So, a lot of people are talking about NY’s proposed ban on large sugary beverages. If you haven’t heard anything about it, Google can be your friend, or you can just click here.
Except that it’s not really banning ‘sugary beverages’, as it allows for juices/diet sodas/milkshakes/alcoholic beverages. And in case you’re thinking, “Whatever, he’s only banning those ridiculously large 84oz ultra-mega-giant-uber-gulps, and who even wants to carry that crap around?” this ban would apply to anything over 16 fl oz. For perspective, a regular bottle of water is 16.9 fl oz.
Needless to say, this has dusted up a lot of conversations on many FB newsfeeds. Normally, I stay out of these things because strong divergent opinions ruin the appetite, and I coddle mine to the best of my ability. There was one conversation on my personal feed, though, that caused me to want to bring up some good, broad strokes of perspective to this (and other) health debates.
The thing is, as science progresses, everything goes through a ‘totally-normal, oh-crud-that's-pure-poison, oh-wait-just-kidding-it's-much-healthier-than-the-alternative’ cycle. Eggs. Butter. Wheat. Fat. Dairy. Nuts.
It's never, ever been a good idea to be 'all or nothing' - it truly is about moderation. Seriously, 50 years ago all the best science said that bleached, refined grains and sugars were more nutritionally sound than their unrefined counterparts. Why? Honestly, for the exact same reasons they're 'bad' now; refining made the calories much easier for the body to access, and since obesity wasn't a problem and malnutrition was, anything that allowed you to get more calories with less effort was a good thing.
This conversation also brought up the huge disparity between portion sizes in the US vs, oh, pretty much anywhere else. Having been to Europe, one of the things that shocked me most was that, when ordering in a restaurant, wine and beer were cheap and measured generously by eye, there was no such thing as free water for the table (and it was significantly more expensive than wine, ounce for ounce), and sodas were RIDICULOUSLY expensive and measured with specially marked 75 ml glasses with a freakin’ eye dropper (that’s less than 3 fl oz, for us non-metrically inclined). So what’s up with portion sizes in the States?
For what it’s worth, I think it’s got a whole lot to do with our pioneer heritage and culture. Say what you want about me and my cultural-ego-centrism, but the average Jaques walks pretty much everywhere, shops just about every day for locally grown food, and eats often throughout the day.
The average Joe, on the other hand, drives everywhere (and tries really hard to park close to the entrance), shops maybe once a week (or less) for food that resists spoiling for an unnatural length of time, almost never eats breakfast, usually skips lunch, then comes home and spends 2-4 hours every evening eating in a recliner in front of the TV. Which is totally understandable when you think about it; after 15 or more hours of activity-and-no-food, a few hours of food-and-no-activity sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?
Ok, that’s culture, but where does pioneer heritage play a role? Even though portions in restaurants have been getting dramatically bigger in the last few decades, Americans have always had really hearty appetites. Back in the “good ol’ days” of the frontier, it wasn’t at all unusual to burn 10,000 calories a day* due to activity and cool climates.
*I couldn’t find a web-source, but I swear I first learned of this via a History Channel documentary, so you KNOW it’s true.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t really have any way to wrap your head around 10,000 calories a day. When I first learned that factoid, I raised my eyebrows for a moment, then shrugged and mumbled something about that being a lot easier to accomplish today thanks to McDonald’s. I was wrong – how wrong I didn’t find out for years, when due to some truly random, mysterious circumstances I was suddenly compelled to learn more than any one who isn’t a nutritionist should ever need to know about digestion, malnutrition, and my own body.
Allow me to put that figure into more manageable terms. The USDA recommends a normal, active adult eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain body weight. That means the average person burns about that much every day, just by breathing and having a heart beat and doing your normal life-living stuff, like work/school/errands/housework. To maintain my weight (when I’m not preggers), I hafta eat about 4,000 calories a day – that’s what I burn just by virtue of having a heavier chest to lift with each breath and more body to lug around all day.
During my malnutrition scare, after much research of fast food calorie counts, strategic planning, and a conscious decision to eat as much as I possibly could, I was able to eat 7,000 calories in one day – BARELY. And I didn’t eat for 2 whole days afterwards, because (1) I wasn’t hungry and (2) food just looked horrible at that point.
I can’t begin to describe the sheer poundage of the crap I ate attempting that 7,000 calories – the only thing that stands out clearly is that I made a couple of pounds of bacon and then did my best to eat them like chips ::shudders:: I assure you, as awesome as it might sound, it stops being fun after the first 10 oz. Especially when it comes after several different giant-sized value meals back to back to back to back.
(morning sickness break)
I cannot fathom how people managed to eat that many calories every frickin’ day. All while not having some well-marketed fast food chain to provide it all. The only thing I can think of is metric tons of pemmican – you know, that weird concoction of powdered jerky and congealed fat. That means they had to MAKE it AND eat it, all while fighting off grizzly bears and discovering gold and mapping strange new lands.
In essence, coming from a heritage of HOLY COW EAT 10,000 CALORIES A DAY OR DIE mixed in with our HOLY COW MY FAVORITE BUFFET DOESN’T HAVE DRIVE THRU AND THAT’S RIDICULOUS culture, no, I’m not at all surprised we’re fat. Duh.