Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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McDonald’s should get rid of their salads

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A few weeks after the McDonald’s dietitian was extolling their healthy menu options during an interview and a week or so after a nine-year-old girl pleads for McDonald’s to stop pushing junk food on kids, the company’s CEO announces that their salads are a failing venture.

Apparently the salads only account for about 2-3% of sales. Does this mean that McDonald’s will ditch the salads? We don’t know, but I think that they should.

Shocking, I know; a dietitian suggesting McDonald’s get rid of their salads. Don’t get too worked-up just yet. I think that in their current incarnation the salads should go. The salads can have more calories and fat than many of their burgers. Yes, they may have a few more nutrients as there’s some vegetables in them, but  not enough to merit the health halo they have for being salads. It’s almost worse for customers to be operating under the false assumption that they’re making healthy choices than for them to be opting for traditional fast food fare.

There may be a number of reasons why the salads aren’t generating much revenue: most customers aren’t there for salads, the cost of salads is quite high, the cost of the ingredients may mean they have a low profit margin, the salads aren’t very good. If McDonald’s could create a better (i.e. more appealing and healthier) salad menu then they might see sales increase. As it stands, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle and McDonald’s can say “we tried to sell salads but people just didn’t want them”. Maybe this is true, but maybe the problem lies with the salads.


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Gluten-free weight loss

I’ve blogged about the fallacy of weight loss resulting from the modern vegan diet before. As the gluten-free trend continues I frequently hear about people choosing to go gluten-free in order to lose weight. Many packaged gluten-free foods have a health halo. That is, people believe that they’re healthy simply because they’re gluten-free. However, the same rules apply to gluten-free packaged foods as to any other packaged foods and label-reading is still essential.

You may lose weight on a gluten-free diet. However, you’re much more likely to do so if you’re not replacing one processed packaged food for another. In fact, many packaged gluten-free foods often have more calories than their traditional glutenous counterparts. While gluten-free breads continue to evolve and improve in formulation, many are still very dense and while their slices may appear smaller than regular bread they may still have equivalent, or more, calories.

Beyond calories, gluten-free baked goods usually have less fibre than glutenous baked goods. Gluten-free bread tends to have about 1 gram of fibre per slice. Compare that to regular whole wheat bread which generally has about 4 grams of fibre per slice.

Before you decide to go gluten-free (without a doctor’s recommendation) remember that label-reading still applies. Ensure that you’re still getting sufficient fibre. Regardless of whether or not you’re going gluten-free, you should try to choose minimally processed foods as often as possible. Finally, gluten-free doesn’t mean calorie-free but it often means fibre-free.