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Fast Food Weight Loss – Is Eating At McDonald’s The New Path To Weight Loss?
Is eating at McDonald’s the new path to weight loss? Can fast food burgers, fries and sodas fit into your diet and weight loss program? For years, the answer has been a resounding NO. But lately, Wendy’s, Burger King and many other fast food chains have made changes to help consumers stick to a healthy diet.
Why have fast food companies finally started to pay attention to healthier food choices? Simply stated, because it’s good for business. Americans are trying everything from the newest weight loss pill to Weight Watchers to lose their extra fat, spending “…..more than $40 billion in 2004 on weight control pills, gym memberships, diet plans and related foods, estimates Marketdata Enterprises, which studies the weight loss industry” (Source: cnn.com; 1-14-2005). Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that 80 percent of overweight individuals and almost 87 percent of obese individuals are trying to lose or maintain their weight.
Any fast foods company that’s paying attention to public sentiment and trends has made changes to make their menu more palatable to the health and fitness enthusiast. McDonald’s, long an industry leader, has made tremendous strides in this area culminating in their recent announcement that all fast food packaging will soon include nutritional information. But have they gone far enough?
-> Fast Food = Fat Food:
No matter how many healthy new products are introduced onto the fast food menu boards, the problem is that their core products are high in fat and calories. Consider these typical meals from McDonald’s:
* Big Mac, Large Fries, Large Coca-Cola, Hot Fudge Sundae = 1,730 calories, 99% of daily fat, 108% of daily saturated fat, 86% of daily carbohydrates
* Chicken Selects Breast Strips (5 pc), Large Fries, Large Coke, McFlurry with M+M’s Candies (12 oz.) = 2,290 calories, 151% of daily fat, 131% of daily saturated fat, 100% of daily carbohydrates
* Bacon Ranch Salad/Crispy Chicken, Newman’s Ranch Dressing, Large Coke, McFlurry Oreo (12 oz.) = 1,390 calories, 73% of daily fat, 81% of daily saturated fat, 69% of daily carbohydrates
Some consumers, in an attempt to reduce the number of calories and fat they’re eating, have opted for salads instead of traditional burgers and fries. Unfortunately, some fast food salads are almost as bad for us as a Big Mac. A California Cobb salad with Newman’s Own Cobb Dressing from McDonald’s, for example, boasts 490 calories and 42% of your daily fat. Compare that to a Big Mac, which has 560 calories and 47% of your recommended daily fat.
Although chastised in the movie ‘SuperSize Me’, McDonald’s isn’t alone in offering high calories foods. The Original Whopper with Cheese from Burger King will cost you 800 calories and 49 grams of fat. Make that a Double Whopper with Cheese and you’ll consume an incredible 1,060 calories and 69 grams of fat. The Big Bacon Classic from Wendy’s is better with 580 calories and 29 grams of fat, while the Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack In The Box is the highest on the list with 1,094 calories and a tremendous 78 grams of fat.
Clearly, high calorie fast food has become a problem. With approximately 65% of Americans classified as overweight, people are pointing fingers of blame. “In a lawsuit filed in 2002, two Bronx teenagers accused McDonald’s of making them fat by serving them highly processed food that affected their health. A judge tossed out the case a year later, but an appeals court reinstated part of the suit earlier this year, according to published reports.” (Source: cnn.com; 10-20-2005).
McDonald’s isn’t the only chain being accused of making people fat. “A New York City lawyer has filed suit against the four big fast-food corporations, saying their fatty foods are responsible for his client’s obesity and related health problems. Samuel Hirsch filed his lawsuit Wednesday at a New York state court in the Bronx, alleging that McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC Corporation are irresponsible and deceptive in the posting of their nutritional information, that they need to offer healthier options on their menus, and that they create a de facto addiction in their consumers” (Source: foxnews.com; 7-24-2002).
The fast food industry initially responded by arguing that customers have a choice of what to order when going to a restaurant. “It’s senseless, baseless and ridiculous,” National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Katharine Kim said. “There are choices in restaurants and people can make these choices, and there’s a little personal responsibility as well.” (Source: foxnews.com; 7-24-2002).
Our elected officials seem to agree with that assessment. “The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would block lawsuits by people who blame fast-food chains for their obesity. The ‘cheeseburger bill,’ as it has been dubbed in Congress, stems from class-action litigation that accused McDonald’s of causing obesity in children” (Source: cnn.com; 10-20-2005). This bill is not yet law, having passed the House but not yet the Senate. In the last Congress a similar bill passed the House, but the Senate never acted on it. About 20 states have laws similar to the ‘cheeseburger bill’.
-> Fast Food Makes A Change:
To their credit, McDonald’s and some others in the fast food industry have made changes to their menu making it easier for us to stick to our diet program or weight loss plan.
McDonald’s allows consumers to substitute Apple Dippers with Caramel Dip for the french fries in their meal, cutting calories from 350 to 100 and reducing fat from 16 grams all the way down to 1 gram (comparison vs. medium fries). McDonald’s also allows a no-cost substitution of 1% milk instead of a Coke, further cutting caloric intake by 50 calories and boosting protein and calcium (comparison vs. small Coke Classic).
Upon request, Burger King now provides Mott’s Strawberry Flavored Applesauce in place of french fries which will save you 270 calories and 18 grams of fat (comparison vs. medium fries).
Wendy’s will honor customer requests to substitute mandarin oranges for french fries, sparing you a belt-busting 360 calories and 21 grams of fat (comparison vs. medium fries).
Not only are the fast food giants allowing healthier substitutions, but they have also added a selection of fairly nutritious menu options. McDonald’s new Fruit & Walnut Salad has only 310 calories and 13 grams of fat, while their Fruit & Yogurt Parfait boasts 160 calories and 2 grams of fat. In some markets Burger King is offering a Veggie Burger that has only 340 calories and 8 grams of fat when you order it without the mayonnaise.
Now McDonald’s has given consumers looking for fast weight loss another tool: easy to read and easy to find nutritional labels. In the past, customers wanting to find nutrition facts on their fast food choices either had to search in the restaurant for a hard-to-find poster or go online. Now, in what is being called a ‘bold move’, McDonald’s is planning to put these nutritional facts right where they’re easiest to find – on the product wrapper itself. “McDonald’s Corp. customers will soon know that the Big Mac they bought contains almost half their recommended daily fat intake just by looking at the wrapper. In its latest measure to fend off critics that blame the world’s largest restaurant company for contributing to rising incidents of obesity and other health problems, McDonald’s said it will start printing nutritional information on the packaging of its food” (Source: cnn.com; 10-26-2005).
McDonald’s is to be commended for their efforts to educate their customers. This new informative label goes a long way towards answering nutritional concerns. Expected to be in most stores by the end of 2006, the new labels will include the amount of the nutrient (calories, fat, protein, etc.) and the percentage of the daily recommended intake, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
-> Is It Enough?
The fast food industry has heard the public asking for healthier options and more nutritional information, and they have responded. But it is enough?
McDonald’s and others still sell high calorie and high fat products, and we shouldn’t expect those to disappear anytime soon. In our free market, as long as there is a demand there will be someone with a supply. “Data from USDA’s food intake surveys show that the food-away-from-home sector provided 32 percent of total food energy consumption in 1994-96, up from 18 percent in 1977-78. The data also suggest that, when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher calorie foods-or both-and that this tendency appears to be increasing” (Source: usda.gov).
Even with more information at their fingertips, there is some doubt that consumers will actually use that information to make healthier choices. Consider the limited impact from warning labels on cigarettes and alcohol packaging; despite such dire warnings, people still use these products. There is evidence that Americans will continue to eat what they want, no matter how much information they have available to them. “According to a 2000 Roper Reports survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,000 Americans 18 or older, the percentage of Americans who say they are eating “pretty much whatever they want” was at an all-time high of 70 percent in 2000, up from 58 percent in 1997″ (Source: usda.gov).
The question of ‘is it enough’ seems to be misdirected. Instead of asking the fast food industry to do more to educate the public and offer healthy options, perhaps what we as a country should do is ask ourselves if the information we have right now is enough. If we look for it, is there enough health, fitness and nutritional information out there to help us make the right dietary choices? As uncomfortable as it may be for some, the answer to this question is probably yes.
-> The Overlooked Answer:
All too often, when participating in a discussion of diet and weight control, we fail to mention the most obvious answer: exercise! Consistent exercise can balance out and make up for the occasional high calorie fast food meal, while at the same time providing countless other health benefits.
Exercise is the only path to quick weight loss that virtually every doctor in the world agrees upon. Exercise is safe, effective, and brings many more benefits to our lives than nutrition labels ever will alone. Exercise is fun, invigorating, motivating and the single most powerful way to improve our life and well-being.
Reaching your ideal weight via a healthy and active lifestyle has been found to lower health risks and medical problems in 90 percent of overweight patients. In addition to the exercise benefits listed above, fit people are eight times less likely to die from cancer than the unfit, and 53 percent less likely to die from other diseases. Fit people are also eight times less likely to die from heart disease.
Yes, nutrition labels are important insofar as we actually use them. But without a doubt, regular exercise is the most important piece of the puzzle and the best way to achieve rapid weight loss. Exercise is the safest way to achieve permanent fat loss, and when combined with a sound diet and nutrition program the body is turned into a virtual fat-burning furnace!
Consumers would be wise to use the new tools from the fast food industry. Order the healthier items off the menu, pay attention to the nutritional labels, and above all else remember to participate in regular exercise.
About the Author
Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women, focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit http://www.letspickupthepace.com/ for more information.
Jim Flaherty as Casey Kasem