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The Butcher

Nutrition: It Used to Be So Simple

June 13, 1985|MERLE ELLIS

There is nothing really new, I think, about this nation's concern for nutrition. There is much more talk about it than there ever was before, but the basic concern hasn't changed much. I can remember far back in my childhood such parental comments at the dinner table as: "Drink your milk." "If you don't eat your spinach, you don't get dessert." "No, you can't have a cookie. You can have an orange, but no more cookies." "Eat your cereal before it gets soggy."

Things were much simpler then. We learned as early as kindergarten about the Four Basic Food Groups, about a balanced diet and about moderation. Sometimes knowledge had to be enforced with a little loving discipline, such as "Eat your spinach or else," but the basics of nutrition were really rather simple. They still are, but you wouldn't know it to witness the flood of nutritional information that has descended upon us in the past decade.

Today every food producer with a product to sell wants to tell us how "good it is for you," how "natural," how "low in this or high in that" it is. For the past 10 years we have been barraged with bits and pieces of nutritional information in television and radio commercials, and on the labels of nearly every packaged food we pick up in the supermarket.

Side of the Cereal Box

The side of every cereal box tells us how "nutritious" the contents are, how "natural" and "whole-grained." We are given the percentage of U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of a long list of nutrients from Vitamin A to zinc. The calories are counted; the protein, carbohydrates and fat are listed in grams, the cholesterol, sodium and potassium in milligrams. It's all there--everything you need to know to make you feel good about consuming the food in that package is there on the label.

In this flood of nutrition information, meat has not fared too well. Perhaps that is because there never has been a label on a package of pork chops or a T-bone steak to testify in black and white that meat is good, wholesome, nutritious food. That is no longer the case.

In a comprehensive program called "Nutri-Facts," the U.S. red meat industry will offer even more nutrition information than other food industries. For example, information on cholesterol, sodium and fat (including saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) will be included on meat labels.

For years we have been told that saturated fat is a no-no. It may surprise you to discover when you read the "Meat Nutri-Facts" label on a package of beef sirloin steak, for example, that there are only 185 calories and a total fat content of only 8.3 grams in a three-ounce serving of broiled steak, which accounts for only 9% of the calories and 12% of the fat recommended in a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.

One Gram Unaccounted For

Even more amazing is that of that total fat, only 3.3 grams is saturated fat, whereas 3.6 grams is the not-so-awful mono-unsaturated fat and 0.4 grams is that good-guy, polyunsaturated fat. That leaves only one tiny gram of fat unaccounted for, and that's hardly worth worrying about. It's probably poly-unnaccounted-for fat, at that.

The "Meat Nutri-Facts" program is long overdue. Consumers in America, in survey after survey, have indicated that they want and need this kind of nutritional information in order to make informed decisions when it comes to feeding their families.

During the test period of the Nutri-Facts program, it was found that the No. 1 benefit shoppers identified was receiving direct information on calories. Using a package sticker, the program highlights those cuts of meat with fewer than 200 calories per three-ounce cooked serving. Now, before you buy one of those "under 300-calorie" cook-in-a-pouch packages in the frozen food case, check the Nutri-Fact labels at the meat counter. You may be able to make the same dish from fresh ingredients (without a lot of things that you can't pronounce) for a lot less money and fewer calories.

Perhaps, one of these days, thanks to programs like "Meat Nutri-Facts," we'll all become super-saturated with nutritional information. Perhaps one day, when we all know everything there is to know and much more than many of us ever wanted to know about calories and cholesterol, sodium and such, perhaps then we can get back to some common sense, a little moderation and the Four Basic Food Groups. They're still valid. They probably always will be and they are much easier to deal with. You don't even need a label.

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