By Carolyn O’Neil
You know the old adage: If you have to look at the price tag, you can’t afford it.
The same could be said about indulgent menu items with exorbitant calorie costs — that only those who need to lose weight should care about counting calories. But I don’t agree.
In this era of fiscal and physical responsibility, I believe everyone has the right to know the consequences (in cash or calories) before they make a consumer choice.
Given the concern about obesity in the United States and the realization that prevention is the most powerful approach, it makes sense for nutrition education to get more attention.
There’s a movement nationwide to require restaurants to list nutrition facts on the foods they serve; laws already have passed in some states and municipalities (notably California and New York City). And a provision in the health care reform bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives requires chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.
In the meantime, there’s no shortage of sources for this kind of information. So don’t blame the restaurants if you down a triple cheeseburger with bacon because you had no idea it contained more than 900 calories.
Want to know how many calories and grams of fat that deep-fried onion appetizer or extra large banana-strawberry smoothie will set you back?
Most restaurant chains already include nutrition information on their Web sites.
On the go, you can access those sites from your Internet-connectable cellphone.
If you’re dining in a smaller, locally owned eatery or grabbing snacks at a convenience store, there’s a solution for that. Just input what’s on your plate in the search engine of your choice and you’ll find a slew of nutrition information sources. Some even provide insightful commentary to guide you to more healthful options. Being a diet detective has never been easier.
One of my favorite food Web sites for nutrition guidance is provided by Cooking Light magazine (www.cookinglight.com).
Beyond just calorie counts, Cooking Light’s editors give intelligent tips on how to use nutrition facts to help make diet decisions in everyday scenarios. For instance, how to choose between two foods in the same category.
As Cooking Light associate editor and registered dietitian Kathy Kitchens Downie details, it’s not always just the calories that count when you’re considering the most nutritious choice.
Take two tortillas. “A standard 6-inch corn tortilla contains about half the fat and calories and one-fourth the sodium of a similar-sized flour tortilla,” Downie said.
● Flour tortilla
1 gram fiber
2.5 grams fat
204 milligrams sodium
● Corn tortilla
1 gram fiber
1 gram fat
42 milligrams sodium
Healthy, yes, but don’t think that bowl of edamame at the sushi place is calorie-free. “Soybeans contain almost twice the calories as green peas, due to their abundant heart-healthy fats,” Downie said. “But they also pack three times the protein and more potassium. Both have about the same amount of fiber per serving.”
● Edamame (green soybeans) (1/2 cup)
5 grams fat (1 gram saturated)
9 grams protein
3.6 grams fiber
403 milligrams potassium
● English peas (1/2 cup)
0.3 grams fat (0.1 gram saturated)
3.9 grams protein
3.7 grams fiber
177 milligrams potassium
Seafood lovers can’t go wrong with either of these two choices, which are high in protein with relatively few calories and little fat.
However, Downie said, “a serving of shrimp yields about eight times as much iron [nearly one-fourth of a woman’s daily needs].”
● Shrimp (6 ounces)
34.6 grams protein
2.9 grams fat
2 micrograms vitamin B-12
252 milligrams sodium
4.1 milligrams iron
● Scallops (6 ounces)
28.5 grams protein
1.3 grams fat
2.6 micrograms vitamin B-12
274 milligrams sodium
0.5 milligrams iron
With similar calorie counts, sorbet and frozen yogurt are smart choices, especially when chosen in place of ice cream.
“Since it contains no dairy, sorbet is ideal for the lactose intolerant, but it lacks calcium and protein,” Downie pointed out. “A half-cup portion of nonfat frozen yogurt, made from dairy, provides four grams of protein and 15 percent of your daily calcium requirement.”
● Strawberry sorbet
● Strawberry nonfat frozen yogurt (1/2 cup)
150 milligrams calcium
4 grams protein
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn oneil.com.