How Can It Be Healthy If It's Fast?

An experiment reported in the August Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the acute cardiovascular effects of a standard burger-and-fries McDonald's meal were indistinguishable from those of an  alternative meal offered by the same restaurant that is less fatty and higher in vitamin C. Predictably, the study has been interpreted as an indictment of the fast food industry, demonstrating that chains like McDonald's are only pretending to offer healthier options. "'Healthy' Fast Foods Not Easier on the Heart," Reuters announced, while the New York Post warned, "'Health' Foods Just As Bad." In a press release that appeared in my in-box yesterday, John Banzhaf, the George Washington University law professor who sees a lawsuit in almost every news item, opines:

A fast food chain which promoted a meal of a vegetarian burger plus salad, fruit, yogurt, and orange juice as healthier than a typical fast food meal of a hamburger, fries, ketchup, and a carbonated drink, knowing that both presented the same risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular problem, could be guilty of the same deception as cigarette makers who promoted low tar and nicotine cigarettes while studies showed that they were just as dangerous as ordinary brands.

If anyone has been misleading the public in this area, it's not the fast food chains. According to standard nutritional guidelines, the veggie burger meal is healthier: It has 31 grams of fat, including four grams of saturated fat and virtually no trans fat, compared to 49, 14, and eight grams, respectively, in the standard meal; it has about 200 fewer calories and 20 times as much vitamin C. The fact that the meal is produced by a big corporation, served quickly, and sold cheaply does not magically nullify these differences. So either the experts have been giving us bad advice about healthy eating or the measures of carviovascular risk used in the study are not what they're cracked up to be.

The main variable was endothelial function, which measures the performance of cells that line blood vessels and help control blood flow. Decreased endothelial function, which is believed to be a marker for cardiovascular disease, has been found to follow consumption of high-fat meals in other studies. It is also observed in subjects briefly exposed to secondhand smoke, which is one much-distorted source of hysterical warnings that sitting next to a smoker for a half-hour (or even 30 seconds) might give you a heart attack. But the long-term significance of this temporary, short-term effect is unclear, and the fast food study casts further doubt on its meaning.

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  • Episiarch||

    When will corporations learn that mollifying the haters does nothing? They want you destroyed, Mickey D, and they won't stop. McDonald's represents big business, American "cultural imperialism", and the crassness and vulgar tastes of the fat American masses. Good luck trying to fend them off with veggie burgers.

  • ||

    Good luck trying to fend them off with veggie burgers.

    The taste of a veggie burger is enough to keep me away. ;)

  • ||

    When will corporations learn that mollifying the haters does nothing?

    That's not exactly right. It is true that there's no satisfying the haters. But they aren't your customers. They only become a problem when they convince lots of other people that you're baaaad. If you can launch a successful "our new healthy menu" ad campaign. The haters will go on hating, but your customers will come back, and order burgers and fries, and wash it down with HFCS.

  • ||

    This is really why I don't base hardly any of my arguments for libertarianism based on science; it's obvious that the numbers the mass media accept and push onto the generally scientific ignorant population are wickedly agenda-based and biased.

    There's a special place in hell for people who make usually smart folks like me doubt science, and hopefully it's a place where math and logic textbooks are mercilessly rammed in orifices large and small.

  • ||

    This is really why I don't base hardly any of my arguments for libertarianism based on science; it's obvious that the numbers the mass media accept and push onto the generally scientifically ignorant population are wickedly agenda-based and biased.

    There's a special place in hell for people who make usually smart folks like me doubt science, and hopefully it's a place where math and logic textbooks are mercilessly rammed in toorifices large and small.

    ED NOTE: Yikes, Iraq has made me dumber...but if it gripped an entire party, I guess I shouldn't feel so bad(ly).

  • ||

    Acute effects. The acute effects.

    Not the long-term effects; the acute effects.

    If you eat a generally healthy diet over the long term, the effects described in this study won't make a difference.

    The long-term effects of less vs. more fat, saturated fat, and trans-fat in your diet are pretty well understood.

  • ||

    "The taste of a veggie burger is enough to keep me away."

    McD's hasn't learned that a veggie burger isn't a hamburger substitute. It's a great thing when smothered in tahini or humus, topped with alfalfa sprouts with some diced onions thrown in. A pita's a good idea, but a bun is just fine. It's delicious. Of course, make sure you order bacon with your fries or in your Coke so that she doesn't think you're, you know, that way.

  • Gimme Back My Dog||

    joe,

    But that is the point. There is no real advantage to forcing McDonalds et al to offer healthier options. Most people don't eat there often enough to have any measurable effect on their long term health. And if you do eat there that often, swapping a veggie patty for beef isn't going to help you.

  • ||

    ...order bacon with your fries or in your Coke...

    I usually have the bacon on my ice cream.

    It isn't just McD's veggie burgers, it's everybody's veggie burgers. I had one in an upscale restaurant once (my date was vegan & I was trying to be polite). It tasted like compost.

  • ||

    Many veggie burgers do taste like compost (or worse, pure soy protein). The problem is that the restaurants that y'all go to and buy these pieces of shit aren't restaurants where people who normally eat veggie burgers are going to go. Some of you would be surprised to find out that a large grouping of vegetarians frown on veggie burgers for precisely that reason, and prefer that if they eat a "burger" of any sort that it is instead made out of black beans, or brown rice, or any other form of tasty protein.
    We also don't eat as many portobella mushrooms as you might think by looking at the vegetarian options offered by restaurants like TGI Fridays. They don't care what the people who are going to order those dishes think of them because those people aren't coming to TGI Fridays because they like the food. They're coming because their friends are coming.

    On the actual subject, fuck journalists

  • Episiarch||

    Veggie burgers can be great as long as you realize you are not eating a burger. You can't expect it to taste like rare beef, because it won't. Treat it as what it is--some nuts, rice protein, mushrooms, etc. and prepare your palatte accordingly.

  • ||

    On the actual subject, fuck journalists

    And the lead researcher:

    "You can not prevent the harmful effects of fast food to the vascular system if you only add 'healthy components," Rudolph concluded.

  • ||

    I usually have the bacon on my ice cream.

    Don't forget to butter up that bacon!

  • ||

    " I had one in an upscale restaurant once..."

    Why would you order any type of burger in an upscale restaurant?

  • ||

    In my household, we have baconed up that sausage on more than one occasion.

  • ||

    Why would you order any type of burger in an upscale restaurant?

    sixstring,

    He was trying to get laid.

    I, myself, attempted to line dance once in the same effort. I failed at both.

  • ||

    There is a deli on the corner of 17th Street and Union Sq. East (or is it Park Ave. South?) that has the best veggie burger I've ever met. It was made from beans and rice and spinach. It wasn't one of these sad Bocaburgers you get in the store. The Great American Health Bar on 57th Street has an awesome spinach burger. The Pump has a decent "New York Sandwich" that you can get with a veggie burger (but everything else sucks there). Josie's (at least the Murray Hill branch) knows how to make a vegetarian meal pretty damn good. Come to think of it, I don't eat very much vegetarian fare now that I moved away from NYC.

  • ||

    Then he should have ordered the muffburger.

  • ||

    Gimme Back My Dog,

    Forcing who to do what, now?

    And seeing as how McDonald's is an industry leader, if it were to change its menu in response to customer inputs (as it has in a number of areas, like Burger King, which actually does offer a veggie burger now), then it likely would have a measureable effect on people's diets.

  • Episiarch||

    There is a deli on the corner of 17th Street and Union Sq. East (or is it Park Ave. South?) that has the best veggie burger I've ever met.

    Lamar, don't you mean Union Sq. Cafe at 17th and Union Sq. West? I don't recall there being a deli on the east side of Union Sq. (I used to work on 17th between Broadway and 5th).

    The Upper East side had several vegetarian and macrobiotic places, some good, some terrible. I make far better vegetarian food (I am not a vegetarian) than any vegetarian restaurant I've ever been to. I think many places like that are run by people who use vegetarianism or veganism as their own style of wool shirt, and therefore flavor is anathema to them. It's incredibly easy to give vegetarian food tons of flavor.

  • ||

    So the acute cardiovascular effects are the same. What about the acute "your gut's so big it won't fit in your pants" effect?

    Also, why the focus on a veggie burger that no one orders anyway? McDonald's healthified their menu primarily by (1) offering a bunch of pretty healthy, moderately tasty salads and (2) cleaning up the happy meals by offering fruit instead of fries. What's the acute cardiovascular effect of eating a salad with grilled chicken vs the burger and fries?

  • ||

    McDonald's has "changed its menu in response to customer inputs." It's quite possible to eat a healthy meal there now. An Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken (with dressing) is 390 calories, 12g total fat, 1.5g sat fat. You can, of course, still eat like a pig (Double Quarter Pounder, lg fries, lg Coke is 1620 calories and 73g fat). It just silly to think that McDonald's isn't interested in customer input - they are in the business of taking money from customers, after all, so they aren't going to ignore customer desires. Activist input is another matter altogether.

  • VM||

    Michael | August 17, 2007, 2:15pm | #
    In my household, we have baconed up that sausage on more than one occasion.



    *freaks out: unsure whether to channel Quagmire or the Todd..... ARGH!!!!!!!

  • ||

    No, Union Sq. Cafe is an upscale joint. The place I'm talking about is called Trevi Deli. Southeast corner of 17th and Union Sq. East.

  • Derrick||

    I live on Morningstar Farms' Spicy Black Bean Burgers. All other supermarket veggie burgers blow, but the SBB is delicious.

  • ||

    Why on god's green earth would anyone want to eat a veggie "burger" to begin with?

    Are you trying to "fit in" with the carnivores? Like a former smoker eating carrots, you are compelled to by some weird format preference? If it's flat, it's good?

    And I agree, to pacify the missus, I tried one once. Compost it is. Maybe if I could deep-fry it.... You want heathly? Go run a couple miles. Eat a salad. Try yoga. Just leave the burgers to the non-grazers.

    And for cryin' out loud, don't go into McD's and expect healthy. It's beef n' grease. Deal with it.

  • ||

    JW,

    You order a veggie burger at a fast food restaurant because you and your folks are going to that restaurant, and it's the only sammich you can eat.

    I actually used to order the Pita wrap at Wendy's when they had them. The Greek one, with olives and feta. But then they stopped offering it.

    Burger King offers a veggie burger. The quality varies from place to place - some of them realize that they aren't supposed to be grilled as long as a hamburger, and some of them don't.

  • Mike Laursen||

    It's a great thing when smothered in tahini or humus, topped with alfalfa sprouts with some diced onions thrown in.

    I've eaten a lot of veggie burgers prepared lots of ways, but they are at best a tolerable thing.

  • ||

    joe -

    Just a nitpick as a former manager of BK...we've offered a veggie burger, seriously, forever (since at least 1998)...no one wanted them until the ruckus about health kicked up a couple of years ago.

  • Allen||

    Off hand this smacks of the whole slow-food "craze". It feels like the old physics question where you're asked if you dropped a tennis ball and bowling ball off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which would hit the ground first. The temptation is to go with the bowling ball but now days most of us know that is not the case. This seems like that over-simplistic situation where they're playing on the idea of somehow if you simply prepare food quickly, you're magically altering the chemistry. What's next? Eating slower is better for your health?

    **wanders off to scarf down a banana**

  • ||

    Mike Laursen,

    I'm not a vegetarian, but I was for a while. Even today, I rarely order meat from restaurants.

    My experience was that my tastes greatly improved after I'd been off meat for a while. A burger is yumminess by brute force. OF COURSES high amounts of animal fat taste good. We are programmed to like fat, sugar, salt, and other basic flavors. They're easy.

    When you stop eating meat, your palette expands. You taste flavors you never noticed before. It's a process of refinement.

  • ||

    Ayn Randian,

    I was the guy who came in and ordered the only veggie burger you sold all day back in 1998.

  • mrs cook||

    Mcdonalds and its ilk have helped to make me sick, My sugar raised well over 400, my wieght zoomed. I craved it, and was driven by lack of time so I went nearly everyday. My mistake, now I feel like I am in detox, trying to drive its effects from my body. I don,t care what they promise as healthy. I intend to stay out forever. My life depends on it.

  • ||

    I usually have the bacon on my ice cream.



    Ummm - The bacon blizzard is delicious. Beats the hell out of the Reese's Pieces and M&M versions.

  • ||

    When you stop eating meat, your palette expands. You taste flavors you never noticed before. It's a process of refinement.

    You don't have to stop eating meat to expand your palette, well, at least I don't.

    I'll try almost anything once (*almost* not including Anthony Bourdain levels of tolerance). Problem is, with the kiddies now, I don't get out to eateries that much any more. I've eaten enough skinless chicken breast for 2 lifetimes.

    Not that this is out on any culinary limb, but I did have some bacon-wrapped scallops the other week that almost made me drown in my own drool. They were that good. (Note that this is not any example of palette expansion, just damn good food.)

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