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    Archive for the ‘fast food’ Category

    Grilled Chicken = Healthier? Not in Fast Food World!

    Take a look at this one-page document housed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Healthy Restaurant Eating” page, titled “Making Better Choices at Fast Food Restaurants” and co-sponsored by the American Heart Association, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the Clinton Foundation.

    It echoes much of the advice doled out in those all-too-familiar two-minute segments on morning news shows where viewers are assuaged that they CAN “eat right at fast food restaurants,” and America lets out a huge sigh of relief.

    I particularly want to focus on one “healthy” tip in that document that I have read and heard for years and continue to come across (and one that, when I first started my nutrition studies, I thought seemed reasonable): “choose chicken”.
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    Why “Eat This, Not That!” Is Not “All That”

    The Eat This, Not That! books, co-authored by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko and nutrition editor Matt Goulding, spawned from a popular monthly feature in Men’s Health magazine and quickly became best-sellers (last year, the Eat This, Not That! iPhone app achieved half a million downloads in two weeks.)

    As of now, there are nine different editions (most of them boasting a “the no-diet, weight-loss solution” banner somewhere on the cover), including Drink This, Not That! and a children’s version.  The common theme among all of them: pit two similar food products or fast food items against one another and select one as the better choice (AKA: award it the “eat this!” command).

    This is a gimmick meant solely to sell books, not communicate a message of health and proper nutrition.

    Continue Reading »

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    In The News: San Francisco Doesn’t Toy Around!

    Fast food KidsEarlier this Summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest generated headlines and buzz when they announced plans to sue McDonald’s if they continued to use toys to market unhealthy food to children,referring to the practice as “unfair, deceptive, and illegal.”

    California’s Santa Clara county was the first government in the United States to implement their own “no toy” rule (though only in unincorporated areas, meaning Burger King and the like escaped unharmed), and it appears San Francisco is next.

    San Francisco’s proposed rule, however, does include incorporated businesses.  Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health accurarely explains that “this is not an anti-toy ordinance; this is a pro-healthy-meal ordinance.”

    See, toys are allowed in children’s meals considered to be “nutritionally fit”.  What makes a meal nutritionally fit?  Here are the suggested standards:

    • Less than 200 calories for a single item or less than 600 calories for a meal.
    • Less than 480 milligrams of sodium for a single item or 640 milligrams for a meal.
    • Less than 35 percent of its calories derived from fat (unless the fat is contained in nuts, seeds or nut butters, or from a packaged egg or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
    • Less than 10 percent of its calories derived from saturated fats (with the exception of nuts, seeds, packaged eggs or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
    • Less than 0.5 grams of trans fat.
    • Meals must include a half-cup of fruits and three-fourths of a cup of vegetables.
    • Beverages may not have more than 35 percent of their calories from fat or more than 10 percent of their calories from sugar.

    Unless most fast-food chains decrease their portion sizes, they do not meet at least one of the above-mentioned guidelines.  My thoughts on the guidelines?

    • I like that not all fats are treated equal (a healthy item that consists of, say, sliced apples and a peanut butter dip would not be disqualified for being “too fatty”)
    • I also like that eggs are not shunned for high cholesterol levels.  Eggs are abundant in nutrients, and the whole “cholesterol in food causes high cholesterol in the blood” theory has been debunked time and time again.
    • Lastly, I like that they serve as motivators for fast food chains to truly revamp their respective children’s menus if they wish to continue promoting them with toys.
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    Calorie Counts Are Helpful, But Not The Answer

    Starbucks caloriesI know, I know.  I have been — and still am — a strong supporter of mandatory calorie labeling at fast food establishments and chain restaurants since day one.

    I am, however, concerned that too many people view caloric awareness as the sole key to health.

    While it certainly helps to know that breakfast item A can save you 400 more calories than breakfast item B, there are other important factors to keep in mind.

    Take a look at some items that are calorically decent but nutritionally horrific!

    Remember that for saturated fat, someone on a 2,000 calorie diet should not surpass 20 grams a day.  While I believe that value can be more flexible if saturated fats are mostly coming from cocoa or coconuts, the items listed below contain vast amounts of the very atherogenic saturated fats in dairy.

    For sodium, the recommended limit is set at 2,400 milligrams.

    Au Bon Pain:

    • Mac & cheese soup: 442 calories; 16.5 grams saturated fat

    Chili’s:

    • Guiltless Grill chicken salad: 361 calories; 1,385 mg sodium

    Denny’s:

    • Broccoli and cheddar soup: 374 calories; 19.5 grams saturated fat
    • Chicken wings & buffalo sauce appetizer: 300 calories; 1,940 milligrams sodium
    • Side of everything hash browns with onions, cheese, and gravy: 480 calories; 3,820 milligrams sodium (!!)

    Dunkin’ Donuts:

    • Strawberry coolatta (16 ounces): 300 calories; 16 teaspoons of added sugar

    Olive Garden:

    • Minestrone soup: 100 calories; 1,090 milligrams sodium

    Panera Bread Company:

    • Clam chowder: 320 calories; 18.7 grams saturated fat
    • French onion soup (with croutons and cheese): 174 calories; 1,784 milligrams sodium

    Quizno’s:

    • Chicken noodle soup: 260 calories; 2,580 milligrams sodium
    • Fat-free balsamic vinaigrette: 120 calories; 1,170 milligrams sodium; 4 teaspoons added sugar

    Red Lobster:

    • Broiled seafood platter: 280 calories; 1,660 milligrams sodium

    While calorie counts are helpful for weight concerns, health is about many other factors.  Even if, down the road, all chain restaurants in the entire country provide calorie information, it is not a green light to make them a dietary staple.

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    A Receipt Worth Keeping

    receiptA company by the name of Nutricate is selling an ingenious concept to fast-food restaurants — receipts with nutrition information on them.

    I think it’s a wonderful complement to calorie labeling on fast-food restaurants menus.  By itself, I consider it inefficient, as it presents nutrition information after it has been purchased.

    For those looking to track some of their intake more easily, it sure is helpful.  Of course, I wish irrelevant categories like “carbs” and “protein” would be replaced by more important ones like “sodium” and “trans fat”.

    I actually really appreciate the fact that the Nutricate receipt goes beyond calorie counts; the message is one of overall health, rather than simply weight.

    Would you at all be interested in having chain restaurants (from McDonald’s and Au Bon Pain to Chipotle and Applebee’s) provide Nutricate receipts? Why or why not?

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    In The “News”: Eat More, Move Less!

    the-onion-logoI have a soft spot for The Onion, that uber-witty faux-news publication that provides sharp social commentary through humor.

    Take a look at this short clip from the Onion News Network which showcases the newest trend — “wearable feedable bags”, which make eating-on-the-go even easier for Americans of all ages.

    Dare you not to laugh!

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    In The News: Recount, Please!

    alg_mcdonalds_caloriesSome not-so-encouraging news courtesy of TIME magazine — “According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Diabetic Association… restaurant meals may contain a whopping 18% more [calories than advertised].”

    What’s most discouraging is that researchers Susan Roberts (professor of nutrition at Tufts University) and Jean Mayer (who works at Tufts’ USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging) focused their attention on fast food items that claim 500 or fewer calories — the ones most likely to be selected by calorie-conscious consumers.

    The moral of this story?  When it comes to your food, the only cook you can fully trust…. is yourself.

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    McAttack!

    mcdonalds(2)

    Moms to Moms is a 14-page supplement from the publishers of Parents Magazine that offers everything from clutter-busting tips to healthy meal ideas to general childrearing advice.

    The issue I saw today in a dentist’s office certainly caught my attention for a variety of reasons.

    First: the McDonald’s logo on the lower-left corner of the cover.

    Second: among the fourteen pages, there are no less than five full-page advertisements for McDonald’s — six if you count one full-page advertisement for the Ronald McDonald charity.

    Three of these advertisements bear the title “Mommyisms”, and show a fictional mother and daughter (and, in one case, a father and son duo) being playful or enjoying an activity together.

    The first advertisement contains the following statement:

    “Just because it’s her favorite place to eat doesn’t mean it can’t be yours too.”

    Advertisement number two features photographs of chicken nuggets, apple slices with caramel dip, and a soft-serve ice cream cone.  The accompanying text:

    “Tell my husband and son we’re going to McDonald’s, and suddenly I have two kids instead of one.  Its like a fun switch gets flipped and they immediately go into play mode.  I can’t really blame them.”

    The final “mommyism” shows a mother and daughter doing yoga together.

    “What’s not to love?  A Fruit & Walnut Salad plus a Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap for me, and a wholesome Happy Meal for her.  Because quality time is even better with quality food.  And when it comes to eating right, she always follows my lead.”

    The text is accentuated with hearts dotting every lowercase “i”.  All together now: “Awwwww”!

    The remaining two advertisements are even more interesting.

    One features McDonald’s Registered Dietitian, who recommends two different daily menus, one made for children and one tailored to adults.

    For instance, a 505-calorie breakfast composed of one hotcake, one syrup packet, 1% lowfat white milk, Apple Dippers, and low-fat caramel sauce is recommended for children.  There is, of course, no mention of the amount of sodium or added sugars also contained in that meal.

    Finally, there is a spotlight on the Director of Culinary Innovation for McDonald’s corporation.

    One of his featured recipes?  Vanilla-scented pineapple.  Nothing wrong with that, except for the two cups of sugar (32 tablespoons!) and half cup (8 more tablespoons) of vanilla syrup that goes into, strangely enough, sweetening fresh pineapple!

    There is no serving information for the recipe, but even if it is meant for a dozen people, that’s a whopping 3 tablespoons of added sugar (as much as a can of soda) per person!

    PS: I will try to scan each of these advertisements later this week for you to read.

    In the meantime: thoughts?

    I don’t disagree with the notion that certain McDonald’s menu items are healthier than others, but I am greatly disturbed by a magazine supplement aimed at parents that solely advertises the golden arches.

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    In The News: No Toys For Tots

    ST_PosterFood policy news from Brazil this time, where a federal prosecutor in the city of Sao Paulo has “asked a judge to ban [the advertising and “sale” of toys] at [fast food chains] including McDonald’s and Burger King.”

    The man in question — Marcio Schusterschitz (I’ll take “unfortunate last names for $1000, Alex”) — bases his case on the fact that “fast-food toy promotions encourage children to buy high-fat meals through “the abusive creation of emotional associations” that turn them into life-long eaters of high-fat foods.”

    The wording is quite strong, but I agree with the basic idea.

    I have noticed that many media outlets are framing this in an appalling “where in the world is THIS guy getting his ideas from?” framework, but keep in mind that Brazil’s Consumer Defense Code explicitly prohibits advertising aimed at children that “”takes advantage of the deficiency in judgment and experience of the child.”

    As a child, I was never into fast food toys (the food in itself was enticing enough to me), but I remember many of my peers and classmates often begging their parents to take them to a fast food restaurant for the sole purpose of collecting all the toys that were available — for a limited time, of course — as part of the children’s “combo meal.”

    We’ll soon find out if the judge in question wants to consider the case.  I certainly hope he does.

    PS: Yes, I am aware that these toys can be bought separately, but why do fast food chains even HAVE toys to offer?  And, really, for all the fuss children make about these toys, they usually break — or are forgotten about — 24 hours later.

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    Survey Results: In The Zone

    55855281-fastfoods71 percent of readers who cast their vote in the latest Small Bites survey support zoning laws that regulate fast food chains’ proximity to schools.

    As do I!

    Studies are beginning to highlight the negative health consequences that stem from a lack of zoning laws.  One recent study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, found that students who attend schools located within a one tenth mile radius of a fast food establishment are 5.2 percent more likely to be obese than students who attend schools located further away from these restaurants.

    A 2004 study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition concluded that adolescents who consume fast food on a daily basis eat an average of 187 more calories a day than those who eat fast food less frequently.  These additional 187 calories can amount to weight gain nearing 19 pounds in just one year.

    Additionally, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study concluded that consumers who eat fast food two or more times a week had a one-hundred percent increase in their insulin resistance compared to consumers who ate at fast food establishments less than once a week.

    In large US cities, the proximity of fast food establishments to schools is undeniable.  Eighty percent of Chicago’s elementary and high schools have at least one fast food restaurant within a half mile, and 18 schools in New York’s East Harlem are located within 500 feet of a fast food restaurant.

    I do not consider these zoning laws a “solution to a problem” as much as a necessary step to solve the REAL issue — improving the moribund National School Lunch Program.

    How can we expect healthier school lunch policies — and, no, that does not mean steamed peas and paltry salad bars with wilted lettuce — to be effective if students, particularly those allowed off-campus during lunch hours, have fast food available to them a few blocks away?

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    In The News: In The Zone

    Today’s New York Times reports the conclusion of an eight-year-long study of millions of schoolchildren completed by economists at the University of California and Columbia University: “ninth graders whose schools are within a block of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than students whose schools are a quarter of a mile or more away.”

    This study is particularly significant since it adjusted for variables like income, education, and race, thereby making it easier to accurately pinpoint the effect of fast food restaurant proximity to weight.

    More specifically, “obesity rates were 5 percent higher among the ninth graders whose schools were within one-tenth of a mile of a pizza, burger or other popular fast-food outlet, compared with students attending schools farther away from fast-food stores.”

    In a not-at-all surprising move, the National Restaurant Association is shrugging this off since “it did not take individual diet and exercise into account.” The argument falls rather flat when you consider that the location of these fast food restaurants clearly had an effect on students’ diets.

    I have long been a supporter of zoning laws regarding fast food restaurants and schools, and this only strengthens my belief.

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    In The News: The City of Brotherly Love Gets Tough

    Add another city to the “calories on menu boards” list!

    On Thursday afternoon, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter “signed a bill that orders chain restaurants [— including coffee shops, ice cream parlors and convenience stores — with a total of 15 or more stores, whether in the city or elsewhere,] to display calorie, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrate, and sodium information [for all menu items by January 1, 2010.]

    The cherry on top? “Nutter signed the bill at the Center for Obesity Research Education at Temple University,” the Associated Press reports.

    I am personally looking forward to the day trans fat labeling becomes irrelevant following a national ban on restaurants’ use of partially hydrogenated oils (that is no starry-eyed dream — Denmark paved the way in 2003, and Switzerland followed suit in April of this year.)

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A 24-ounce limited edition Jack in the Box eggnog shake contains 1,450 calories, 225 percent of the daily saturated fat recommended limit, and 3 grams of trans fat.

    (NOTE: Trans fat recommendations are set at 0 grams per day.)

    If this “special edition” shake is available after December 31, they should change its name to “The Resolution Breaker.”

    To put it in perspective, this beverage has more calories than an entire 12-inch Domino’s cheese pizza (with regular — not thin — crust)!

    And if you thought the 3 grams of trans fat were bad, check out some of the other options on Jack in the Box’s menu.

    A 10-piece order of mini churros delivers a jaw-dropping (and heart-stopping?) SEVEN grams of trans fat!

    An order of French Fries from the children’s menu may seem innocent with its 220 calories, but it also delivers 3.5 grams of trans fat.

    So, dear president-elect Obama, how about igniting heart-healthy change with a national trans fat ban?

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    No Wonder Potatoes Have A Bad Reputation

    Arby’s is offering a new side item on their menu — loaded potato bites (pictured at left).

    Uh oh, the term “loaded” is generally code for “artery and waist busting.”

    This is no exception.

    These “yummy pieces of fluffy potato, deep fried and loaded with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon” are accompanied with a ranch sour cream dipping sauce.

    A large side order (10 pieces) adds 707 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat (almost three quarters of a day’s worth), and 1,600 milligrams of sodium (two thirds of a day’s worth) to your tray.

    The ranch dip, meanwhile, contributes an additional 158 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 277 milligrams of sodium.

    This is calorically equal to two orders of large fries at McDonald’s.

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    In The News: Missing In Action

    Ronald McDonald has some ‘splaining to do.

    His fast-food chain has been “awarded” the most violations for not posting calorie information on various of their New York City stores’ menu boards.

    In total, 682 violations have been handed out since April.

    “About 300 citations were issued during the first six weeks the rules took effect, which was considered a grace period, and did not carry fines. Since then, 388 violations were issued that carry fines between $200 and $2,000 each,” reports Crain’s New York Business.

    McDonald’s has acquired 103 violations, Dunkin’ Donuts is not far behind with 89, and local fried chicken chain Crown Fried Chicken rounds out the Top 3 with 39 violations to its name.

    “Some citations were given for non-compliance and others punished restaurants for not posting information the way the regulations require. For instance, a few restaurants were fined for putting the information in the wrong place or using lettering that was too small.”

    I notice the linked news article displays a sole comment from someone named “Joe” who claims calorie labeling is “nannying” and “a violation of… life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Considering the amount of people I have heard voice a similar statement, Joe is not joking.

    For the life of me, though, I have no clue what civil liberties are violated by asking restaurants to post calorie content information.

    I also fail to see how such a request can be considered “nannying.”

    Nobody is being forbidden from buying an 1,100 calorie milkshake. It isn’t taxed more heavily than a less caloric option. There isn’t a limit on how many times you can order it, or at what time of day.

    So where, exactly, is the “you can’t tell me what to eat!” defensiveness coming from?

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