The Novice Foodie

Just eating real foods, lifting heavy things and learning about it along the way


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REBLOG: Calorie Counts Vending Program

This here post was inspired by my dear alma mater

According to a press release from the American Beverage Association, pretty soon vending machines will have calorie counts slapped onto selection buttons in an effort to encourage people to make healthier choices.

I’ve written before about how I think that nutrition info being more readily accessible on menus and on packaging is a good thing. And I think that this, too is another step in the right direction. With a calorie count next to “B2,” consumers are forced to consider this information before making their selections. Whether this affects the final decision or not, at least more people are thinking about it.  Which brings me to three points.

1. This initiative, I believe, is a much more effective effort than simply banning certain products in schools or even cities (i.e. The Big Gulp). People want to have choices and they should be able to

Sprout vending machine

make their own decisions.

2. The release also mentions that beverage companies will make more lower-calorie selections available. I support that initiative as well (which is why I got so excited when I first saw one of those Sprout vending machines.)

3. Although a little impractical logistically and probably irrelevant for someone who is making a selection from a soda machine, I still feel the need to address the fact that calories are not the only nutritional fact to be concerned with. (Especially when certain companies are putting out information like this, suggesting that zero calories do no damage.) There are many who will argue that a full-sugared beverage that is made with real sugar and natural ingredients is better for you than a zero-calorie diet drink that is filled with artificial chemicals. (I actually have a blog post that has been saved as a draft for over a year that tries to decide which is the better option. I still don’t know. Which is why it remains unpublished.) So while providing calorie information is a fabulous start, (kudos, ABA,) there are still more nutritional factors like fat, sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients, to name a few, that consumers should consider. But they’re all probably not going to fit on a vending machine label.


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Nutrition Labels, continued (and a new take on “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”)

Branching off of my previous post, I recently discovered a news clip on Google + Sparks that discussed the nutrition labels companies are beginning to slap on their grocery products. While some products are using this already, (i.e. Kellogg and General Mills cereals,) it seems that there are a lot of ideas floating around but nothing set in stone yet.

Most people realize that package labels can be misleading. Will this nutrition info be misleading, too? As pointed out in the video, there are some definite advantages and important information pulled out front, but there is also equally important info left behind (like Trans Fat).

And the way that this information is presented is inconsistent and dependent on brand, as you can see in the examples shown in the video.

Maybe the next step for the FDA is to come up with a criteria that must be present on packaging, but with enough freedom so as to not limit the branding and design.

Another interesting bit mentioned in the clip was the Traffic Light labeling idea. It seems that the UK never went through with the idea, but perhaps it could be the easiest way to convey information to consumers. While you can always list numbers, adding a color code is a quick and simple way to add meaning to that number. Is X grams of sodium high or low? These are the standards that the FDA and other trusted organizations would have to standardize for labeling purposes.

For example:

Traffic light colour coding, as shown in the image above, tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

  • red means high
  • amber means medium
  • green means low

In short, the more green lights, the healthier the choice.

“If you buy a food that has all or mostly green lights, you know straight away that it’s a healthier choice. An amber light means neither high nor low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber lights most of the time. But a red light means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars and these are the foods we should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.”

From http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/food-labelling.aspx#Tr 

And, this just in, New York City has gone so far as to make it a law that fast food restaurants post their calorie information on menus. According to the Reuters article, the British Medical Journal report shows the results of the 2008 law to be promising. As of now, only one in six customers change their dietary habits due to the information, but there are plans to take the law to a national level.

In other news, McDonald’s is taking their own healthy initiatives a step further by creating a nutrition-focused mobile phone app and also requiring apples to be included in Happy Meals. These seem like positive changes for which I have no dispute, but I can see customers feeling less than appreciative of the unwarranted influence on their eating habits.

According to the article, “Although subject to variation depending on what’s ordered, the new meals will represent, on average, a 20% decrease in calories, the chain said.”

As for the app, it will make nutritional information more readily accessible for customers. For this, I see only benefits. It’s accessible if you want it to be. It’s not staring you in the face on the menu, and it’s not directly influencing what comes with your meal. I know I will be downloading.

See more of my favorite apps here.


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Up Front and Center

It’s making an appearance, and it’s sweeping menus everywhere!

Next time you eat out, beware–there might be some extra numbers beside your menu options.

My first encounter was innocent enough. I opened my menu at Olive Garden and begin browsing. Name, description, price…calorie count? Select nutritional information was listed right there on the menu!

As a health-conscious person, I was delighted yet surprised to see the little (or not so little) numbers printed alongside each dish. I was conflicted. The health side of me thought, well this is convenient to have this listed right here, while the rest of me thought the menu was being a little rude. Calories have always been a little taboo, haven’t they? Especially at a place like the Olive Garden, where patrons are (or should be) prepped to indulge.

In disbelief, I glanced around. It didn’t seem to stop anybody from ordering the traditional dishes, like the seemingly harmless spaghetti and meatballs (a whopping 1,110 calories). I realized that I instantly had the power to make judgements about everyone in the restaurant.

But, did I really want this information shoved in my face right away? I will admit that I have read the nutrition facts online before, and I knew what selections were some of the lesser evils (Cheese ravioli is 660 calories) and which ones were the worst (Tour of Italy at 1450…no surprise there.) But it still caught me a little off-guard to have the numbers in my face like that. And totally prevented me from cheating.

I was at dinner with family, but looking at the couple across the room, I thought how awkward this may or may not be for the self-conscious dinner date. I know I would be more likely to choose something with fewer calories if I was with my significant other (salads anyone?)

A few weeks later, I stopped in Panera to grab breakfast on the go. There on their menu was a listing of nutrition facts as well. This time, I took it as more of a convenience factor. It made my decision easier–The Power Breakfast Sandwich it was. No picking my brain to make a guess at the best option.

In retrospect, shouldn’t nutrition facts always be this easy to find? Subway did it. Arguably, packaged products have been doing it forever, even if we are trained to ignore them. And, I had spent the time looking online to find nutrition facts at both establishments prior to seeing the info. printed on their menus anyway, so having it there just does the work for me. It makes it easier to make healthy choices–no more looking it up and trying to remember it.

Overall, I think it’s a great initiative. Packaging may mislead, but nutrition facts are facts, after all. Maybe raising awareness about them is just what this nation needs.