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    Small Sizes, Big Numbers

    Some nutritional horror figures don’t exactly come as a surprise.  No one is particularly shocked when told that an order of Burger King’s large fries packs in 580 calories, or that a large Wendy’s chocolate frosty shake clocks in at 890 calories and contains almost as much added sugar as three cans of Coke.

    It’s not just the large sizes that come with jaw-dropping nutritional values.  In fast food world, “just go with a small” advice goes out the (drive-thru) window. Below, my three picks for “yes, really, those numbers are for the SMALL size!”

    1) Dunkin’ Donuts frozen iced tea:

    You know you’re a sugar overload when, ounce by ounce, you deliver more of those empty calories than soda.  Sixteen ounces of Coca-Cola clock in at 53 grams of sugar; whereas that same amount of the donut chain’s frozen iced tea (yes, 16 ounces constitutes a “small”) delivers 58 grams.

    Don’t let the presence of tea make you think there is something healthful about this beverage.  The ingredient list, as always, tells the tale:

    Frozen Neutral Base [Water, Neutral Base (Sugar, Glucose, Fructose, Silicon Dioxide, Malic Acid, Xanthan Gum)], Tea Concentrate (Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Tea Extract, Xanthan Gum, Phosphoric Acid).

    So, essentially, a tiny bit of tea extract drowning in sugar (14 and a half teaspoons, to be exact).  By the way, the large (32-ounce) variety contributes almost 29 teaspoons of added sugar to your day.  BYOI (Bring Your Own Insulin!).

    2) Baskin Robbins Fudge Brownie 31° Below® soft-serve sundae

    Behold these values: 970 calories, 690 milligrams sodium, approximately 97 grams of added sugar.

    Let’s provide some equivalents.  Calorically, this provides 50 more calories than a Big Mac with a side of McDonald’s medium fries.  Sodium-wise, you’re looking at 60 Lay’s potato chips.  In terms of added sugar, this contains as much as two and a half cans of soda.

    Not surprisingly, the ingredient list is its own horrific tale, crowded with the usual suspects: partially hydrogenated oils, corn syrup solids, and natural and artificial flavors.

    Get this in its large size and you’re looking at 1,760 calories, 43 teaspoons of added sugar, and almost as much sodium as two Burger King Whoppers.

    3) Uno Chicago Grill’s Chicago Classic Individual Deep-Dish

    Individual only in name, this item delivers two days’ worth of sodium (4,650 milligrams, to be exact) and over a day’s worth of calories (2,310).  The classic signs of hyper-processing appear on the ingredient list (think corn syrup solids, BHA, and BHT in the sausage, along with plenty of soybean oil throughout).

    Despite being different food offerings from different chains, there one very familiar common thread among all of these monstrosities — cheap, subsidized ingredients (corn syrup for the win!).  It’s rather disturbing to note that these are the sorts of “food” items our crop subsidies go to (along with sketchy ingredients like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “grill flavor”, made from autolyzed soy and wheat).

    Small, medium, or large, there’s no denying these products have more in common with a chemistry laboratory than your pantry.



    1. BrettFutureRD said on July 20th, 2011

      I always wonder how effective it is to use scare tactic calorie info for food items in getting people to pay attention to what they eat. It assumes that there is a magic calorie number that is appropriate for food. For example, the popular “Eat this not that” books like to compare a food item they’ve deemed to have too many calories next to something that has less calories. I feel this creates a slippery and confusing slope.

      Eat this hamburger that is 500 calories NOT this hamburger that is 950 calories.
      Eat this fast food ice cream that is only 200 calories NOT this fast food ice cream that is 500 calories.

      Wait a minute, in the first scenario a 500 calorie food item was a good thing, and in the second food item, it was a bad thing. I find that to be very confusing advice to judge each food item you eat by how many calories it has. Then it begs to ask the question, what is an acceptable calorie count for each food item? IMO, there isn’t. There’s always going to be an equivalent food item with more or less calories than what you are eating.
      Now if I sit down and eat 1500 calories in one meal, most likely depending on what it was, I wouldn’t be eating much for awhile after that, and most likely even though I may have consumed 3000 calories that one day, I may only consume 1500 the next day because I was so full from the day before. So I feel it isn’t useful to judge food on a food by food basis without looking at the bigger picture of the course of several days or weeks.

    2. Andy Bellatti said on July 20th, 2011

      I think you’d enjoy my critique of the “Eat This, Not That” book series: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=6805

      That said, an ice cream sundae that clocks in at 1,760 calories is ridiculous. And, calories aside, you are also talking about absurd amounts of sugar and sodium (accompanied by very little actual nutrition), not to mention partially hydrogenated oils, dyes, etc.

    3. BrettFutureRD said on July 20th, 2011

      Thanks for the link, and agree completely with the article. So I guess I’m confused that while you understand that narrowly focusing on calories doesn’t help people eat better, it seems you are narrowly focusing on a few choice variables here in this post. I don’t think many people expect a sundae to be very nutrient dense. They eat it because it tastes good. I think it’s more useful to look at what else a person who eats a sundae like that is eating, what their activity level is, and how often they eat sundaes like that assuming to if they eat the entire thing. My point is that there is a bigger picture to be looked at than demonizing high calorie/fat/sugar/dyes/additives/artificial sweeteners/fillers.

    4. Andy Bellatti said on July 20th, 2011


      I am not focusing on a few choice variables. These foods have outrageous figures and are highly processed. The Dunkin’ Donuts beverage is pure sugar, the Baskin’ Robbins sundae has all sorts of partially hydrogenated oils (all very high in omega-6), and the Uno pizza is a day’s worth of calories, mainly from white flour and red meat.

      This isn’t about a sundae being nutritionally dense; this is about the fact that when people order a “small” sundae, they don’t expect to be eating the caloric equivalent of a Big Mac with a side of medium fries.

      I do not believe in caloric tunnel vision; that is precisely why I do not like the “Eat This, Not That” book series (500 calories of junk is not a good choice simply because it is compared to 800 calories of junk). I take a big-picture approach to nutrition, and even if someone’s sole meal of the day is a 970 calorie sundae from Baskin’ Robbins and then a “sensible dinner”, the sundae is still an outrageous item and a reflection of what happens when we subsidize the crops we do.

    5. Cary Grable said on July 21st, 2011

      Great post. Love the food idea

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