The More We Know About Calories, The Better Choices We Make
February 20, 2013

The More We Know About Calories, The Better Choices We Make

As we all know, being healthy is not easy. On top of making sure that we exercise enough, we have to consider what we eat and how we eat. And as we all know, sometimes the foods that seem the most healthy can still have a negative impact if eaten in excess. The key is balancing our plates and eating the correct amounts of the different food groups as well as watching our caloric intake.

We need calories for energy. Even if we just sit and think, we are expending calories. We gain these calories through our meals. The best way to eat is to eat smaller main meals with healthy snacks in between. Again, the key is to watch how many calories we take in.

Many people in America (and the world over) struggle with this side of their health. They may eat healthy, but they still eat too many calories throughout the day, most especially when people eat out at restaurants. Well, Reuters Health reported that a new study has found that showing diners how many calories are in restaurant items may influence how much they eat. Moreover, the study found that this was particularly true for the least health-conscious people.

The study randomized patrons at a restaurant on the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma. They were put into one of three groups, each group using a different menu. One group of diners received a standard menu sans the calorie count next to items. A second group of diners used menus with specific calorie information next to each item so that they could perfectly calculate their meal’s caloric amount.

Finally, the third group had menus with traffic light symbols that represented general calorie counts. With this more visual menu, the green light represented foods that had less than 400 calories. Yellow lights were printed next to foods with 401-800 calories, and the red lights represented foods with over 800 calories.

The results were pretty encouraging. Those diners who had menus without calorie counts had meals with about 817 calories on average while those with specific calorie count menus had 765 calories, and the traffic light menu diners ordered meals with 696 calories. The most encouragement came from the customer surveys, because based on those, the least health-conscious people cut the most calories in response to the experimental menus.

Many researchers on this issue find this encouraging because this group is the group of people that menu-labeling laws want to influence. As Reuters Health explained, “‘It’s encouraging because the information may help the people who will need it the most,’ said Lorien Urban, who has researched menu labeling at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Boston’s Tufts University.”

Though listing calorie counts is not the only way to help people watch how many calories they eat, it is a good start to helping people be healthier all around. It seems rather simple. Give people the information, and they will likely make better choices. I would venture to guess that most of us do not know how many calories are in our meals at any given restaurant, so listing those will help customers choose healthier meals. In fact, it may even help restaurants create healthier menus.

Naturally, just watching how many calories we take in is not enough to overall good health. It is a good start, though. I can’t wait to see more menus with calorie indicators of whatever type.

Image Credit: Gts / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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