Fewer Calories. Really?

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It’s not often we hear that holiday foods have actually decreased in calories over the years. But, according to Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab analysis of traditional Thanksgiving recipes, some of our favorites are a bit leaner today than in the 1950s.

Ginger Carrots from AICR New American Plate CookbookGreen beans with almonds, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie recipes each weighed in at an average of 102 calories less. Dinner rolls increased by 26 calories; corn and candied carrots remained the same. The analysis compared recipes from Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks, the 1956 vs. the 2006 editions.

According to the researchers, a Thanksgiving dinner with those eight sides plus a drumstick is 2,057 calories today compared to 2,539 in 1956.

The catch is that the serving sizes have to be the same. With our larger plates and portion up-sizing, we may not see those calorie savings according to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

AICR’s Bottom Line: Enjoy your favorite turkey day foods, but remember that moderate portions mean more days of delicious leftovers!

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    Would You Like Extra Calories With That?

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    Yesterday, Mya posted about a study that showed eating fast food was associated with an increase in these measures associated with metabolic syndrome (high BMI, large waist and high blood pressure).  As evidence mounts that eating fast food can contribute to overweight and obesity, many cities and states are considering legislation to require these establishments to include nutrition information on their menus.Nathans

    Last year, New York City began requiring some chain restaurants to post calories on menus. Health officials hoped it would curb the number of obese New Yorkers. But do these measures affect how people choose their foods?

    One year later, two studies show differing results from the calorie count experiment.

    The first study examined 1,156 fast-food purchases in low-income, minority neighborhoods. The authors found that although nearly 28% of people who saw calorie labels said it influenced their choices, they did not find any change in calories purchased.

    The second study, conducted by New York City health officials and presented at the 2009 Obesity Society conference, reported that customers who took the calorie information into account (about 15% of those surveyed) bought about 106 fewer calories than customers who didn’t use the information.

    While it’s probably too early to say whether or not these initiatives will make a difference in people’s food choices in the long run, experience has shown that knowledge alone doesn’t typically translate into behavior change.

    What do you think – will putting calorie counts on the menu help people make healthier choices and reduce their caloric intake? Are there policies that could nudge people toward healthy behavior?

    AICR offers tips, self-assessment tools, and ideas for small step dietary changes to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
    Read more about calories and fast food from AICR Nutrition Consultant, Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN.

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