As a nutritionist, I want to make a challenge to all fast-food restaurants.
As we see McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway and the like adding and changing menu items to reflect better nutrition, it's evident that there is a belief that foods we eat are not making us healthy. The momentum is building for healthier restaurant menus, but not building fast enough. Unfortunately they follow the guidelines of the media, jumping on what the media hypes, and not nutrition specialists.
We've seen New York City, beginning in 2007, ban the use of trans fat in restaurants, and many fast-food chains have already started taking trans fat out of their cooking oils. They've added a variety of salads; oatmeal and yogurt parfaits for breakfast; we see sweet potatoes added. This is all positive, except sugars are still being added to items that really do not need added sugars. And beyond this, foods may contain additives like propylene glycol or MSG.
In the past, some chains tried the low-fat burgers and pizza and such, and they failed. But, fat isn't necessarily the answer anyway. The concentration of making items healthier seems to be in the wrong places. It's not so much the burger, but more importantly the bun!
Buns are loaded with hydrogenated oils, sugars and refined flour. Some restaurants may say they are offering whole-wheat bread, but let's get serious. It's not whole wheat. The federal law allows the manufacturers of whole wheat products to include up to 49 percent of the flour to be refined non-whole-wheat flour. The words "100 percent" must be on the package if it is indeed completely whole wheat. And you can be assured that most restaurants are not going to put out the extra money to go all the way to offer 100 percent. So as long as they can fool the public, they will get away with continuing to offer their version of whole-wheat bread.
We now have options of nice salads, but the salad dressings are full of sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and who knows what else.
Smoothies are everywhere now, but are they really healthy? No. Their conception of a smoothie is no way near what healthy means. The fast-food smoothie will most likely be full of refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Some don't even use real fruit, just syrups, artificial dyes and extracts. And to begin with, even if they use fruit juices, it's not realized that fruit juice is just another refined food that inflames the arteries.
Even the eggs may not be the real thing. They may be irradiated (exposed to radiation for liability reasons), pasteurized or liquid processed eggs that may contain gluten, artificial flavor, cornstarch, milk product, or soy oil.
Recently, it was in the news that many fast-food establishments serve ground meat that is not 100-percent meat, but rather could contain only between 30- and 80-percent real meat. And it was revealed that chicken nuggets could contain all kinds of additives, including dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent used in Silly Putty.
Some of the most important information needed to know about the proliferation of refined foods can be found in my book, So, You Think You Eat Healthy?. Refined foods are the main reasons for our rise in obesity and diabetes, and all the toxic additives cannot be good for our health.
So, here is the challenge for you, fast-food business owners. Get educated, and begin to offer items geared toward the segment of the population who want to eat healthy and already doing so. But also, there is another percentage of fast-food patrons who just might be tempted to pick the 100-percent, whole-wheat bun or tortilla, or the meat without fillers, or the salad dressing without hydrogenated oil and sugar. Of course, the public has no way of knowing what other hidden things lurk inside your foods, but at least we can start with a few better choices, and hopefully have your determination to someday serve wholesome foods that pose little threat to our health.