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November 15, 2017

Calorie cards or not, diners should eat smart

(Collegian File Photo)

As a child, I learned very early on that cigarettes would lead to devastating health issues and even death. I was taught how the large cigarette corporations were evil and fixated on endangering the well-being of American citizens for profit. I instinctively held my breath when I passed someone smoking on the sidewalk and didn’t hesitate to tell a relative to stop putting their life at risk by inhaling those toxins. But never did it cross my mind to warn someone the food they were consuming could be just as dangerous to their health as cigarettes.

But why hadn’t I learned that someone drinking a Big Gulp Coca-Cola and eating a triple cheeseburger from McDonald’s might face the same health consequences as a smoker? America is facing its fattest epidemic yet, and one of the most expensive health care payouts: $150 billion dollars. It is projected that in the year 2030, the state of Massachusetts will face over 266,466 cases of obesity-related cancer and 1,792,732 cases of heart disease.

This past week, Emilia Beuger published an article in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian discussing how the University of Massachusetts’ dining commons nutritional fact cards are ineffective and may foster unhealthy relationships with food. She goes on to say that dining commons do not offer enough clean and nutritious options. I agree with her that those little white squares can prove a challenge when it comes to understanding the serving size and macronutrients of the food in the dining halls. However, I feel that having the caloric information available to students is vital, because it holds our dining commons responsible and maintains a certain level of transparency.

As a new student, I quickly discovered the emphasis that UMass Dining puts on health, localized produce and environmentally conscious meals and options. Since coming here in the fall, I have also had the opportunity to spend time at the student farm. There, we harvested, washed and packaged the fresh produce and sent it on its way to the dining commons. And while there are unhealthy options available in the dining halls, there is also a constant effort to bring farm-to-table food to its students. UMass Dining Nutrition’s web page states, “It is of critical importance that the food we serve not only taste great, but is also healthy. We make sure healthful, flavor-packed options are available daily so that our customers know that healthy food can also taste great.”

I recognize that calorie counting can be considered taboo and mentally damaging, but to wipe out nutritional facts completely is a bizarre concept and poses a larger threat to our health. The presence of calorie labels does not mean one has to count the calories in their diet, but it can allow them to eat intuitively. From personal experience with my own nutrition and health, I have found it useful to know what I am eating and how much I am consuming. Counting calories allows me to understand what’s in my food and if the foods are calorically dense. Additionally, those little white cards not only tell us numbers, but they also present us with what major allergens are in the dish along with what oils and additives are used.

Not all calories are created equal. However, it is important to take responsibility for your body by understanding how many you need to consume. When it comes down to how much to consume and what foods to consume, there are countless resources to determine your thermic burn and your needed daily intake. The nutritional cards also offer descriptions of the macronutrients in the dish, which are important when examining what you ate. Macronutrients are what you need in larger consumption—the primary three being carbohydrates, proteins and fats—and to understand the calories-per-gram and your macronutrients, you do need to be able to see the total count.

Students, employees and everyone else on this campus need to step up and take responsibility for their choices regarding their health. Yes, the dining commons do offer countless unhealthy options, but they also offer clean and fresh choices. The university isn’t playing a role in your personal decision of whether or not to eat a balanced meal. We as diners are given the facts, and it comes down to our own individual choices with what to do with that information. Obesity is real. Obesity-induced diabetes and cancers can affect you. I urge UMass students to rise up against the obesity epidemic and take care of themselves, because our health is at risk.

Morgan Reppert is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at morganrepper@umass.edu.

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