Nutrition & Diet Coach

Peggy Korody North San Diego Registered Dietitian

Is it just calories that count?

Written By: Peggy Korody - May• 06•11

I’ve been noticing lately the fast food industry is trying to entice customers by giving the impression that their product is a healthy choice because it has less than 500 calories.  Does this make it healthy?  Does using sea salt vs. regular salt make it healthy?  Should I be looking at the fat grams?  From my questions you can see that it’s more than just calories if you want to eat healthy.  Here are a few examples and how I look at the ads.

I’m sure you have been hearing on the radio or seeing on TV the Carl’s Jr.® turkey burger ad. There’s the skinny model from Turkey, eating a turkey burger, with a bathing suit with little turkey burgers on it – cute.  Well, I like turkey burgers and I usually make my own, but I thought I would check out their website and look at the nutritional information.  Yes, they are less than 500 calories in these burgers, in fact there are three different turkey burgers to choose from and the calorie range is 470 – 490.  Now the disappointing part, 500 calories of something not healthy, is still 500 calories of something not healthy.  If you are over 50 years of age, have hypertension, or are an African American, which is approximately 50% of the population, your sodium intake on a daily basis should be 1500 mg per day.  The other 50% of the population should aim for no more than 2300 mg per day.  So let’s look at the turkey burgers, both the Teriyaki and guacamole turkey burgers have 1120 mg of sodium and the basic turkey burger has 1010 mgs. Now add a small fry, which has 310 calories and 610 mg of sodium.  If you are part of the 1500 mg group then you have just exceeded your daily intake with one meal!

Then I saw a commercial from Subway, do you remember Jared? He actually lost weight by eating Subway, 6grams of fat sandwiches.  Oh, don’t forget he walked to the restaurant and back home afterwards, so he did include exercise.  It was great to hear he skipped the drive-thru.  Recently, Subway announced they will decrease by 28% the sodium in the “Fresh Fit” line, which has 8 subs less than 8 grams of fat.  This is a great start.

Have you seen the “Eat this, Not that” books? Once again they focus on the calorie count and not the whole picture.  My point here is that it’s not just the calories, the fat and sodium grams are just as important for a healthy life.  Also, if you are a diabetic, the carbohydrate grams will be of importance.

Sea salt vs. table salt is one healthier than the other?  No, they are both salt. The theory is since sea salt has a stronger flavor you can use less.  Well, I don’t want to pick on Carl’s Jr.® but their small “natural cut” French fries with sea salt has 610 grams of sodium, compared to a small order of the “world famous” McDonald’s fries which has 230 calories and 160 mg of sodium!

A few of the reasons why it’s important to lower our sodium consumption include: diets high in sodium lead to high blood pressure, which is the leading risk for heart attacks and strokes. This leads to roughly 800,000 deaths a year and cost Americans billions in health care costs.  With all of these statistics it’s still amazing that most Americans still eat two times more sodium than recommended.

If you go out to eat often, more than four to five days per week, then you really need to look at the whole picture of what you are ordering. A product being less than 500 calories per serving is not always the best choice.  Remember, eat well, eat smart, and be healthy!

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