percent of Texas adults were obese in 1990; by 2005, that share had more than doubled, to 27.0 percent, well above the national average of 24.4 percent.

But who cares if Texans get fat. Doesn't Wall Street want all those Americans spending big chunks of money at fast food restaurants? However, Texas business may be thinking twice.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs reports obesity cost Texas businesses an estimated $3.3 billion in 2005. This figure includes the cost of health care, absenteeism, decreased productivity and disability.

Most of the cost of private health insurance is borne by America’s employers. Since 2001, their health insurance premiums have risen by an average of 68.2 percent. The national epidemic of obesity is a major factor in rising health care costs and skyrocketing health insurance premiums.

Sadly, the epidemic begins at an early age. In a Texas-specific study conducted from 2004 to 2005, researchers found that 42 percent of fourth graders were overweight or at-risk of overweight, as were 39 percent of eighth graders and 36 percent of eleventh graders.

By 2025, many of these overweight children will be entering the work force as overweight or obese adults, at a considerable cost to their employers. If the prevalence of obesity continues rising at the current pace, obesity could cost Texas businesses $15.8 billion annually by 2025.

“Obesity has roughly the same association with chronic health conditions as does twenty years’ aging; this greatly exceeds the associations of smoking or problem drinking,” stated Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation in 2002.

It's worse than smoking and drinking and it's going to cost Americans billions. When will Americans realize this is a national crisis, not a personal image issue.

March 29, 2007

Did you eat healthy in March?

In like a lion and out like a lamb. What was your March like?

Did you eat healthy in March? Why do I ask?

Because it's National Nutrition Month®, do you know where your stomach's been?

Created in 1973 by the American Dietetic Association,and celebrated each March, it helps promote healthful eating and provides consumers with practical nutrition guidance.

The campaign -- just like this blog -- is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Think back on the last 30 days. Are you unhappy with your eating habits? Did you eat too much of any food? Did you eat too much at any meal? Did you over-eat at any restaurant? How many times did you stop at a fast food restaurant?

If the answer is YES to any of these questions, then you are definitely not alone. In fact, you're an average American.

Let's change that. Let's not be average. Let's be better than average. Better than good. Let's change America for the better by insisting on better choices at all restaurants. Let's make sure we provide the best choices for our children and grandchildren. When you eat away from the home, make sure you make the RightSize choice.

Let's make every month, National Nutrition Month.

March 27, 2007

Cut 20% of your calories: Drink water.

That's more bad news for Americans when it comes to eating the RightSize.

About 21 percent of calories consumed by Americans over the age of 2 come from beverages, predominantly soft drinks and fruit drinks with added sugars, a recent study reported. There has been a huge increase in sugar-sweetened drinks in recent decades, primarily at the expense of milk, which has clear nutritional benefits. The calories from these sugary drinks account for half the rise in caloric intake by Americans since the late 1970s.

Not only has the number of servings of these drinks risen, but serving size has ballooned, as well, with some retail outlets offering 32 ounces and free refills.

Add the current passion for smoothies and sweetened coffee drinks (there are 240 calories in a 16-ounce Starbucks Caffe Mocha without the whipped cream), and you can see why people are drinking themselves into XXXL sizes.

What are the healthiest drinks with your meals?

Water, coffee and tea, and milk.

The NY Times reports: with the support of the Unilever Health Institute in the Netherlands (Unilever owns Lipton Tea), a panel of experts on nutrition and health published a “Beverage Guidance System” in hopes of getting people to stop drinking their calories when those calories contribute little or nothing to their health and may actually detract from it.

The panel, led by Barry M. Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina, was distressed by the burgeoning waistlines of Americans and the contribution that popular beverages make to weight problems. But the experts also reviewed 146 published reports to find the best evidence for the effects of various beverages on nearly all of the above health problems.

The panel concluded that water was the best beverage, followed by coffee and tea, then finally milk.

March 26, 2007

Healthy pizza? Could be.

Reuters reports that University of Maryland food chemists said on Monday they had found ways to enhance the antioxidant content of whole-grain wheat pizza dough by baking it longer at higher temperatures and giving the dough lots of time to rise.

Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Some experts believe antioxidants can lower the risk of cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

"The reason that we chose pizza is just because it is a very popular food product, not only in the U.S. but worldwide," researcher Jeffrey Moore added.

But Moore had a slice of advice for pizza aficionados who might want to cover their crust with mounds of fatty toppings like extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage and ground beef.

"If you're adding back all these other things that have potential negative health consequences, then you're negating anything that you're adding in terms of (health) value," Moore said.

[In other words, you need to eat the RightSize of pizza, still.]

The research was served up at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, a mecca for deep-dish, thick-crust pizza.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grain organizations, but not by the pizza industry.

March 25, 2007

Wall St. won't let you have RightSize portions

The NY Times today clearly states why restaurants won't serve healthy portions.

Wall Street won't allow them.

Restaurant chains that want to reduce portion sizes also face considerable skepticism from Wall Street. Investors want to see steady growth in sales from what are called comparable stores, those restaurants that have been open for at least a year. To get that growth, a company has to increase the number of people coming through the door or what they spend.

“If you shrink portion sizes, you kind of have to reduce prices,” said John Glass, an analyst at CIBC World Markets. “A lower check drags down comp-store sales. What you hope is, you offset the check with higher traffic.”

Mr. Glass added: “It’s been a difficult sell on Wall Street. It does work but it takes time, and we all know that investors are focused on the short term.”

So let's be clear. Restaurants are worse than tobacco companies. They will put profits ahead of portions. CEOs are thinking about their outrageous salaries before the health of one child in America. The companies would rather keep their investors happier than their customers.

Let's stop them. Let T.G.I. Friday's know that you appreciate their attempt at appropriate portions at appropriate prices.

March 24, 2007

We know where's the beef. How about where's the fruits and vegetables?

Research clearly shows that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help control blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, cut the incidence of diabetes and lower the odds of developing some types of cancer. And people who eat more fruit and vegetables are less likely to be overweight or obese.

So why don't restaurants offer more choices with fruits and vegetables? I never enjoyed vegetables growing up, because my mom heated up only canned vegetables. But my Italian wife now fixes the best tasting, good-for-you types of vegetables on the planet. In trips to Europe you always find beautiful antipasto vegetables, gorgeous side dishes and, of course, elegant entrées of eggplant, spinach, broccoli rabe, artichokes, and tomatoes.

Soon a new national campaign will kickoff to help Americans boost their intake of these foods. Called "Fruits & Veggies - More Matters," the $3.5 million campaign is a partnership between the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

the public is not consuming the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, as several new studies show. "No segment of the population is meeting that (five to nine servings) intake," says William Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The most recent surveys find that "only 11 percent of the population is eating what they are supposed to be eating," notes PBH President Elizabeth Pivonka. "Close to 90 percent are not."

Do you think having this campaign will RightSize America? Not with 30-40 percent of the meals eaten outside the home, and the choices of fruits and vegetables so sparse.

Take that $3.5 million and help restaurants get those items on the menu. Otherwise, you might as well shove it down the garbage disposal.

March 22, 2007

Don't take out Chinese food

Chinese food can be very healthy for you.

Many times at restaurants, it isn't.

For example, monosodium glutamate, or more commonly known as MSG, is added to almost every fast food and take-out meal we eat, including Chinese. The majority of people pay no attention to it simply because they are either unaware of its presence in food or are unsure of what MSG really is. MSG may have more detrimental effects on the human body than simply being a food additive. So what exactly is MSG? Why is it added to foods? What are its effects on the human body? Is it harmful even though it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

The Science Creative Quarterly reports, MSG has various detrimental effects, which include triggering asthma attacks and exacerbating migraine headaches. Studies have shown that oral ingestion of MSG can provoke asthma attacks in patients diagnosed with asthma, and bring about symptoms of the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS). The CRS is a collection of symptoms that include sweating, headache, flushing, and in more serious cases, swelling of the throat and chest pain.

Not only is MSG found to induce asthma and migraine attacks, but is also linked to diseases such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

If the MSG doesn't get you, then the Associated Press reports the rest of the food will.

The typical Chinese restaurant menu is a sea of nutritional no-nos, a consumer group has found.

A plate of General Tso’s chicken, for example, is loaded with about 40 percent more sodium and more than half the calories an average adult needs for an entire day.

The battered, fried chicken dish with vegetables has 1,300 calories, 3,200 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of saturated fat.

That’s before the rice (200 calories a cup). And after the egg rolls (200 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium).

“I don’t want to put all the blame on Chinese food,” said Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which did a report released Tuesday.

“Across the board, American restaurants need to cut back on calories and salt, and in the meantime, people should think of each meal as not one, but two, and bring home half for tomorrow,” Liebman said.

The average adult needs around 2,000 calories a day and 2,300 milligrams of salt, which is about one teaspoon of salt, according to government guidelines.

Sheila Weiss, director of nutrition policy at the National Restaurant Association, said that restaurants around the country were already making efforts to offer customers healthier choices. In particular, Chinese restaurants typically offer plenty of options for customers looking to steer clear of fried foods and heavy sauces, she noted.

"Restaurants have a responsibility to provide options and they do," said Weiss, but "customers also have a responsibility to understand their own dietary needs and know how to make special requests."

In some ways, CSPI's Liebman said, Italian and Mexican restaurants are worse for your health, because their food is higher in saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

While Chinese restaurant food is bad for your waistline and blood pressure — sodium contributes to hypertension — it does offer vegetable-rich dishes and the kind of fat that’s not bad for the heart.

However — and this is a big however — the veggies aren’t off the hook. A plate of stir-fried greens has 900 calories and 2,200 milligrams of sodium. And eggplant in garlic sauce has 1,000 calories and 2,000 milligrams of sodium.

“We were shocked. We assumed the vegetables were all low in calories,” Liebman said.

Also surprising were some appetizers: An order of six steamed pork dumplings has 500 calories, and there’s not much difference, about 10 calories per dumpling, if they’re pan-fried.

The solution many critics argue is for consumers to eat at home, or to "understand your own dietary needs." That's code for "don't blame me, I can feed you all of the unhealthy food in the world and I'm off the hook." That's not responsible either.

Our responsibility is to stop restaurants from serving any of us unhealthy portions of calories, fats, and salt.

Let your restaurant and Congress person know.

March 20, 2007

Disneyland: Happiest, not healthiest place on earth.

This year is my 31th anniversary...for going to Disneyland. Yes, if you do the math, I was there on July 4, 19776, the 200th birthday of the good ole US of A.

Of course I have been to Disneyworld, multiple times, and once to Disneyworld Paris.

The first TV show watched in color? Why, that's Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.

So as I write this blog, I started thinking about the "happiest place on earth". And does the food at Disneyland make it the healthiest place on earth?

You do have many food choices at the parks. Two years ago my family and I had our Thanksgiving Day "feast" there. We dined on African food in the Animal Kingdom lodge restaurant. I'm not sure of the nutritional value of the food since that information is not available. But, the portions, though, seemed appropriately the right size, especially considering Thanksgiving is not known for eating sensibly.

On the author went with UC Irvine's weight management program director Linda M. Gigliotti, a registered dietitian, to answer some questions about the amusement park food.

Not only is March, National Nutrition Month, but last October Walt Disney Parks & Resorts launched its Well-Balanced Foods Initiative, so our timing couldn't have been better to see how the program has been faring.

Gigliotti took samples of popular snacks sold throughout the park by outdoor vending carts to weigh and check the caloric count at her office. We also parked ourselves at various locations to observe what food selections people made at the carts, cafes and restaurants.

Our goal was to find out whether it's possible to be both healthy and happy at the kingdom created for kids.

On the plus side, Gigliotti says she was pleased that healthy alternatives are equally available on the menus at most restaurants, that food portions aren't "huge," and that many healthy snacks are sold in an accessible form, such as carrots with dips, that can be carried while walking.

"Sometimes the problem when you get into a controlled environment is that you're really stuck with what they have there," says Gigliotti. "I thought given the environment that it is, that they did have a good range of choices. There were vegetarian items; there were some low-fat items."

She especially liked the vending carts loaded with items like freshly cut fruit, trail mixes, and water, and felt they were as accessible as the carts selling popcorn or ice cream bars.

In Mickey's Toontown, a section popular with young children, Gigliotti was less than impressed with menus that were heavy on high-fat, high-calorie, high-sodium items like pizza and mini hot dogs.

"That was probably the area where there was the most limited variety," says Gigliotti, who felt this was disappointing given Toontown's emphasis on children's activities. Other menus, like the Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland, she found were also high on fried foods and high-calorie desserts.

Another news organization had done a similar experiment he said, tipping me off to a nutritional analysis commissioned by Bloomberg News last fall that found that Disney's Magic Kingdom in Florida serves food with more fat, salt and calories than even the McDonald's Corp. They discovered one reason some food is fattier than McDonald's is because Disney's serving sizes are bigger.

Bloomberg also found, for example, that a smoked turkey leg sold in Frontierland has almost a day's worth of fat and 1,092.5 calories.

Disney maintained that the Bloomberg study was unbalanced for focusing on a fraction of the food it offers. However, if it truly aims to promote healthier kids' diets, as its initiative claims, then shouldn't all its offerings be open to analysis?

Gigliotti says that Disney is on target with its ongoing initiative, which aims to offer at least one low-fat, no trans-fat and one vegetarian entee option at all table service locations and at least one fast food service location per park section by the end of 2007. Balancing fun with good health is always a challenge, but less so when you have the options from which to choose.

"I would hope that they will promote these healthier choices more and make them more visible to the consumer so that guests will be more likely to seek out (these choices)," says Gigliotti.

So the report is mixed, like most restaurants in America. Disneyland gets an "C" for starting to think about healthy options. But gets a "D-" for executing a complete healthy food vision. If there's ever a place in America that needs lots and lots of healthy food for kids, it's Disneyland.

Walt Disney always looked into the future. The current management needs to do the same, and lead the rest of corporate America.

March 18, 2007

Kids say "SuperSize Me"

Are your kids on their way to obesity?

When asked to name their favorite restaurant, most 6 to 17 year-olds, say McDonald’s by a wide margin.

Subway and Chuck E. Cheese finished in the top 3 restaurants, according to a recent nationwide study by Dallas-based research and consulting firm Decision Analyst. Earlier this year, Decision Analyst conducted a nationwide survey for Hypothesis called “KidZone.” Conducted quarterly, it measures attitudes, habits, and desires of adolescents and teens.

Boys and girls were asked to list their three favorite restaurants. McDonald’s was named top restaurant by 42% of respondents, Subway by 19%, and Chuck E. Cheese by 17%.

Among all age groups, McDonald’s was most popular among boys 6 to 8 years old, with 80% of those respondents choosing McDonald’s first.

The restaurant is least popular with girls aged 13 to 17, with only 19% of those respondents favoring McDonald’s.

Following these restaurants in popularity were Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s.

At the bottom of the list, which included 35 restaurants, were Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Jack In The Box, and On The Border.

March 17, 2007

Tax the rich...and fat

Here's an idea from the The Sioux City Journal:

SIOUX CITY -- A Sunday Letter to the Editor headlined "A great idea" inspired an idea. Since we're all so gung-ho about singling out groups of individuals with bad habits and taxing them, let's tax obese people. People would be required to be weighed annually, with their weight registered with the state, and the information available from their driver's license or photo I.D. Ten cents per each pound that the person is overweight would be added as a tax onto their bill every time they ate at a restaurant or bought certain items at the grocery store.

Take a look around you next time you are out - the majority of folks are overweight. We are ignoring a great revenue opportunity here. -- Tracy Ewing

March 16, 2007

Is it healthy to read this website?

For the past six months, I have been advocating for RightSize portions at RightSize prices. And as part of that effort, I have been quick to criticize restaurants that serve enormous portions of calories, fat, cholesterol and salt. In other words, they serve the WrongSize.

Yesterday, a new website popped up on my computer, called I’m thinking, this is great, finally a place where we can find not just the right portion of foods, but healthy as well.

This story, however, doesn’t have a happy ending.

I typed in my zip code to see what “healthy” restaurants I could dine at for dinner. Whoa….the first restaurant to pop up was….Burger King. Then Arby’s logo materialized. And then, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but that health food restaurant, Hooters!

OK, what’s going on? Well, the website says it’s a collaboration with the National Restaurant Association. More like a chapter out of George Orwell’s book, 1984, where very-bad-for-you fast food is on a “healthy” website, and suddenly it’s good for you. War is Peace. Fat is Thin.

There’s a lot more to this story. They even got money from the government to help tell us that Burger King and Hooters is serving healthy food.

Due to the important public health implications of this program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided partial funding for the development of "By making healthier food choices, Americans can help reduce the risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which are all major health concerns," said Michelle Reyes, Ph.D., M.S., an epidemiologist with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. " provides Americans with a tool to identify healthier restaurant menu choices."

So how are those “healthy” choices selected? Entrées must not exceed 750 calories, 25 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat, while the cut-offs for appetizers, side dishes, and desserts are 250 calories, 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat.

So healthy means just the entrée can be 37% of your calories, not counting side dishes, drinks or desserts. So basically, “healthy” means eating half your calories and fats at one meal.

Doesn’t sound particularly healthy, but let’s see what I can eat at Hooters? Nothing. The site displays the Hooter logo, but there’s no food entrées or side dishes or even desserts that meet that liberal “healthy” definition.

I love Italian food, what’s healthy at Buca di Beppo? Ah, here’s an entrée. Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce at 260 calories. Well, that sounds healthy. Wait a minute, the small print says…serving size is ¼ of a small order. You got to be kidding, who, other than a seven-year-old, gets a small order. Let alone, eats just ¼ of it. Does that mean that Buca di Beppo’s small order of spaghetti is really 4 portions? Of course it does, everything at Buca is too big.

Is this a healthy dining finder? OF COURSE NOT.

But don’t take my word for it. On the website, at the bottom of one of the pages, in fine print, says:

The FDA has very strict criteria for any food or meal designated as "healthy." Most of the menu items featured on this site do not [their emphasis] meet the FDA criteria for "healthy," and neither the restaurants nor Healthy Dining claims that the featured items meet the FDA's criteria for "healthy."

So the limited food choices are not “healthy”, even though the website is called “Healthy Dining Finder”.

I’m all for choices. I’m all for informing diners of the calories and fat in their food. But this website is only telling you a very small part of the story. More like a fairy tale.

March 14, 2007

Good food for Lent

It's not often at a church fish fry you find choices, let alone good choices. But now in Ohio, a church is giving its parishioners, the RightSize of calories for Lent.

The AP reports that for years, Lent meant huge chunks of fried fish on Fridays at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Macedonia Ohio.

But the dinner plate was decidedly lighter at a recent Friday fish fry in the bustling parish hall: grilled salmon packed with omega-3, fiber-rich rice pilaf and green beans.

“I was happy when I found out they were offering this for the first time,” said George Ehrman, whose health requires him to eat a low-salt, low-fat diet. “It’s very tasty, too.”

Parishes have long used the Roman Catholic abstention from meat on Fridays during the Lenten season to hold fish fries that bring people together and raise money. Now with more people trying to eat healthier food, many churches are offering lighter fare, including grilled shrimp, baked fish, fresh tuna and crispy, raw vegetables.

There’s still plenty of battered cod, haddock and other types of seafood submerged in oil. And there still are servings of potato-stuffed pirogi, macaroni and cheese, french fries or other heavy side dishes on parish menus.

But reduced-fat Lenten menus are popping up across the nation.

Milwaukee’s St. Florian Church lists “heart-healthy baked fish” alongside its famous beer-battered fillets. St. Ferdinand’s in Florissant, Mo., near St. Louis offers baked cod and blackened Cajun-style fish. In Cincinnati, St. Paul’s offers sautéed vegetables and tomato soup.

At St. Irenaeus in Oakmont, Pa., near Pittsburgh, the parish has added baked fish, fresh tuna and a salad bar. Like many restaurants, it stopped using artery-closing trans fats for frying. Volunteers change the deep fryer’s oil after each batch and blot each piece of fried fish dry of extra grease.

Does the baked fish go over well?

“Oh gosh, yeah!” said Jeanne Kaus, who has volunteered for 25 years at the fry that draws 500 people a week. “It just melts in your mouth.”

Jananne Finck, who teaches nutrition and wellness at the University of Illinois Extension in Springfield Center, said that even with the healthier Lenten options many Catholics may feel married to tradition and opt for fried fish, particularly if they don’t eat many fried foods at home.

That’s OK, she said, as long as fried foods are a rare treat, diners skip fatty condiments such as tartar sauce, and portions are small.

March 13, 2007

Now is the time for menu labeling!

Charles Stuart Platkin, the founder of and columnist in more than 165 daily papers, recently published his paper on whether restaurants should post nutritional information on menus.

The paper is well researched and extremely enlightening. However, I disagree with one of the conclusions. Platkin writes the current bill, the Meal Education Labeling Act, could be considered too high an aspiration given the current political climate.

I disagree. The next wave in health will be smaller portions, clear informed choices, local produce, and an emphasis on preventing diseases. This blog is dedicated to making sure the grassroots are fully informed on this important topic. Without forcing Americans to look at the obesity crisis, look at how and why the restaurants serve such large portions, and without all of us lobbying against the WrongSize, the political (and the business) climate won't change.

But give people the information and they will make the correct choice politically and nutritionally.

March 11, 2007

You can lose weight eating fast food

“My goal is to change the face of the fast-food industry, not shut it down. Hopefully, it will change what people are choosing to eat, which would therefore change the menu offerings.”

That's what this blog is all about. I'd just expand the fast-food industry phrase to the entire restaurant industry.

Without a doubt, Americans eat more than is recommended or needed. In fact Painter proves that portion size alone may be the cause of America’s obesity epidemic.

The “Super Size Me” mentality, illustrated in the well-known documentary of the same name, has been shown to be hazardous to our health. But is it really only the quantity of food that is the source of the problem?

To address this question, Painter made a documentary entitled Portion Size Me in which he had two of his students, one weighing 254 pounds and the other weighing 108 pounds, eat nothing but fast food for one month, paralleling the Super Size Me documentary. The difference is that the students ate small portions, appropriate for their body types, as opposed to the “super size” that was required in the original documentary.

At the end of the month, both students had lost weight and had even lowered their cholesterol. The vast contrast between this outcome and that of the documentary that emphasized larger portions illustrates that food quality is less of a factor in weight-loss than quantity.

That’s a stark contrast from the experience of the subject in “Super Size Me,” as he gained more than 20 pounds and wrecked his health after eating a steady diet of fast food for a month.

“It wasn’t the food that he ate that caused the problems, it was the portions,” Painter said. “We really showed that you can eat fast food and not gain weight.”

Make no mistake about it, Painter is not recommending a steady diet of fast food. But he’s also not buying the argument that fast food is inherently evil.

Food isn't evil. Companies are. Companies that won't allow calorie information on the menu. Companies who charge more for splitting meals. Companies who serve giant portions in the name of "value". If companies really believe in eater's choice, then why isn't an appropriately sized muffin just 75 cents when a supersized muffin is $1.50.

Give people good appropriately sized food at appropriate prices and people will make the Right choice all the time.

March 10, 2007

Stop! You're killing me.

It's time to act. All across America.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is leading the charge to RightSizeAmerica. In a well-written white paper the Center clearly lays out why we need nutritional information on menus across America.

The Center writes:

Given 1) the rising rates of obesity, 2) the increasing role of restaurant foods in Americans’ diets, 3) the negative impact of eating out on the nutritional quality of our diets, 4) the large portion sizes and high calorie, saturated and trans fat, and sodium contents of restaurant foods, and 5) the lack of nutrition information available in most restaurants, Congress and/or state or local legislatures should require food-service chains with ten or more units to list the calorie, saturated and trans fat (combined), and sodium contents of standard menu items on their menus.

I'll just pull out one statistical table from their 34-page report.

Leading Contributors to Premature Death (deaths per year)

Diet and Physical Inactivity 310,000 - 580,000
Tobacco 260,000 - 470,000
Alcohol 70,000 - 110,000
Microbial Agents 90,000
Toxic Agents 60,000 - 110,000
Firearms 35,000
Sexual Behavior 30,000
Motor Vehicles 25,000

We have hundreds of laws and regulations for all these "contributors", but few for diet, and I can't think of any for physical (in)activity. We can continue to pretend that the problem is "lack of willpower", or wait a few more years until we hear the voices of three million dead.

March 9, 2007

Whole wheat junk food?

NBC's TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer has some blunt answers for those of you who think Krispy Kreme has come up with health food. Remember appropriate portions at all times.

He writes on
Can junk food really be health food?
No, junk food will never be a substitute for wholesome fruits and vegetables. And as consumers, we cannot be fooled into thinking an unhealthy food product — with a small shot of added nutrition — becomes a health food that we can eat in unlimited amounts.

Krispy Kreme Whole Wheat Doughnut
Kudos to Krispy Kreme for becoming health conscience; however, the new whole wheat version is still a decadent doughnut. It’s almost exactly the same as the original glazed, except for the whole wheat flour. That substitution gives it 2 grams of fiber, BUT the whole wheat version still has 3.5 grams of trans fat (that’s a whopping amount!). Also, their whole wheat version provides 180 calories ... compared with 200 calories in the original glazed — that’s only a 20-calorie savings.

In my opinion, Krispy Kreme doughnuts (plain or whole wheat) are a decadent (and delicious!) occasional treat — don’t be fooled into eating them regularly just because the new version contains whole grain. In fact, eat the version you prefer, just do so sparingly.

Original Glazed KK Whole Wheat KK

200 calories 180 calories

12 grams total fat 11 grams total fat

4 grams trans fat 3.5 grams trans fat

22 grams carbs 19 grams carbs

March 8, 2007

McDonald's SuperSizes the Beef & Calories

Is this what Americans really want?

Fast-food chain McDonald's is testing a "Third Pounder" Angus burger which really weighs in at 720 to 860 calories. Add fries and you are talking about getting more than 60% of your daily recommended calories at one quick sitting.

ChicagoBusiness said the new Third Pounder is currently available only in about 600 restaurant locations in Southern California. At one-third of a pound, the burger is the biggest on the McDonald's menu at outlets where it is being tested. The Third Pounders are selling for between $3.39 and $3.99 at one McDonald's in the L.A. suburb of South Pasadena. By comparison, a double cheeseburger, McDonald's biggest seller, costs $1.

Only the double Quarter Pounder with cheese compares to the calorie count of the new burgers. The Angus Third Pounder ranges from 720 calories to 860 calories, while the double Quarter Pounder contains 740 calories. McDonald's signature sandwich, the Big Mac, is 540 calories, the report said.

The paper quoted McDonald's franchise owner Scott Frisbie as saying that he approached the company about two years ago with the idea that the McDonald's menu needed a premium burger to remain competitive.

[Competitive with whom: Sumo wrestlers?]

"The initial reaction has been overwhelmingly positive," said Frisbie, who helped conduct the initial tests of the burger during the past four months at two of his family's 17 franchises in the Anaheim area. "The sales really surprised us," he told the paper.

Meanwhile, its competitors have also added Angus burgers to their menus. Burger King added the $3.99 Angus Steak Burger to its menu in 2004. Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, which are both owned by CKE Restaurants Inc., offer as many as eight variations of an Angus burger priced as high as $6.Hardee's added the burgers, which are known as Thickburgers, in 2003. Carl's Jr. added the Angus burger to its menu in 2004, the report said.

March 7, 2007

TGI Friday's listens to this blog: rolls out Right Portion at a Right Price

Finally, someone is listening.

T.G.I. Friday's unveil the first national program in the casual dining business that offers a variety of menu items with smaller portions — and lower prices — all day, USA Today reports.

The menu rolling out this weekend, dubbed Right Portion, Right Price, has 10 entrees sold in portions about 30% smaller and priced about one-third less than regular entrees. The smaller entrees will be about $7 to $9 instead of $10 to $13.

The restaurant industry has shied away from such offerings because they're sure to cut check totals, says Richard Snead, CEO of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, parent of the 582-store Friday's chain. "It's a little scary," he says. "But the consumer is telling us: 'I don't want an entree as big as my head.' "

Also this week Krispy Kreme trotted out a whole-wheat doughnut which, while not drastically lower in calories, is better than the both-barrels caloric content of the company’s regular line.

During the same period, Subway announced a new line of Fresh Fit meals featuring low-fat subs with fruit instead of chips and water or 1 percent milk in lieu of soft drinks.

This is not a fad, it's a trend," says Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a restaurant consulting firm. "It's not going to go away."

Consumers are bound to see more. The nation's big food sellers are convinced nothing sells like promises of good health. Some 79% of restaurantgoers recently surveyed by Technomic said they worry about fat content, and 73% worry about calories.

The actions by Friday's and Subway are big deals; the steps by Hostess and Krispy Kreme are not, says Cynthia Lair, nutritionist and author of Feeding the Whole Family. "Anything you can do to get people to eat less food — and real food — is good."

The other better-for-you moves:

•Subway. The Fresh Fit meal, launching March 12, will be Subway's biggest rollout in 2007, says Tony Pace, marketing chief of Subway's franchisee ad group. The meal includes any of Subway's 6-inch, low-fat subs and will cost $4.49 to $5.89. It boosted same-store sales almost 8% in California test marketing (as Cal Fit) last year, Subway says.

•Krispy Kreme. This week, the chain rolled out a whole wheat, caramel-glazed doughnut that weighs in at 180 calories, 20 fewer than the regular glazed.

•Hostess. Last week, the snack maker introduced Hostess 100 Calorie Packs of three, two-bite cupcakes with its trademark creamy filling. Marketing chief Kevin Kaul calls it "portion-controlled convenience."

Diets don't work well

All of the media is reporting this week that in a four-way showdown, the Atkins diet works best. But the real news is: Diets don't seem to work at all.

We all knew that. Eating appropriate portions -- the RightSize of calories, fats, proteins and cabrohydrates -- is the only way.

From All Things Considered, March 6:
The research finds that women assigned to the Atkins diet – the diet with the lowest carbohydrate intake – lost slightly more weight than women on other diets.

The study, published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association, compared four diets.

— The Atkins diet, which is high in protein and low in carbs.

— The Zone diet, which is low-carb but not as low as Atkins.

— The LEARN diet — which stands for "lifestyle, exercise, attitudes, relationships and nutrition." It's low in fat, high in carbohydrates, and most commonly recommended by health professionals.

— The Ornish diet, which is high in carbohydrates, but very low in fat.

In the study, 311 women who were 15 to 100 pounds overweight were assigned to one of the four diets. After one year, Gardner assessed the women's health and weight.

Gardner found that the Atkins group – the low-carb group — lost twice as much weight as women following the other diets. But twice as much wasn't very much.

On Atkins, the average weight loss after a year was 10 pounds. On LEARN, Zone and the Ornish diets, women lost three to six pounds. With all diets, the participants' health improved: All of the women who lost weight also lowered their cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar.

Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said in USA Today, "To me, the overall message is that everything works about the same, and that's not very well. This study screams out for the need to emphasize prevention of weight gain."

March 5, 2007

Restaurants do the wrong thing

If restaurants have a chance to do the right thing...they don't. reports: In an effort to get around rules requiring chain restaurants to post nutritional information on menus in New York City, several chains have removed nutrition facts from their restaurants and websites. The rule only applies to restaurants with standardized menu options that were making their nutritional information available by March 1, so chains like Wendy’s, White Castle and Quiznos removed nutritional information from stores or deactivated the nutrition information pages on their websites to avoid having to meet the city’s requirements.

The changes brought a tart response from Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.

"If some restaurants stop displaying calorie information to avoid making it useful to customers, we should wonder what they're so ashamed of," he said in a statement.

The companies say the move is temporary while they figure out a long-term strategy that will work for customers.

What would work for customers is to provide more information, not less. Wendy's, White Castle and Quiznos need to do the right thing by not listening to lawyers, but to their customers.