Counting Calories: Effective or Defective?

(From The Campus Lantern – March 7, 2013)

I recently stumbled upon a video on YouTube on the New York Times’ channel entitled “Calorie Detective: The Real Math Behind Food Labels – Op-Docs.”  According to the New York Times, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the numbers of calories to be visible on products’ packaging, nothing is verified in laboratories.  In the video, which has a self-explanatory title, film-maker Casey Neistat checks the amount of calories in five different food items with the help of two food scientists.  The point of the video was to check if the calories listed on the food labels were accurate, and if it is necessary for the calorie-counts on food labels to be verified.  The results were shocking.

The food items tested in the video were a muffin, a pre-packaged tofu sandwich, a Subway sandwich, a Starbucks Frappuccino and a Chipotle burrito.  For four out of five of the food products, the amount of calories listed on the labels were lower than the actual amount.  In fact, according to the New York Times’ video, there was a combined total of 550 unlisted calories.  Since Subway is known as “healthy” fast food, it was no surprise to me that the Subway sandwich was the only product with fewer calories – there was 10 less calories than what was listed on their nutrition facts.

I surveyed a few students here at Eastern to see if they were calorie counters, and only two said they were.  I had them watch the video and give me their immediate responses.  Gabby Wrobel, a freshman who counts calories to stay healthy and not over-eat her daily amount, said, “I felt surprised and angry about the fact that the [caloric] values were incorrect.  I felt mislead and found myself wondering how reliable it is to actually count calories as part of keeping fit.”  Kira Hood, a freshman who counts calories to know how much she should workout to maintain a healthy weight, said, “I can’t believe I’m being lied to – that’s what makes me mad.”

One of my twitter followers who watched the video had a more positive response.  Although she is a calorie counter, she thought, “It was interesting that they researched all the counts,” and, like me, gave, “props to Subway for being accurate.”  I agree that it was intriguing that all of the counts were researched, and I think it was a vital experiment.  If enough Americans watch the video, then maybe some action will be taken against the FDA to verify the number of calories listed on products.

I have tried to count calories myself, but I could never keep up with every meal.  I would forget to include a snack I’d had or I would count calories for a serving different from the one I ate.  This video convinced me that counting calories is not an efficient way to diet since there’s a high chance that the calories that are being counted aren’t even accurate.  I am not comfortable about being lied to by the government, and I believe that the FDA should test every food product to verify that the calories on the packaging are accurate.  America is a country that already has a problem with obesity and heart disease, the government should take action so as to make it possible for citizens to eat healthier.

(Link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGunZpKLb5o)

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