I consider myself a conscious eater. I’ve made it a point to start buying low sodium turkey from the deli (it really tastes the same, anyway) and buy organic fruit when possible. Sure, there are days when I might allow myself to nosh unabashedly on a brownie from my favorite bakery. And yes, that day may have been today. But usually, I’m pretty strict about my eating habits. After all, it’s my body, and my health, right?
I thought about this the last time I walked into a chain restaurant and saw the effect of recent health care legislation on the menu board. No longer was I blissfully ignorant about my Mocha Latte. Now, right there in black and white, I could see that not only would it cost me three dollars, but it would cost me nearly 400 calories, too. It was an interesting experience–that’s for sure. Taken from the perspective of a person who makes choices based on perceived quality and healthfulness of food products, I hesitated when placing my order. Walking to the counter, I knew that this particular beverage would be a treat. Once I saw the calories in the beverage, I wasn’t so sure anymore. But, I also hated the idea of denying myself my day’s indulgence at the last minute.
Opponents of legislative action like this argue that the government is getting too involved in matters that pertain more to consumer choice than government authority. Others believe this is a necessary step in addressing the obesity epidemic facing Americans today by making the facts more accessible. They believe the consumer has the right to know. (Source)
Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also released an update to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the first since 2005. (Source) This revised version offers mainly minor adjustments to the previous edition, but with updates that include guidelines on good foods to eat rather than strictly what foods to avoid, as well as new daily limits for fats, sodium, fruits and vegetables, to name a few.
One of the most important changes was the recommendation on sodium intake. The new guidelines suggest that all African Americans, anyone with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease (including children) or anyone over the age of 50 consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Everyone outside these parameters is advised to consume a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium a day. The problem is that these numbers fail to take into account the fact that, according to studies from the American Heart Association, most Americans either have high blood pressure already, or are at risk of developing it in their lifetimes. Some believe that the 1,500 mg or less recommendation should be targetted at all Americans. Others say that the people who are seriously at risk still have not been able to reduce their sodium intake to the 2,300 mg /day level. The average person currently consumes closer to 3,400 mg of sodium daily, and 1,500 mg/day may not be realistic.
Some fear a rebellion against the change in taste from large-scale salt reduction in foods, if it comes to that. I think that if people are aware of the risks of long-term unhealthy eating habits, then their minds might change. It seems to me that people do want to make better choices. We all think we are invincable until the reality hits home. People need to be well-informed, and if restaurants need to make their nutritional information known, why not embrace the change? Find ways to change the menu to appeal to people looking for options. Keep the treats available, but offer us ways to stay in control of our health.
It will be interesting, as a consumer, to see what happens this year with food labeling and menu labeling requirements in markets and restaurants. If you run a chain restaurant, what are your thoughts? Have you had to change your menu or your marketing strategy since these changes have taken effect? What challenges do you foresee?