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The Importance of Posting Nutritional Values

2010-02-23 4 min read marco

I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop, Peet’s, sipping a cappuccino like I used to in the old country and eating a pastry. It’s my afternoon treat, has been for years. Only that back in Italy they’d think me weird for drinking cappuccino after lunch, without sugar, and in a 16 ounce cup. There are definitely lots of advantages to living in the United States.
While I could always figure out the calorie content of my drink (which I shouldn’t drink, but sue me), things were dicey with the pastries. Peet’s in Northern California posts the nutritional information on their web site, but the Souther California region has different pastries and I had no idea what I was eating.
You might jump to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be drinking coffee and eating pastries in the first place. Well, feel free to think that way. I have found that depriving myself of things I love doesn’t help manage my health at all: it just makes me resent health in general and healthy nutrition in particular. In general, I find that I am able to manage what I eat much better if I don’t consider anything off limit, letting my cravings build into frenzy.
But back to the original post. As I got into the store today, I saw they had little flyers with the nutritional information I had been looking for. And there I had the best proof possible of the importance of that info.
Here I’ll give you a few pairings, and you tell me which in each has more calories:

Caramel Pecan Brownie vs. Oatmeal Cookie
Peanut Butter Cup Cookie vs. Walnut Brownie
Honey Bran Muffin vs. Cherry Almond Scone
Dried Fruit and Nut Scone vs. Strawberry Muffin
Rustic Apple Tart vs. Rustic Cherry Tart
Seeded Bagel vs. Banana Nut Bread
Cinnamon Roll vs. Bear Claw
Ok, now I am hungry… Or I should say: I have an ugly craving. Well, the pairings have the following calorie counts:
384 vs. 410
[yes, I know, who would have thought a cookie could have more calories than a brownie?]
440 vs. 384
[same story – stay away from regular cookies!]
440 vs. 440
[Who would have thought, the healthy sounding bran muffin is a calorie bomb!]
480 vs. 470
590 vs. 510
[Go for apples, add 80 calories – more sugar]
450 vs. 420
[Bagels are bad for your waist line]
490 vs. 400
[Yeah, that cinnamon roll packs quite the punch. The fat free cinnamon roll, by the way, is 410 calories]
There are some interesting surprises in the list. The Vegan cookies, for instance, are almost half the calories of the regular cookies, thanks to lower fat contents. Muffins and scones, in general, have gobs of fat in them: 26 grams in the Chocolate Chunk Walnut Scone, 25 grams in the Chocolate Cream Cheese Muffin. More surprisingly, something healthy-sounding like *Apple Cinnamon Muffin* is a real hog, at 510 calories and 25 grams of fat. The *Multi-grain Scone* is another horrible choice at 450 calories and 23 grams of fat.
What’s the take-away? If you are eating a pastry just out of pleasure, follow these simple rules:
- stick with the **low-fat variants** (not reduced-fat, that means close to nothing). A blueberry muffin has half the calories of the apple cinnamon version! - go for **small**. None of the things on the menu is going to be any good for you, so the smaller the portion the less damage it will cause. - **breads and cakes** are generally better than muffins and scones. The exception is coffee cake, which is so laden with fat, it’s scary - try to **avoid places that don’t post** nutritional information. The differences in quantity and quality of foods in one single establishment is amazing. Things that sound the same can have vastly different nutritional contents, and things that sounds vastly dissimilar can end up being equally bad for you.
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