In November 2014, the FDA announced that all restaurant and food chains with over 20 locations as well as all vending machine products would be required to list caloric information for their foods within a year.
With these new changes, reactions were mixed. Many dieters rejoiced that they would now know exactly how many calories they were consuming at their favorite restaurants and celebrated that this law would help them make better choices. Many restaurant chains groaned at the new law, claiming it was costly and difficult to implement. Restaurants groups fought the law so much that the deadline for implementation was extended to December 2016.
However, many nutritionists questioned this new law. While it was a good attempt at improving health and awareness, many were concerned it would become a distraction.
Not all calories are the same
While it is true that reducing calorie and fat intake can contribute to general weight loss, it is not that simple. Eating 100 calories of broccoli is certainly not the same as eating 100 calories of Twizzlers.
In the 2014 documentary, Fed Up, Katie Couric narrates the discussion amongst professors, authors, nutritionists, and politicians as they discuss food labeling in the United States. They note that as more Americans became overweight and obese, they wanted lower calorie and lower fat foods. So processed food companies reacted. Now you have the option between Double Stuff Oreos and Reduced-Fat Oreos or Regular Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. Any nutritionist would agree that eating a high-fat avocado is a lot better for overall health than a Reduced-Fat Oreo, even though the calories and fat in the Oreo is probably lower.
Many other factors contribute to overall health than the basic calorie. Factors such as saturated fats versus unsaturated fats, protein, sugar content, soluble fiber, sodium, and LDL cholesterol. The nutritionists in the film note that the sugar in fruit is absorbed differently by the body than the sugar in a cookie.
“Skinny Fat” and a new emphasis on nutrition
Dr. Mark Hyman describes the idea of “skinny fat” people. They are people who eat highly processed foods and lack exercise but still maintain a normal and healthy-looking weight. However, internally they are metabolically obese. These people do not appear to be heavy but their organs are coated in visceral fat, leading to the same problems obese people have such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
However, nutrition has seen a rise in popularity, rather than just simple weight-loss. Despite the fact that laws are just now catching up with the calorie counting obsession, people are moving beyond that. In fact, some restaurants are jumping ahead and eliminating the artificial ingredients that many people have sworn off in their own kitchens. In April of this year, Chipotle became the first mainstream restaurants to swear of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their ingredients.
While this is certainly beneficial for the health of their meals and the customers eating them, it also helped their marketing as a whole. Within three days of the announcement, there were more than 26,000 tweets about the restaurant and with a generally positive sentiment. Many major news sources such as CNN, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal all covered the announcement with positive portrayal.
Other brands and food chains are also making similar announcements that have nothing to do with calories. Whole Foods is also swearing off GMOs, Pepsi is eliminating aspartame as a sweetener in its diet options, and even McDonald’s is changing the content of its chicken to eliminate hormones and antibiotics.
While we rejoice that our favorite foods will now be less artificial, these companies rejoice at the attention they receive. They are now viewed as more socially conscious and concerned about their consumers’ overall health. The laws may be well behind the health movement, but the marketing world is starting to get ahead.