Sunday, April 06, 2008

Could it be our choices?

Would more government regulation of the fast food industry really protect Americans from obesity, which is now a bigger health problem than smoking? Would posting calorie count and fat content at casual dining places influence most consumers?

Grocery store food is labeled. There's a reason for these "loss leaders" being on the front page of this grocery store flyer--a store with low prices and no loyalty card to jack up the cost to the consumer. I'll take a wild guess--no one buying 8 liters of pop and assorted varieties of chips is reading labels for calories content, sodium and calories. Even if sold at a loss, if these items bring people into the store, and they then pick up other items, even broccoli and carrots, the manager has chosen well. The cashiers, stockers, office staff, truckers, packagers, ad designers, marketers, the utility companies, the rental agent, the stockholders and eventually the farmers will all be paid a living wage. (I'm so old I remember when milk was a loss leader--but that was before global warming and corn in the gas tank!) Now it's pop*, chips, beer, and bottled water. There's a tiny column on the inside of the flyer which reveals what a good deal we can still get at the grocery store: seedless cukes from Canada, $1; 1 lb bag of mini-carrots, $1; 3 lb. bag of onions, $1; 3 lb. bag of potatoes, $1; 8 oz. pkg of whole mushrooms $1; cantaloupe $1; pears, $1/lb.; Gala apples, $1/lb.

I use as much processed food (canned and frozen) now as I did when I worked. Using frozen instead of canned often cuts down on sugar and sodium**, and sometimes there is better protection of nutrients than using "fresh" produce that's been out of the field or off the tree for a long, long time. (I think my "fresh" turnip greens have been in the frig over 2 weeks and the cabbage more than 3, and the peppers are looking sad.) In my opinion, we'd all do better and consume fewer calories if we'd cut back on variety and choices--stick with the basics and contribute your own preparation. However, that action would put people out of work, so there's a trade-off.

*The cost of corn syrup should soon be forcing soda drink prices through the roof, too.

**In the U.S. diet, 77% of sodium comes from processed and restaurant foods, 12% occurs naturally in foods, 6% is added at the table, and 5% is added during cooking. (figures may be dated: J Am Coll Nutr. 1991; 10(4):;383-393 via JAMA)--but they weren't checking my kitchen--I add way more salt than the average cook.

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