Nina In New York: These Nutritional Guidelines Are So 22 Years Ago

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak

I used to be a food label-reader for all the wrong reasons. Like so many other misled Americans, I looked for stats like calories, fat, and saturated fat. If something said “healthy” in big, bright letters on the packaging, I’d be more than inclined to pick up the box. As a mom, if it says “natural,” I’ll reach for it in a heartbeat. I’m a sucker like that. But I’m not that stupid. It’s pretty easy to see how meaningless those terms can be. Items termed healthy or natural can still include lots of additives and loads of sugar. All it takes is less than three grams of fat and a bunch of “fortifying” vitamins and minerals crammed in where they don’t belong to pass a food-like product off as nutritious fare around here.

As with all bureaucratic government agencies, the Food and Drug Administration is finally beginning to catch up to what so many of us figured out a long time ago: the guidelines for what should be regarded as “healthy” need to change. Back in the ’90s when they were last set, grunge and low fat were all the rage, and no one gave a toot about sugar. My mother, a diet-minded person, used to send me to camp with low calorie Twinkies and low fat Dunkaroos. Snackwell’s cookies were everyone’s idea of a healthy treat. Avocados? Not so much. Almonds? Ha! Reduced fat Pop Tarts? Certainly.

Now, flannel and floral denim are back, but we’ve wised up a little when it comes to food. The country is playing catch up with breaking nutritional news like “some fats are good for you” and “substituting sugar for fat is baaaaad.” The FDA plans to revisit and revise its standards to reflect the widely accepted ideas that foods like salmon, nuts and the ubiquitous avocado are healthy despite how poorly their fat content looks on paper. It’ll take a long time, of course, but one day perhaps we won’t live on the brink of a collective case of Type II Diabetes. Perhaps one day kids will learn from an early age that peanut butter doesn’t need twelve tons of corn syrup to taste good. Cher Horowitz wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole, but then again we’ve also stopped wearing sheer blouses and high heeled loafers with knee socks. Boy band reunion tours notwithstanding, the country has come an awfully long way.

Not going to lie, though. I will always, always miss those Dunkaroos. Dunkaroos and the Delia’s catalog. Dunkaroos, the Delia’s catalog, and the original cast of the Z100 Morning Zoo. Dunkaroo’s, Delia’s catalog, Z-Morning Zoo, and Gloria Jean’s coffee drinks. But progress is good.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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