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Archive for the ‘ McDonald’s ’ Category

Fast food still unhealthy: What to do

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post.

You can also read it HERE.

Fast food is known to be high in fat, sugar and salt, and frequent consumption of fast-food may contribute to a diet of poor quality, which may raise a user’s risk for overweight and chronic diseases that are diet-related (e.g., heart disease and hypertension). Indeed, when Morgan Spurlock embarked on a 30-day experiment to eat all his meals at McDonald’s, he gained 25 pounds, and his physicians were concerned with his health.

French fries and burgers are loaded with fat and salt, and oversized sodas and other sugary drinks are full of sugar. And most traditional fast-food items are loaded with calories.

With so much attention on the relationship between obesity and eating out, has the fast-food industry improved their offerings over the years? It seems that the choices today are not that much healthier, a new study says. According to the researchers, the nutritional quality of fast-food items has improved only modestly over 14 years.

The research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, analyzed menus from eight top fast-food restaurant chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Arby’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen. Menus were compared from 1997/1998 with 2009/2010. According to HealthDay:

Menu scores did not change for fruit, whole fruit, total vegetables, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, total grains, whole grains, and oils. The good news was that scores improved for meat, saturated fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. On the other hand, scores for milk/dairy and sodium got worse. The overall nutritional quality score of 48 associated with these eight restaurants fell below that of the average American diet.

What I have found with my own research on fast-food portion sizes, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is that while fast food establishments are offering some healthier items, they continue to add new larger-sized items. And large sizes just about always means more calories! As I wrote for HuffPost,

Portion sizes have continued to increase through the first decade of the 21st century. Top fast-food and restaurant chains continue to introduce new large-size portions. Food companies are introducing bigger burgers, burritos, pizzas, and sandwiches. Some of these single-serving items (meaning, they are marketed for one person) contain more than 1,000 calories. For example, Wendy’s Baconator Triple burger contains approximately 1,300 calories and Burger King Triple Whopper contains 1,140 calories.

In this new study, while modest improvements were observed in the fast-food offerings over the years, the authors stated that there is much more that can be done, especially since fast food is so ubiquitous in the diet. The authors noted that more than 25 percent of American adults eat fast food at least two times a week.

While we can hope that the food industry offer up healthier options soon, here is what you can do in the meantime if you still want to indulge in fast food.

  1. Choose a “single” burger over a double or triple.
  2. Choose a chicken dish over a meat dish. When faced with a choice between a burger or a grilled chicken salad or sandwich, I would suggest opting for the chicken.
  3. Skip the French fries. Or, if you must, opt for the “small.”
  4. Choose water instead of soda. You will save lots of calories and unneeded sugar. Water trumps diet soda as well!
  5. Add a salad to your meal.
  6. For dessert, choose whole fruit over pie. Purchase an apple instead of apple pie, for example.
  7. Eat slowly. Chew your food well. And, enjoy the company you are with.
  8. And, finally, eat fast food sparingly.
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Back to the Future: A Return to Smaller Beverage Sizes

Here is my latest blog post for Huffington Post.

New York City’s Board of Health recently approved Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the sizes of sweetened beverages. The regulation restricts the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and delis.

I published an opinion piece in support of the proposal for the New York Daily News.
My piece, “Smaller sodas, healthier lives” can be found here

As I write: “This campaign makes sense at a time when the debate about soaring medical costs has taken center stage in the presidential election. Obesity is estimated to cost $190 billion a year.… The mayor’s proposal does nothing more than swing the pendulum back in favor of more modest food portions.

Those portions have increased steadily over the years, so much so that we have grown accustomed to oversize portions and have come to expect them.

Portion sizes are now two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s.”

Just how big have food portions become? The timeline below, which is based on my research in my book The Portion Teller Plan, highlights how our frame of reference has shifted.

Select Dates in the Supersizing of American Fountain Drinks

1954                        Burger King offers a 12-oz Small and 16-oz Large soda.

1955                        McDonald’s offers a 7-oz soda.

1961                        McDonald’s adds 12-oz soda.

1962                        McDonald’s adds 16-oz soda.

1973                        McDonald’s adds 21-oz soda.

1988                        McDonald’s introduces 32-oz Super-Size.

1989                        Wendy’s adds the Super Value Menu including Biggie


1999                      McDonald’s introduces 42-oz Super-Size.
The 32-oz Super-Size is downgraded to Large.

2001                       Burger King introduces a 42-oz King soda.

2004                      McDonald’s phases out the 42-oz Super-Size.
The largest size is the 32-oz Large.

2006                      Wendy’s add the 42-oz Large size.

Wendy’s drops the term Biggie for its 32-oz soda, calling it Medium.

2007                       McDonald’s offers a promotion of the 42 oz Hugo (previously called Super Size).

2011                        KFC introduces the 64-oz Mega Jug.

2012                      According to company websites, the following sizes are now available:

McDonald’s: 12-oz Kids, 16-oz Small, 21-oz Medium, and 32-oz Large.

Burger King: 16-oz Value, 20-oz Small, 30-oz Medium, 40-oz Large.

KFC: 16-oz Small, 20-oz Medium, 30-oz Large, and 64-oz Mega Jug.

Wendy’s: 12-oz Kids, 16oz Value, 20-oz Small, 30-oz Medium, 40-oz Large.

As I wrote in the NY Daily News,  “Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much is a reasonable amount to drink at a time. Sixteen ounces is certainly more than reasonable — a full pint of sugar water. Instead of viewing this as a ban, let’s see it as an attempt to reset the norm for how much soda truly constitutes an appropriate portion.

It is now time to return to the more reasonable sizes of the past, when obesity rates were much lower. Given the health consequences and enormous cost of our obesity epidemic, restricting large sizes of unhealthy sugary beverages is an excellent place to begin.

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McDonald’s: Mexico versus US

I recently returned from lecturing at the annual Food Technology Summit and Expo held in Mexico City. I was speaking on the hidden costs of supersizing.  Portion sizes are a growing problem in Mexico as they are in the US; portion sizes have exploded there as well. It is no surprise that obesity rates are also very high in Mexico and resemble US obesity rates. Nearly 70% of Mexicans are either overweight or obese.

I was able to gather some nutrition and portion-size info from McDonald’s in Mexico and their menu looks much like ours (sigh!). Here is a summary:

  • Both McDonald’s in US and Mexico sell Big Macs and the Mexican Big Mac has around 30 calories more than the US version (569 calories in Mexico).
  • McDonald’s in Mexico offers a breakfast McMuffin a la Mexicana with 440 calories and 25 grams of fat.

  • Portions of French fries in the US are more caloric than those found in Mexico. The largest US size contains 500 calories while the largest size in found in McDonald’s in Mexico contains 410 calories.
  • Soda sizes are slightly larger in US McDonald’s than they are in Mexico but note the word slightly. In the US, the small, medium and large contain 150, 210, and 310 calories respectively. The Mexican soda portions contain 120, 200, and 280 calories respectively.
  • The McFlurry with OREO cookies in the US contains 580 calories–200 calories more than the Mexican version.
  • Like in the US, McDonald’s Mexico offers fried chicken nuggets in several sizes-4, 6, and 10 pieces.
  • McDonald’s Mexico offers a “Big Tasty” burger with over 800 calories! No wonder Mexicans are big!

Because so many Mexicans are overweight, diet food has become a craze there as well. Here is a photo from the frozen dietary dessert chain Tasti d lite, this one on Mazaryk Street in Mexico City.

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McDonald’s Japan beefing up portions!

McDonald’s Japan is beefing up portions!

Americans are fat enough. And McDonald’s certainly hasn’t helped the situation by offering jumbo portions of cheap unhealthy foods. Yes—the company did away with its 42 oz “Supersize” soda after the movie Super Size Me debuted in 2004 (I made an appearance discussing growing portion sizes in the US.) The largest soda today is a 32-oz quart, called “Large.” (This 32-oz “Large”, by the way, was the same size of the original “Supersize” when first marketed in 1988.) As I wrote in The Portion Teller Plan, and in several academic papers with my NYU colleague Dr Marion Nestle, today’s Large is nearly 5 times the original size soda, which was a mere 7 oz (no where to be found today), when McDonald’s opened in the 1950s.

Well now, McDonald’s Japan is beginning to supersize some of its menu offerings. As reported in the Wall Street Journal last week, in an effort to boost sagging sales, McDonald’s Japan is introducing the “Big America2” series menu featuring several jumbo burgers named after US locales. The Idaho burger—containing beef, cheese, bacon, deep fried hash browns– set to debut at the end of January will contain more than 700 calories! McDonald’s is hoping it’s calorie laden burgers will be good for business.  As the authors Mariko Sanchanta and Yoree Koh write: “McDonald’s is banking on oversized burgers stuffed with nachos, hash browns or chili.”  And the company is going to use twitter and bloggers to spread the word.

Obesity rates in Japan are currently much lower than they are in the US. Pretty soon, however, if McDonald’s Japan supersizes its other menu offerings, the Japanese may become supersized like us. Hopefully not.

Here’s a healthful tip: When in Japan, choose sushi, veggies, and brown rice!!

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