“Men’s Health” Stamp of Approval: First It Was Chocolate Milk, Now It’s Fast Food Burgers with Trans Fats
How much stock would you put in a nutrition expert who suggested you drink chocolate milk and eat fast food burgers? What if I told you this expert was nationally renowned as a trusted source of nutrition information, often appearing on television and radio as someone worth listening to? Sadly, this is not just a hypothetical situation.
Last week, I was flabbergasted when I came across a hyperbolic article by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko’s that painted chocolate milk as one of the absolute best things you can drink for your health, weight, and muscle mass. This past weekend, I had another “you have GOT to be joking!” moment, thanks to a question tweeted to me by @matchmia. The question: “what do you think of Hardee’s new turkey burger endorsed by Men’s Health?”. Wait — what!?!
Alas, Men’s Health (“the world’s largest men’s magazine brand”), along with its “Eat This, Not That!” book series — has teamed up with Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s to endorse three turkey burgers. What makes these burgers worthy of a health magazine’s approval? They are all under 500 calories.
On their blog, the Men’s Health team introduces these burgers with the title “The Best Healthy Fast Food Burger?”. They go on to say:
Right now there’s a new restaurant-chain creation that we can’t help but be pretty excited about: the new line of charbroiled turkey burgers at Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s–all developed with our very own Eat This, Not That co-author Matt Goulding. Unlike many turkey burgers we’ve reproached in the magazine, these ones aren’t nutritional wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Calorie-reductionism (“as long as it’s low in calories, it’s a healthy choice”) aside, a look at the nutritional and ingredient offering of these burgers begs the question: “Is this a sick joke?”
The three burgers — available in plain, BBQ Ranch, and Mushroom & Swiss varieties — average a tablespoon of added sugar (as much as a one-cup serving of Froot Loops) and 1,086 milligrams of sodium (approximately 45 percent of the daily sodium limit). Sugar and sodium abundance aside, the ingredient lists tell quite a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” tale.
The menu ingredient list on Hardee’s website does not include turkey patties (the burgers only started being offered in late March of 2011 and the available Ingredient & Allergen Guide is from September of 2010), but some of the other components in these burgers are present, and it’s not a pretty sight. Consider, for example, the ingredients in the mushroom sauce, used in the Mushroom & Swiss turkey burger:
Mushrooms, Water, Mushroom Seasoning [Modified Waxy Corn Starch, Hydrolyzed Soy, Corn and Wheat Protein, Salt, Maltodextrin, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed and Soybean Oils, Monosodium Glutamate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Caramel Color, Beef Flavor (Contains Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate), Beef Fat Shortening (Rendered Beef Fat, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Caseinate, Mono and Diglycerides, Citric Acid), Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Spice, Silicone Dioxide to prevent caking, contains sulfites], Onions, Liquid Margarine [Liquid and Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Salt, Vegetable Mono & Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Beta Carotene (color), Vitamin A Palmitate added], Modified Food Starch, Dehydrated Garlic, Spices, Citric Acid.
Since when does a food with an ingredient list that includes waxy corn starch, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils (two oils high in omega-6 fatty acids), monosodium glutamate, caramel color, and corn syrup solids deserve a special merit award from a health magazine? Interestingly — or, better said, disturbingly — trans fat content is completely absent from each burger’s nutritional information.
More importantly, there is no need for these burgers. Those looking for a lower-calorie option at Carl’s Jr or Hardee’s already have regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, both of which offer fewer calories (as well as less sodium and added sugar) than any of these Men’s Health darlings.
As a nutrition professional who works with the general public, I know firsthand how damaging these sorts of endorsements can be. The Men’s Health website receives approximately 60 million page views a month. Their glorification of chocolate milk and fast food burgers isn’t printed in a newsletter circulated to a handful of individuals; it reaches millions of individuals, all under the guise of nutrition information that can be trusted. Its editor often makes the round on morning talk shows, often times touted as a “health and nutrition expert”. And, while many in the nutrition field don’t take the magazine’s advice too seriously, millions of its readers do.
It may be time to retire the world “Health” from this magazine’s title.