One of the funniest episodes of the long running Seinfeld TV comedy is the one when Jerry, Elaine and George get hooked on some delicious frozen yogurt. It’s advertised as low fat and when the show opens, the three pals are gobbling up cups of the yogurt. George enthusiastically waves his cup around and asks, “How could this not have any fat? It’s too good!” Later on in the episode they discover it IS too good. In a plot twist too complicated to describe here, they are pounds heavier by the time a local lab uncovers the full fat truth.
I remember watching that episode and realizing how easily we could all get fooled. No more — whether Starbucks or Seasons 52, new FDA regulations require businesses selling food with 20 or more locations to make calorie counts public. Specifically that includes certain kinds of vending machines, sandwiches sold at grocery stores, movie theater popcorn and food purchased in drive-throughs. During the two weeks since the regulations became mandatory, I’m thrilled to see calorie information posted everywhere.
I can testify that the experts, who’ve long insisted the public postings would help consumers make better choices, were right. Starbucks voluntarily started posting calories a couple of years ago. Very quickly I noticed that all pumpkin bakery goods were not created equal -- with the pumpkin scone at 500 calories each compared to the 380-calorie pumpkin cream cheese muffin. Yes, nutritionists, I realize that neither item is a piece of fruit, but I know that in the end, information leads to healthier choices. And besides, I drink my coffee black.
Before now, it was so easy to be fooled. Before it closed, I was a regular customer at Harvard Square’s Liquiteria, a health conscious food chain offering cold pressed juices and healthy smoothies. There I tried the smoothies made with the black purple berries from South America called acai and lots of fresh fruit. What could be healthier, right? I wanted confirmation of the low-calorie count. There was no posted information, so I asked the manager who said she couldn’t provide those details. Undeterred, I instead followed up with calls to the company headquarters. Turned out my 16 ounce acai/fruit/protein powder drink was close to 700 calories! My Liquiteria contact urged me to consider it a meal replacement. Except I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t pursued the facts. Even considering it a meal replacement, my smoothie beat the calorie counts of the pumpkin bakery products at Starbucks. I’m sure there would have been a big difference in fat and sugar content, but that is not the point. I should have had access to all of that information so I could decide for myself. And now I will.
For whatever reason, I’m grateful that the Trump administration did not block this Obama regulation. I don’t need a study to convince me that the calorie postings will have a huge positive impact on the obesity epidemic, which is uniquely American. Experts expect to see slow changes overall, but a faster shift among consumers who eat out a lot — like most Americans these days. Renowned author Maya Angelou said it best, “When you know better, you do better.”