There is something comforting about walking into a favorite restaurant. The smells of cooking burgers and frying food, as characters like Ronald McDonald, Jack, Carl’s Star, and the newly reconstituted Burger King character, all stare back with happy plastic smiles. No matter what town, there is familiarity in design, logo and menus. Go to a McDonald’s in Los Angeles and know it is exactly like the one in Dallas and the one in New York. It is easy to choose favored items, sit at a booth, eat and leave in about 15 minutes. There is no mess to clean up and no effort, just food that tastes as expected.
Drive from Yuba City to Yuba College and there are 4 Burger Kings, 4 McDonald’s (one inside the Yuba City Wal-Mart), 2 Carl’s Jr., and 2 Jack-in-the-Box restaurants. That is not counting more than 20 other fast food choices, each with drive through access, eagerly willing to serve each customer food in greasy bags or boxes. Often the servers are encouraged to offer the chance to up the size of your food to large or really large. Fast food is everywhere, at highway rest stops, airports, inside stores and even hospital cafeterias.
But what is the real cost of eating all that high fat food?
Take a look at the nutritional information for the food ordered. One can almost feel arteries beginning to harden and pants becoming too tight, just by the reading.
Consider a basic medium meal at Burger King consisting of a Whopper with cheese, french fires and a vanilla shake. In that one meal, scarfed down in only ten minutes, are 87 grams of fat and 1,480 calories.
You won’t fair much better with a McDonald’s meal. A Big Mac, fries and shake contain 59 grams of fat, but still 1,460 calories.
Similar meals at Carl’s Jr. and Jack-in-the-Box get even worse. A Famous Star meal contains 71 grams of fat and 1,680 calories, while a Jumbo Jack with Cheese meal tops the scale at 96.5 grams of fat and 1,805 calories.
A lot of numbers, right? Let’s put them into perspective. According to dietary advice, the average amount of fat a person should eat in one day should not be in excess of 65 grams. Caloric intake should be around 2,000 calories. These numbers do vary slightly depending on gender, activity, and whether the person is trying to lose weight, but numbers drop more than rise when these factors are considered.
With the exception of McDonald’s who slides in 6 grams below the total intake, all of the above mentioned meals exceed dietary recommendations for the whole day, some by an astounding amount. Is it any wonder the American adult obesity rate has doubled over the last twenty years?
However weight gain is not the only danger presented by fast food.
Walk into the kitchen of a Burger King and there are square boxes stacked near the fryer. Inside each of these are blocks of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, solid and white, waiting to be scooped up by gloved hand and dumped into the 350-degree fryers.
Vegetable oil is not a naturally solid substance at room temperature, nor does it have a long shelf life. Oxidation will cause the oil to go rancid. To prevent this, manufacturers will partially hydrogenate the oil. Partial hydrogenation is accomplished by heating and exposing the oil to semi-toxic metals like nickel and aluminum and then passing hydrogen gas bubbles through it. Hydrogen attaches to the fats within the oil, and they change, becoming plastic or trans fats, which the body has trouble recognizing as food. Trans fats have no nutritional purpose. They are absorbed by the body and are directly stored in fat cells or clog arteries. Since these oils have been introduced into most processed foods, heart disease statistics, as well as obesity, has risen
It isn’t really necessary for fast food restaurants to use partially hydrogenated oils. Fryer oil must be changed regularly; otherwise, it turns black as tiny bits of food burn, so oil does not sit around for long periods of time. .Therefore shelf life is not an issue. In 2002, McDonald’s announced with great fanfare that they would reformulate their cooking oil to one with less trans fats. In 2003, however, they made a much quieter announcement that they would be extending that time frame. If any of these restaurants changed to the natural forms of oil, their fried food would be trans fat free.
Any fried food at a fast food restaurant will set you back, some worse than others. At Burger King, a kid’s 4 piece tender has 9 grams of fat and 170 calories. A four piece Chicken McNugget order at McDonald’s has ten grams of fat and 170 calories, while their new offering, Chicken Select Strips, contains 20 grams of fat and 380 calories. A three-piece Chicken Strip order from Carl’s Jr. has 21 grams of fat and 376 calories. At 38 grams of fat and 630 calories, Jack in the box once again overshadows its competitors.
Then there are the sauces. Those little tubs of sauce are deceptive. Ranch ranges from 10 to 15 grams of fat. Carl’s Jr. offers the Buttermilk House dipping sauce at 13 grams of fat.
In spite of the reduced sized offerings for breakfast, the fat and calories are simply packaged smaller. The extreme Sausage Sandwich at Jack in the Box contains 50 grams of fat. At Carl’s Jr. the Croissant Sunrise Sandwich with Sausage has 40 grams of fat. McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg has 28 grams of fat. While Burger King offers not only their Sausage Croissant at 39 grams of fat, but seeks to top the morning fat fest with their new Double Sausage Croissant, with 2 pieces of sausage, 2 slices of cheese with egg on a croissant, that weighs out at 63 grams of fat. That is almost as much fat as in their Double Whopper with cheese at 69 grams of fat.
Finding healthy options at fast food restaurants, as nutritionists suggest for those who will eat there anyway, is more difficult than one might realize.
Salads are the obvious choice, and are mostly healthy as long as any chicken placed on them is not fried. Other pitfalls occur as you add onto the vegetable bases. Salad dressings seem to be the worst offenders, the creamier, the fatter. Ordering ranch style dressings will gain you anywhere from 10- 41 grams of fat.
Jack in the Box’s salads are especially deceiving. One example, and the worst of the lot, is the Chicken Club salad containing 61.5 grams of fat and 825 calories. Even the side salad has 7.5 grams of fat. Add a pack of Ranch dressing and the small salad suddenly contains 48.5 grams of fat.
Beware advertising that declare healthy alternatives. Fast food, by its very nature is not healthy. Check nutritional charts either at the store or offered online. Be aware of what is in the food being eaten, ‘healthy’ can be deceiving.
America is a nation of fat people obsessed with being thin; however, in the last twenty years adult obesity rates have doubled, while teen obesity rates have tripled. Some believe if they remove the carbohydrates, the bun, from their Double Whopper with Cheese, and then slather it with a packet of mayo, they are being healthy. That is 65 grams of fat, a whole days worth of fat contained in a black plastic bowl.
Does that sound healthy to you?