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Union should display calorie counts

By Michelle Wax
On October 14, 2010

Everyone loves food from the Student Union. Whether we're in the mood for a fiery fajita steak burrito, a classic chicken parmesan grinder or even a chocolate-dipped macaroon, the Union finds a way to make everything absolutely delicious. But how do they do it? How does the Union Street Market satisfy UConn students day in and day out?

Calories and fat. We all know that most Union food can't possibly be stupendous for your health, but most students don't realize just how bad it is. I'm not suggesting that the Union get rid of its tasty food. They simply need to inform students what they're actually about to consume so that they can make informed decisions about what they're eating.

Restaurants such as Panera Bread and Au Bon Pain have recently put up calorie counters next to each menu item, informing customers of the calorie and fat content of the companies' products. This not only allows customers to compare menu items and choose healthier items, but it is also the beginning of ending common misconceptions.

Growing up, we were taught that vegetables are healthy. Green beans make us grow, carrots help our eyesight and spinach makes us strong like Popeye. Unfortunately, just because a salad contains spinach and a few shredded carrots, doesn't mean it's healthy. Add pecans, bacon and dressing to that very same salad, and you get the same amount of calories as a burger, or sometimes even more.

Take, for instance, two classic Union Street Market selections: a house salad and a chicken parmesan grinder. Most would say the house salad would be a healthier selection with far fewer calories. It is, after all, a salad, and salads are healthy.

Not so fast.

The house salad rings in at 727 calories, 477 of those from fat. That's 66 percent of the total calories deriving from fat alone. Add chicken to that salad, and your total count escalates to a whopping 887 calories.

Then the chicken parmesan must have more calories, right? The delicious combination of breaded chicken cutlet, marinara sauce, gooey cheese and a fluffy sub roll must be higher in calories than airy lettuce, tangy mandarin oranges, crunchy pecans and dressing.

Nope. The chickenpParmesan grinder rings in at 516 calories, with 260 from fat. This is significantly fewer calories with a lower percentage of fat. If UConn students were aware of these types of facts, they would not only be able to choose healthier options, but also would avoid being tricked by preconceived notions of what is healthy. Then, even if they choose not to go the healthy route, they'll at least realize it and can make adjustments to later meals.

Considering that the menu items are on electronic screens, it's really not too elaborate of a request. I understand that the calorie and nutrition facts are available online, but what student actually checks out the nutrition facts online prior to heading to the Union? No one that I know.

If the Union simply added a column or two next to each menu item with basic nutrition information, it would help our student body decide if they want to consume an 887-calorie salad or opt for something with fewer calories.


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