In the last few years it’s become the standard for restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. This is all well and good, right? After all, most of us know that eating too many calories leads to weight gain and disease.
I have a couple of issues with this.
- Not all calories are created equal (link to what is food). A simple example is that empty calories (ie, soda) don’t interact with your body the same way as calories from protein or carbs.
- Calories are only one component (and one of the least important) of food. Foods are composed of nutrients, carbs, proteins, fats, starches, etc. Again, all of these interact with your body in different ways.
Both of these add up to my main issue, which is that posted calorie counts are dangerous. Because to most consumers, a restaurant divulging calorie counts is viewed as more transparent, healthier, and “cleaner”. From the perspective of the restaurant, posting calorie counts is an easy way to join the “healthy/clean eating” hype train and appear more in tune with what consumers want. And offering consumers what they want is just good business.
Making a decision about what you eat based solely on how many calories it has is like buying a car only because it has a certain amount of miles.
When you shop for a car you consider brand, vehicle type, year, options, reliability, cost to own, and yes, even color. And you probably run a Carfax to make sure the title is good and there’s no major damage or accidents, right? Because you’re spending a lot of money, and you plan to keep your new purchase in good condition for as long as possible.
In his biography, “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,” Buffet asks students to imagine if a genie came to him at 16 and offered him the car of his dreams, but the catch was that it would also be the last car Buffett could ever own. The car would have to last a lifetime, and to make sure that happened, he said, “I would read the manual about five times. I would always keep it garaged. If there was the least little dent or scratch, I’d have it fixed right away because I wouldn’t want it rusting. I would baby that car, because it would have to last a lifetime.”
Then Buffett related the fable back to the students: “That’s exactly the position you are in concerning your mind and body. You only get one mind and one body. And it’s got to last a lifetime. Now, it’s very easy to let them ride for many years. But if you don’t take care of that mind and that body, they’ll be a wreck 40 years later, just like the car would be.
“It’s what you do right now, today, that determines how your mind and body will operate 10, 20, and 30 years from now,” he said.
To sum up, calorie counts are good PR, but they offer little value to you as a consumer (and as a person trying to monitor what they put into their body!). Ideally, you want to know ALL of the nutritional information about what you’re eating, as well as all of the ingredients and where they come from.