Do you read those calorie counts on the menu when you go out to eat? How about on the labels of food you buy? Too busy to pay attention to calories? Maybe you should make the time. It’s a habit Australians have found can help shed weight.

In Australia, labeling what goes into your mouth has been an obsession for years and there are regulations in place to make sure things are properly marked. Researchers looked at buying habits before and after those calorie-count regulations went into effect.

Looking at sales data for the entire country and comparing it to food diaries kept by women in the study, they concluded that women were eating about 60 calories less per meal – translating to about 200 to 250 calories less per day – in the wake of label regulations.

Now, you may not think that’s much, but add in 20 minutes of good exercise five days a week and you’re talking about shedding a pound a week from your love handles. I’m not promising you the latest “Lose 90 Pounds in 90 Days!” hokum, but this is real stuff.

It’s my opinion that when it comes to losing weight, starting with the low-hanging fruit is where the bang for the buck is. You may not kick the burger and fries habit – what would life be like without that brat? – but changing your usual day-to-day habits is a good place to begin. That means knowing what you’re putting into your mouth, which means reading those labels.

A few years ago, that kind of behavior made a difference in my own weight. I’ve never had a weight problem per se, but one day I found myself 10 pounds heavier. It was when I was going to have to buy new pants that it dawned on me the cookie stash I had been snacking on was putting fat on my waist.

I had never read the label. Heavens to Betsy, these were wholesome cookies, after all, so how could I question that? But when I finally did, what a shock it was to find that the calorie count in eating four of my favorite cookies was nearly the same as eating my favorite Subway sandwich. Startling.

Did I cut out cookies? Nope. I just changed the ones I eat and I eat fewer of them. One or two a day – if I can do that, I’m cool. If I can’t, I’m cake.

Read those labels.

Dear Doc: My mom is 92. She gets her flu shot each year but her clinic doesn’t recognize the need for the “high-dose” flu shot recommended for people 65 and older. What should she do? And by the way, what does “quadrivalent” mean? – J.T.

Dear J.T.: They’re dead wrong; you’re right. If it’s true your mother’s clinic is not giving her the right flu shot, the high-dose version, then I’d check out what other things they might not be doing right. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear on this — high-dose shot for seniors saves lives.

Regarding your other question, quadravalent means the shot hits four sub types of influenza.

Get your shots, folks. The pesky flu virus killed somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people last year. We are so smug about not getting flu shots. I have patients who tell me they don’t get the shot and they’ve never had the flu. My response is to ask, “Do you not wear a seat belt because you’ve never gotten into a nearly fatal rollover accident?” Getting the shot is the same as buckling up. Sensible, intelligent people do it.

In one local nursing home a few years back, some of the workers didn’t want to get their flu shot. There was an epidemic of flu shot fear running through the employees. When flu season struck, everyone who worked at the nursing home who had not gotten a flu shot had to wear a mask all day, just in case they might have the flu and spread it to the residents.

The next year, guess what? Flu shot rates among employees went from 82 percent to 100 percent. The masks were more uncomfortable than the shot. Stay well.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions.

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