Saturday, June 8, 2013

McDonald's V Subway: The Winner is...

Apparently Germans don’t eat enough fish and likely aren’t getting adequate amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. To solve this potential problem Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in the Bavarian town of Freising has developed the omega-3 sausage. [1] Food manufacturers are always ready to profit from popular trends. Polls tell them that people know that omega-3 is beneficial to health but they aren’t following the recommendations to eat more fish. Food processors are more than happy to give the people what they need in the foods that they do eat like sausage and even ice cream. According to a representative from the Fraunhofer Institute, “despite the added value in terms of health benefits, the sausages are just as tasty as their “regular” counterparts.”

In other words if they neglected to label their product you would never even know what you are eating. Take your medicine it’s good for you! Just a thought but any kind of meat product from an Engineering and Packaging entity sounds a little fishy to me. It won’t be long and we will just accept and eventually expect omega-3 to be added to just about anything. My strong opinion is that like all nutrients (vitamins and minerals) omega-3 should be consumed in its natural package, i.e. in fish and nuts. When you isolate a nutrient from the whole it’s likely not as beneficial. It’s kind of like taking Justin Verlander’s pitching arm off and giving it your dentist. I doubt Dr. Molar is going to pitch in Major League Baseball.

Meanwhile a Russian company that specializes in the production of protein-enriched foodstuffs is making ice cream more nutritious with meat waste. How yummy does that sound? It seems meat waste is being underutilized by the industry. Using the meat waste has traditionally been used in the production of biodiesel (proven to be too expensive) and factory farm animal feed. Thanks to a process involving enzymes to digest food, poultry leftovers such as bone and meat trimmings can be converted into proteins dubbed functional animal proteins hydrolyzates. This stuff is added to all kinds of processed foods like protein powders and don’t forget about Uncle Ben’s chicken flavored rice. [2] If your food comes in a box it’s virtually guaranteed to contain heavily processed and cheap byproducts like meat waste.

Speaking of processed food there has been a media blitz in recent months that the quick serve industry is making a strong push to improve the nutritional quality of their kid’s meals. How are they doing so far?

A recent report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) showed that children's menus in most US restaurant chains have too many calories, too much processed salt and fats, and often don't even provide a hint of fresh produce.

 The report, titled "Kids' Meals: Obesity on the Menu", found that among the 3,500 combinations surveyed, kids' meals failed to meet nutritional standards 97 percent of the time.  This is however, a marginal improvement over 2008 when kids' meals failed to meet standards 99 percent of the time. These are based upon standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutritional recommendations, as well as those set by the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell Program. [3]

McDonald’s and Subway are the two largest quick serve chains in the world.  McDonalds is probably not a surprise and maybe Subway has grown as an alternative for people that want better nutrition choices when in a need for a quick meal. But is Subway really a better choice?

According to recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health researchers found that children who purchased Subway meals consumed nearly as many calories as they did at McDonald’s.  The researchers found that the participants bought meals containing an average of 1,038 calories at McDonald’s and an average of 955 calories at Subway. [4]

Additionally, consumers tend to underestimate caloric intake to a greater degree at Subway than at any other chain; adults and adolescents eating at Subway underestimated actual calories consumed by 20% and 25% more than those at McDonald’s.

I conducted my own experiment several years ago with a group of 6 boys ages 15-18, and though my sample size was far smaller I recorded similar results:

900 calories, 40.5 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 2415 mg sodium, 100 grams carbs, 33 grams protein. [5]

My experiment was conducted at another quick serve; Panera, that is considered a better choice from a nutrient quality perspective.

As a point of reference The Institute of Medicine recommends that school lunches not exceed 850 calories. An adolescent should consume an average of about 2,400 calories in a day.

In this context calories are used as the measure for the quality of the meal. For the research to even mean anything we have to accept that counting calories is an effective indicator of a meals quality.  While counting calories can be useful as a general reference point, in isolation they do nothing to indicate the quality of a meal. 900 calories from McDonald’s for a 60-year-old diabetic who doesn’t exercise is a poor meal choice. A 900-calorie meal of grass fed beef, sweet potatoes, broccoli and olive oil for an active 16-yeard old boy is a pretty awesome choice.

Irrespective of the total calories a food is said to have it’s the nutrition you get out of that food that matters most. A McDonald’s or Subway meal is full of nutrient deficient processed foodstuff made with who knows what while a home cooked meal supplies your body the fuel it needs to be strong and vibrant especially when you use whole food ingredients. And when you cook from scratch you don’t have to worry about calorie counting because when you feed your body with real food it will satisfy your appetite long before you consume 900 calories.


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