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Calorie Counts Are Helpful, But Not The Answer

Posted Jan 10 2010 10:03pm

Starbucks caloriesI know, I know.  I have been — and still am — a strong supporter of mandatory calorie labeling at fast food establishments and chain restaurants since day one.

I am, however, concerned that too many people view caloric awareness as the sole key to health.

While it certainly helps to know that breakfast item A can save you 400 more calories than breakfast item B, there are other important factors to keep in mind.

Take a look at some items that are calorically decent but nutritionally horrific!

Remember that for saturated fat, someone on a 2,000 calorie diet should not surpass 20 grams a day.  While I believe that value can be more flexible if saturated fats are mostly coming from cocoa or coconuts, the items listed below contain vast amounts of the very atherogenic saturated fats in dairy.

For sodium, the recommended limit is set at 2,400 milligrams.

Au Bon Pain:

  • Mac & cheese soup: 442 calories; 16.5 grams saturated fat


  • Guiltless Grill chicken salad: 361 calories; 1,385 mg sodium


  • Broccoli and cheddar soup: 374 calories; 19.5 grams saturated fat
  • Chicken wings & buffalo sauce appetizer: 300 calories; 1,940 milligrams sodium
  • Side of everything hash browns with onions, cheese, and gravy: 480 calories; 3,820 milligrams sodium (!!)

Dunkin’ Donuts:

  • Strawberry coolatta (16 ounces): 300 calories; 16 teaspoons of added sugar

Olive Garden:

  • Minestrone soup: 100 calories; 1,090 milligrams sodium

Panera Bread Company:

  • Clam chowder: 320 calories; 18.7 grams saturated fat
  • French onion soup (with croutons and cheese): 174 calories; 1,784 milligrams sodium


  • Chicken noodle soup: 260 calories; 2,580 milligrams sodium
  • Fat-free balsamic vinaigrette: 120 calories; 1,170 milligrams sodium; 4 teaspoons added sugar

Red Lobster:

  • Broiled seafood platter: 280 calories; 1,660 milligrams sodium

While calorie counts are helpful for weight concerns, health is about many other factors.  Even if, down the road, all chain restaurants in the entire country provide calorie information, it is not a green light to make them a dietary staple.

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