I was in New York City a week ago and made a couple stops at Starbucks and other coffee chains. I was surprised, while standing in line, to see numerical calorie counts on the signs below the baked goods:
Banana Bread $1.99
It’s this week that the city’s new law requiring fast-food and chain restaurant/food groups to offer calorie counts on menus and signage takes effect. It’s not enough to post a board with nutrition information in the hallway to the bathrooms. The calorie counts must be listed prominently next to the menu item or sign identifying the food. Most of the food businesses screamed bloody murder when the law was passed, and there were the inevitable court cases, but the city won.
And at Starbucks, the information was illuminating. For example, most of the chain’s breakfast sandwiches containing an English muffin, egg, and other meats, cheeses, or veggies contained roughly the same number of calories as a slice of banana bread or coffeecake.
We’ve been falsely led by the nutrition community to demonize fat, but as we’ve come to understand (and this new long-term study confirms), sweetened carbohydrate treats, even when low in fat, are calorically much worse than our intuition would lead us to believe and nutritionally incomplete.
It is difficult for an independent bakery or restaurant to gather this sort of data. Menus change, portion size is inconsistent. But most importantly, most of us don’t eat in the same one daily. But lots of Americans start every day at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts and eat lunch at the same couple of chains out by their office park, where the food is portion controlled, made identically, from menus that rarely change.
Yes, most of us understand that a salad with lemon vinaigrette is less caloric than a steak with mashed potatoes. But beyond the stark extremes, there are a lot of misperceptions about what is caloric and what isn’t. New York City’s law may seem to be providing obvious information to consumers, but for those of us who think a muffin has 200 calories and an egg/bacon sandwich 900, we are in for quite a surprise at a Manhattan Starbucks.