May 2, 2007
By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Courant Staff Writer
You're at McDonald's, and you're watching your weight.
It could happen.
Anyway, which has fewer calories: a Big Mac, four hamburgers, or a large, triple-thick chocolate shake?
Go with the Big Mac, at 540 calories apiece. You could have two and still not equal the caloric count of the 32-ounce shake - a whopping 1,160 calories.
Surprised? You're not alone. In a new poll, four times as many Connecticut residents incorrectly picked the Big Mac as more fattening than the shake. And that is one reason why state legislators are about to debate a "freedom of information act" for calories.
The bill, which could go to a vote in the state Senate as early as today, would require chain restaurants to publish in their menus or on their menu boards the caloric count of every standard menu item.
"This is not about limiting choices. We are not the Twinkie police," said Lucy Nolan, a nutrition advocate who supports the bill. "What this is about is giving people informed, intelligent choices."
Nolan said Connecticut would be the first state to impose such a requirement, though California is considering a similar bill and New York City is demanding that caloric information be posted in restaurants beginning this summer.
If passed, the Connecticut law would take effect on July 1, 2008.
The bill has a powerful co-sponsor: Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, who cooked up Connecticut's ban on junk food in schools. The calorie bill is opposed as intrusive by the restaurant industry.
"There are practical and logistical issues," said Tim Phelan, the president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association. "It sort of stigmatizes our industry."
Many restaurant chains voluntarily provide the information on their websites, he said.
Nolan's nutrition and anti-poverty group, End Hunger Connecticut, tried to set the stage for passage of the calorie bill Tuesday by releasing a poll they commissioned showing how easy it is to flunk a pop quiz on food.
The quiz - a poll administered by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut - asked 501 residents about food choices they might face morning, noon and night at Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's and Chili's.
(It also found that 82 percent of respondents favored the bill, Nolan said.)
At Dunkin' Donuts, should a dieter choose the banana walnut muffin or gorge on two jelly doughnuts? Only 10 percent chose the right low-calorie answer: the doughnuts, with a total of 420 calories. Thirty-eight percent chose the muffin (540 calories), while 24 percent picked a sesame bagel with cream cheese (570 calories), and 20 percent opted for a 24-ounce strawberry-banana smoothie (550 calories).
Regarding Chili's, only 3 percent identified the lowest-cal choice among four entrees: Carolina ribs with BBQ sauce (850 calories). Fifty-two percent picked the Sizzle and Spice Grilled Salmon (950 calories).
"Let's not confuse this with recommending a ribs-and-jelly-doughnut diet," Williams said.
The lesson, he said, is that information should come with every meal.
All three chains mentioned in the poll publish detailed nutritional information on their websites: mcdonalds.com, dunkindonuts.com and chilis.com.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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