Recently, Californians were asked in a Field Research Corporation poll to identify which fast foods are healthier than others. The San Francisco Chronicle published the results.
Here are some of the questions from the poll:
- Which of the following breakfast items that are served at Denny’s do you think has the fewest calories?
- Ham and cheddar omelet
- Country fried steak and eggs
- Three slices of French toast with syrup and margarine
- Three pancakes with syrup and margarine
- Which of the following items that are served at Chili’s do you think has the least salt?
- Cajun chicken sandwich
- Classic combo steak and chicken fajitas
- Guiltless chicken platter
- Smoked turkey sandwich
- Which of the following items that are served at Romano’s Macaroni Grill do you think has the most fat?
- Traditional lasagna
- Chicken Caesar salad
- Pasta Classico with sausage and peppers
- Barbecue chicken pizza
- Which of the following items that are served at McDonald’s do you think has the most calories?
- Two Big Macs
- Two Egg McMuffins
- One large chocolate shake
- Four regular hamburgers
And, here are the results:
Denny’s breakfast calories
Most of the people polled thought that Denny’s Ham and Cheddar Omelet had the fewest calories of the choices offered. But they were wrong. The Ham and Cheddar Omelet has a modest (by Denny’s standards) 595 calories, 423 from fat. The correct answer to the question of which of Denny’s breakfasts is the lowest in calories is, are you ready for this, Country Fried Steak and Eggs. It has a modest 494 calories (without bread) and only (really?) 306 fat calories. The worst offender on this list is Denny’s Fabulous French Toast Platter (three slices of French toast, weighing in at 1,261 calories (711 from fat) according to a posting on the web, not including the calories from the breakfast meat, fruit topping, or margarine that is a part of the Platter offering). Hmmm, 1,261 calories are about 65% of my recommended daily calories. If I eat the whole Platter, then I only get to eat a couple of lettuce leaves and a handful of peanuts the whole rest of the day, right?
Salt in Chili’s poultry dishes
People polled overwhelmingly (52%) thought that Chili’s smoked turkey sandwich had the lowest salt. But they were wrong, again. Chili’s smoked turkey sandwich (without fries) has 2,920 mg of sodium. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium is less than 2,400 mg of sodium per day including sodium used in cooking and of the table. Chili’s Cajun chicken sandwich was the lowest (but not low) sodium choice in the survey with a mere 2,200 mg of sodium (close to the 2,400 mg in the RDA).
People had trouble deciding whether the traditional lasagna or Pasta Classico with sausage or barbecue chicken pizza had the most fat. They were pretty clear that the high-fat choice was not the Chicken Caesar salad. Ding, ding, ding. Public, you are wrong again. Romano’s Chicken Caeser weighs in with the most fat at 69 grams per serving. Fat has the most calories per gram of any type of food. Ingesting fat is an efficient way to get a lot of calories (not something most of us want to do nowadays).
Wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly how many calories and how much fat or salt is in each meal so that you could include that in your meal decision process?
High calories McDonald’s foods
Most folks responding to the survey thought that Two Big Macs had the most McCalories. Relatively, few thought a large chocolate shake was the calorie bomb…wrong, wrong, wrong. A large chocolate shake (a.k.a. Chocolate Triple Shake) from McDonald’s has 1,160 calories. That is close to 60% of this short woman’s daily caloric intake. And, that is without asking exactly who is able to have just only a chocolate shake for lunch? Isn’t the usual order: “A shake, burgers, and fries?” Oh no, no, no! This typical McOrder adds a serious bolus of calories to our daily energy intake.
The bottom line
Here is the bottom line. This study shows that we (you and I), the consuming public, are pretty bad at estimating the calorie, fat, and salt content of commonly eaten fast foods? That is why we need to insist (demand?) that fast food restaurants prominently display nutritional information at the point of purchase so that we can incorporate this information into our decision-making process.
We simply cannot reliably make judgments about what are the best foods for us based on our beliefs or societal myths. We need the facts, clearly, explicitly, and conveniently presented at the time we make our food purchasing decisions. Thank you very much.
This is a simple fix, really. As far as I can tell, most fast food companies are already posting this information on the web. So, adding this information (prominently and clearly) to fast food menus should not be such a big deal for the fast food companies. And, although the easy availability of this information could (hopefully) change consumer purchasing practices (perhaps to the detriment of fast food companies reliant on making money off of poor food choices), consumers will hopefully use the information to make much more prudent food choices relevant to their individual health needs.