Can I have fries with that?

When I’m out at a restaurant, I like to be blissfully ignorant about exactly how unhealthful that hamburger I’m eating is. I realize it’s not the most nutritious thing I could’ve picked, but it tastes too good not to — and eating badly every now and then won’t kill me.

Unfortunately, those days of blissful ignorance at restaurants are gone, thanks to Food and Drug Administration regulations that require restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.

When the health care legislation was passed and signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, a sneaky insertion in the law went virtually unnoticed. This provision forced restaurants with 20 or more locations — like our beloved Burger King and Wendy’s — to include calorie counts for all menu items.

So, to those of you who are used to those guilt-free late-night fast food runs, nobody’s stopping you, but you won’t be able to feel as guiltless when you see the calorie count for that burger you’re chowing down on.

I first became aware of this provision over the summer, while I was out with friends at Buffalo Wild Wings. I was going to order a side of fries, but then I noticed new menus with the calorie count of each item posted under it. Needless to say, I somewhat lost my appetite when I learned that a basket of fries packs 450 calories.

Now, I realize that the FDA is only trying to look out for Americans, who, according to the New York Times article “Calorie data to be posted at most chains,” spend half of their food dollars outside the home.

With American life being so fast paced today, a number like this makes sense. However, I don’t see the logic in the mandate. Americans know all too well that when they go through a fast food drive-thru they aren’t eating too well, and I don’t think that mandating the inclusion of calorie counts on menus will change much.

According to another New York Times article, “White House and the F.D.A. often at odds,” the FDA pushed to extend the calorie policy to movie theaters, specifically for movie theater popcorn. I’m fairly certain that movie theater popcorn is by no means healthful for you, so what’s the point of adding a number to it?

In recent years, the FDA, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has attempted to make Americans healthy by passing new regulations in food preparation, like the reduction of salt content in food. FDA research reveals that Americans consume roughly double the amount of sodium a year than is recommended. A Time magazine article from 2010 mentioned that New York City has already made a push to address this, primarily by mandating a 25 percent sodium reduction for foods processed and served in the city.

Another change in recent years was the alteration of the food pyramid. For years, the food pyramid served as a guide to the amount of servings per food group that the average American should eat to stay healthy. Recently, though, things have changed. Now, MyPlate — a place setting for a meal — illustrates the five food groups that are essential components of a healthful diet.

The above changes make more sense in helping to change the eating habits of Americans than, say, posting calorie counts on the menu.

Frankly, Americans are going to eat what they want to eat.

So, in all, I can’t necessarily disagree with the FDA and the USDA’s attempts to make Americans healthier, but they may be overstepping their concern when it comes to posting calories on a menu. The calories may serve as a deterrent for some, and some health-conscious Americans may certainly appreciate the new regulations. Sure, it changes my mind every now and then, but in the long run, if I want fries with that, I’m going to get fries with that. 

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