Food Companies to Cut 1.5 Trillion Calories by 2015

Last Updated May 19, 2010 5:36 PM EDT

Coca Cola, General Mills, and a host of other food companies promised Michelle Obama on Monday that they would cut 1.5 trillion calories from their products by 2015 to aid her anti-obesity campaign. They say they'll cut portion sizes, substitute lower-calorie ingredients in some products, and produce new lower-calorie food choices. (And by the way, that gigantic calorie cut pledge only amounts to about 10 calories per day per American consumer. Sheesh.)

Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C., City Council will vote next week on whether to enact the first modern soda tax (there was a national tax on soda in 1919, but the soda fountain lobby ultimately killed it; some things never change.)

So yes, your groceries are probably going to get more expensive. Some people -- notably Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma -- argue that spending more money on higher-quality food leads to better nutrition. That may be so, but even the most health conscious among us would rather not spend more than we have to, right?

Here are some ways to trim your budget, waistline, and risk of disease, all at the same time. How efficient is that?
  • Invest in a food scale. Portion size really is key to calorie counts, and American portion sizes have definitely been supersized. It will probably only take a couple of weeks of weighing your food before you learn what a proper portion size actually is.
  • Buy Tupperware. Don't fall for the "individual portion" packages the manufacturers sell of everything from chicken strips to cereal snacks. All that packaging is bad for the environment and really expensive. Buy bigger, more economical sizes of the items you eat regularly and pack your own portions.
  • Don't confuse "low calorie" with "healthier." I'm an Equal-in-my-tea person myself, but I'm not proud of it. Subbing in a low calorie ingredient for a high calorie one doesn't necessarily mean it is healthier. Remember when we all thought that hydrogenated oil was better than butter? If manufacturers cut their calorie counts by introducing more artificial ingredients, that might make their product less healthy, not more. So keep reading labels, and aim for purity. If it's high-calorie purity, eat less of it.
  • Deploy your organics budget strategically. Every week there's a new study about the dangers of pesticides. The latest -- a literature review released on Monday -- drew a link between pesticide consumption and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. So it seems important to feed your kids organic foods, but they can be so expensive. Focus your organic budget three ways: (1) Buy organics that are only slightly more expensive or the same priced as conventional foods, such as milk; (2) Buy organics for the foods your children eat the most of; and (3) Put extra money toward going organic for those foods the Environmental Working Group says are the most pesticide-contaminated, like celery and strawberries.
  • Cut down on soda, juice, and soft drinks, duh. With both obesity and government deficits both at crisis levels, it's no wonder Coke and Pepsi are in the crosshairs of both tax writers and nutritionists. But seriously, sugary drinks are like the cigarettes of our time. Drink water, eat fruit instead of drinking juice (there's more fiber), and save those soft drinks for special occasions and stomach aches.
Photo by Beth Rankin on Flickr.
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  • Linda Stern

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