How many calories did you eat yesterday? Not sure? Well, you’re not alone. Keeping track is tough, especially if you eat out a lot. Until recently, counting calories in a restaurant was like counting snowflakes in a blizzard. Almost impossible! But it’s easier now, at least here in New York City, since chain restaurants started posting calorie information on menu boards and menus.
Did you know that we spend more than half of our food budgets eating away from home – in places where it’s easy to eat too much. Calorie counting may seem like a pain but it is worth the effort. One of the surest ways to maintain a healthy weight is to learn how many calories your body needs. It’s like getting your finances under control. If you make a daily or a weekly budget, then you know what you can spend. So what’s your daily calorie budget?
An average adult needs about 2,000 calories a day to maintain a steady weight. Many women need less (I aim for 1800!). If you’ve never paid much attention to calories, you may be surprised to see where they hide – and how fast they add up. Just listen to the buzz when customers see how many calories are in some of their favorite foods! I don’t know about you, but while I’m standing in line to get my morning coffee I hear everyone talking about the calories for the muffins and cookies and snacks. Have you seen the calories for a bagel with cream cheese?
As a dietitian, I’ll never forget the moment when I first learned that my favorite appetizer had more calories than a person should eat in an entire day! My experience – and the countless similar ones we’ve heard from friends and coworkers recently – helped inspire the new ads the Health Department is running in the subways. How many of us know that a roast beef sandwich is less calories than a tuna fish sandwich? Or that a small size French fries and a diet drink can make such a calorie difference? The truth about calories is out there now, and our advice is simple: Read ’em before you eat ’em!
I know, I know – there’s more to health than counting calories. But I promise you, being more aware of calories can make a big difference. Think of it this way. When you grab lunch at your favorite chain restaurant, you can now check out the bottom line on your favorite meal. A 500-calorie meal is totally reasonable for lunch, but 1,000 calories is over the top if you’re eating three meals (and I hope you are!) plus a snack. 1,000 calories, you say? Impossible, you say? No! In our study of over 7,000 lunch purchased at fast food restaurants, more than 30% of customers were choosing 1000 calories lunches. That’s more than half the calories I need for the whole day!
I’m not suggesting we all become fanatics who refuse to eat until we’ve whipped out our scales and calculators. But I think most of us have a lot to learn from calorie information. What do you think? I’ve love to hear your thoughts and questions.
Thank you, and be well.
– Cathy Nonas, RD