Fast food menus hide nutritional surprises
How calorie conscious are you when eating out at a
Most people have guilty pleasures, even when they’re ultra
conservative about what they put in their bodies. So the person on
the soy and buckwheat diet occasionally has a McDonald’s milkshake
or a Starbucks frappuccino? What’s the harm, right?
Fast food menus hide nutritional surprises
How calorie conscious are you when eating out at a restaurant?
Most people have guilty pleasures, even when they’re ultra conservative about what they put in their bodies. So the person on the soy and buckwheat diet occasionally has a McDonald’s milkshake or a Starbucks frappuccino? What’s the harm, right?
You’d be surprised.
What do you think has more calories – two Big Mac’s or a McDonald’s large chocolate shake?
Better yet, what item served at Chili’s restaurant has the least salt, a Cajun chicken sandwich or the classic combo chicken and steak fajitas?
If you’re like most Californians, your guesses were probably wrong.
The large shake has more calories than the burgers and the fajitas are packed with salty flavor.
There is a lot of confusion about fast food and restaurant meals. Even things that sound healthy hide lots of calories, transaturated fats and lots of sodium. What sounds like a nutritious choice, such as a chicken potpie from Kentucky Fried Chicken, might surprise eaters when they discover it has 770 calories.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies show 60 percent of America’s population is considered obese. It should come as no surprise that San Benito County also has a high level of obesity, according to registered dietician Jennifer Bange, a clinical nutrition manager for Hazel Hawkins Hospital.
Obesity and unhealthy eating habits have been linked to health-related problems including high-blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.
Many people in San Benito commute to work in San Jose or further and with that comes the temptation to consume much of their food on the go.
It is unclear how many people know the nutritional facts about what they are eating, but a recent field poll commissioned by public health advocates showed the majority of people surveyed were misinformed about healthy eating options at chain restaurants.
The poll was commissioned by public health advocates backing a bill in the state Legislature that would require chain restaurants to post nutritional information on menu boards and menus.
The poll asked 523 registered voters to answer four seemingly simple questions; we’ll give you the test at the end of this article.
The challenge was to pick out the dishes with the most calories, the fewest calories, the least salt and the most fat from among menu items at Denny’s, Chili’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and McDonald’s. Just as on the menus, the only information provided was the name of the dish.
The majority of people polled failed. Two-thirds answered all four questions wrong. And not one person got all four questions right. The results were the same regardless of age, income, education or political party, according to the poll.
The poll is part of a campaign by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy to attract support for state Senate Bill 120, which calls for menu labeling as a way of helping consumers fight obesity and its related health problems. The bill, sponsored by Democratic senators Carole Migden of San Francisco and Alex Padilla of Pacoima (in Los Angeles County) is expected to be up for a Senate vote very soon.
California is one of 11 states following New York City’s lead in considering such labeling.
In July 2006, New York City legislators pioneered a law that requires chain restaurants with 10 or more outlets to post calories on their menu boards. Restaurants with menus would have to print calories, fat, saturated fat and salt content for each dish.
A lot of restaurants already provide nutritional information on their Web sites, but users have to be Internet savvy enough to know where to look because a simple click on the restaurant’s site doesn’t always lead to the nutritional information.
For example, we tried to locate nutritional information for Burger King, but the restaurant’s homepage didn’t have a link directly to nutritional information. Instead, we had to do a Google search for “Burger King + nutritional information” to find the page.
Opponents of the bill have indicated that restaurants in California, especially the chains, already provide the information; some of these restaurants have even posted nutritional facts inside their establishments.
Other restaurants, such as Taco Bell, have Web sites that freely give out the information as well as offer healthy alternatives to some of their otherwise less nutritional items.
The problem may be that people just don’t care, according to Bange.
“Just because a restaurant offers healthy choices doesn’t mean that people will eat them,” Bange said. “The majority of people who go to these places aren’t likely to take the time to review the information. Also, you have to have some education on how to read the labels to know what to look for, otherwise you won’t know how to interpret the information.”
Everyone has heard about the lawsuits brought against fast food chains by people who claim the fast food industry made them fat, but really it all goes back to education, Bange said.
“The best way to make better choices is by educating yourself,” Bange said. “Education is available at Web sites on the Internet such as www.eatright.org, which is the Web site for the American Dietetic Association. There are easy to read information sheets on their Web site. Or if you have a medical condition that is affected by diet you can get a referral to a dietician.”
And being health conscious doesn’t mean skipping fast food altogether. Bange admitted that she enjoys a trip to McDonald’s once per week as a little treat, but she’s conscious of what she has. She gets the medium fries, not the large and she knows that the trip is not going to put her over the edge.
Bange suggested that if you are going to have fast food some suggestions might be to stick to the broiled burgers and chicken sandwiches and be careful of salads, because the dressing is usually where the most calories are concealed.