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Calories count

(article, Culinate staff)

Recently, a new study showed that calorie postings at chain restaurants — postings that are now required by law in New York City — don't actually change eating habits (at least not in the short term) among certain populations.

Researchers paid 1,156 people in poor New York neighborhoods $2 for their McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy's receipts, two weeks before and four weeks after the law went into effect, and then compared the caloric value of the food before and after. In fact, the study showed that people ordered slightly more calories after the law than in the pre-calorie-posting days. 

In the days following its release, most analysis of the study was cautious. Hardly anyone was willing to say that calorie postings don't work at all.

Others were more direct: Nutrition expert Marion Nestle, whose New York University colleagues were involved in the study, said that calories are not very well understood by many people and that labeling is part of the education process. Besides, she says, when chains have to post the calorie content of foods they will reduce the number of calories in their menu. 

Corby Kummer, of The Atlantic_ (whose spouse, incidentally, is the Massachusetts commissioner of health), agrees and gives an example:

bq.Calorie labeling has already had remarkable impact on the foods that fast-food companies make and serve. Yuppie avatar Starbucks immediately changed its default milk from whole to 2 percent, so it wouldn't have to admit that a Frappuccino could amount to practically as many calories as you should eat in a whole day; it recently removed high-fructose corn syrup from its baked goods, though unfortunately didn't make them lower-calorie — that's said to be in the works — or better-tasting, which I hope is in the works too. 

Need help with your calorie counts — at home or on the road? Here's one calculator that can even compare a Big Mac to a tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread. Not bad.