Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Burger King rules in New Brunswick schools

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A few weeks ago it hit the news that Burger King has the contract to provide hot lunches for the Anglophone East School District in New Brunswick. Some people were upset that a fast food restaurant is being paid to provide children with lunches. Others defended the program by stating that the foods provided meet the provincial school nutrition policy.

Without knowing exactly what foods are being provided through this program, I would be remiss in dismissing the program as unhealthy. The article simply states that burgers can’t be served more than twice a week, fries aren’t served at all, and they also offer salads and apple sauce. I admit that these claims don’t instil me with much confidence that the offerings are truly healthy, balanced, varied choices. After all, a healthy diet isn’t the absence of the least healthy foods. Offering burgers “only” twice a week isn’t exactly a paradigm of health. Nor is apple sauce and what I’m speculating would be an iceberg lettuce-heavy salad. But that’s just speculation. Perhaps BK is offering a variety of nutritious salad options.

I do think that it’s unfortunate that the decision as to which company receives the RFP to provide schools with lunches is made based on what company can meet the guidelines for the lowest price. Instead of looking at what other hot lunch providers can offer by way of variety and nutrition above and beyond foods permitted, it’s all about the money. Far be it for schools to consider the import of good nutrition on health, behaviour, and the ability of students to learn.

The issue goes beyond the nutritional value of the food being served. Having Burger King provide the hot lunches also allows them to advertise within the schools and build life-long customers out of young children. BK may be providing the food at a lower cost than other providers could but that’s because they’re a huge corporation that sells relatively inexpensive mass-produced food products. They’re also getting more than their money’s worth by being allowed to advertise in schools in this manner, and don’t think for a second that this isn’t exactly why they’re doing it.

In an ideal world, schools would have their own cafeterias with staff and nutritious food prepared for all students at lunch. Unfortunately, our world isn’t ideal. At the very least, school boards could be ensuring that RFPs give preference to local companies rather than large multinational fast food conglomerates.


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Unsatisfied with Satisfries

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I’m sure you’ve heard about Burger King’s new “Satisfries” by now. They’ve been all over the papers and my twitterfeed and chances are, two days later, I’m the last dietitian to blog about them. But even if the topic’s been blogged to death how can I not address it?

My first thought was “I don’t know how I feel about these fries”. At 20% fewer calories and 30% less fat than BK’s standard fries they do provide a slightly less unhealthy option for fry-lovers. As many of us dietitians like to suggest making small initial changes (e.g. milk instead of cream in coffee) to help clients with weight loss goals I thought, “well, maybe these have a place”. But then I thought about it some more…

I said that the Satisfries are slightly less  unhealthy because, despite what BK would like you to believe, they are still not actually healthy. They are still deep-fried potatoes. How did they reduce the fat and calories? Apparently they changed the proportions of the breading they use on the potatoes so that they absorb less of the oil in the deep-fryer. Awesome. Because we all love secret breading recipes on our fries, right? They still don’t have much in the way of nutrients other than calories from simple carbohydrates and fat. They have no vitamins to speak of and the only real mineral is about a third of your daily sodium.

I also started having visions of the fat-free frenzy in the 80s, and the current sugar-free and gluten-free frenzies. Did the reduction of any of these nutrients in the food supply have any effect on the obesity rates? Is our population any healthier as a result of these initiatives? Nope and nope. All it is, is clever marketing by companies to have us feel better about the crappy food they’re peddling. Odds are, as with the other initiatives, if one orders these Satisfries they’ll end-up over-indulging in something else and undermine  their efforts to eat better. The Satisfries will sit on the tray, just like the diet pop, with the 1, 250 calories Triple Whopper with Cheese because, after all,  they’re having the healthy fries. As far as efforts to curb obesity rates go, reformulating processed food is going to do little or nothing. What we really need is a complete overhaul of the current food and education systems, as well as our physical environment.

My final issue with these fries is the implication of the name. What exactly about a french fry with fewer calories and less fat than a regular fry makes them satisfying? Wouldn’t they be less satisfying than regular fries?

French fries, unless they are oven-baked from whole potatoes with olive oil and spices, are undeserving of a health halo regardless of how you slice (or bread) them.