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Saturday, 4 April 2015

The McDiet: Is fast food really evil?

[Short link to this article if you need it - - or retweet me]

Slight divergence from the technical posts in this blog but I wanted to put it somewhere.

I eat fast food. There you go, I've broadcasted it. I quite often get criticised by people when I say "I'm going to KFC" or the like, but frankly I don't give a damn, and I disagree completely when people tell me it's fundamentally bad or wrong for me to go to such places. And I'm going to explain each of the reasons people give and why they are nonsense:

1. It's unhealthy? While it's true that such places often provide calorie-laden food, it's probably no worse than your average meal from a restaurant. Fast food outlets places provide a 'menu' from which you can select any items you want. And unlike most restaurants the nutrition information is usually available (online or in the venue) so you can select based on nutritional content. You don't have to choose the limited edition "Big Tasty with Bacon" from the McDonalds menu with over 100% of your RDA of saturated fat, but the values are very clearly laid out and on the boxes so you can see:

I also recently saw a study on the fact that fast food is as effective as some of the "sports supplements" and the like, and frankly that doesn't surprise me. You look at the typical "Whey Protein" shake that available and it will contains around 20g of protein. A KFC Fillet Burger has almost 50% more (28.8g) and I know which I'd enjoy having more. Sure it'll contain more fat etc. too but being cynical, sports nutrition manufacturers can make more money if they sell you a variety of different products each with a specific purpose, and balanced diets are generally the best for you ...

2. It'll make you fat Ultimately it makes more of a difference how you balance it with your food intake in the rest of the day. I'll admit I have been through periods where McDonalds have given away free glasses with meals and I've had one McDonalds meal almost every day through the promotional period (I'll go into that later). So what? If it's the only meal I eat during a day and/or I have it just prior to performing some physical exercise then it likely doesn't matter. You could argue that only one meal a day isn't too clever, but I feel that's less significant than monitoring your intake.

The point is, I don't believe that fast food is inherently unhealthy. Done to excess, as per the 'Super Size Me' movie, you're clearly going to suffer problems, but even that film claims that what he's doing makes no sense whatsoever in the real world and that it was just an experiment.

3. It just doesn't taste good - Everyone has food that they like and dislike. I'm not personally a fan of most sauce-laden Indian food - nothing to do with spiciness as many people initially think, I just like to be able to see what I'm eating. To me, a Burger King 'Bacon Double Cheeseburger' just tastes better than food where most of the flavour is from the sauce it's swimming in instead of what's underneath it. In many cases I admit that fast food can taste bland. It's certainly mass-produced and 'generic' but that doesn't inherently mean 'not tasty'. And with the next topic I'm going onto - it's certainly likely to be tastier than many of the other fad diets out there.

The McDiet

Going back to the "it'll make you fat" issue, one of the biggest 3 weeks of successful  weight loss I've had was during one of the "free Coke glass" promotions from McDonalds that I mentioned earlier. For every day over the 2-3 weeks of the promotion I had one large McDonalds meal - and nothing else on the day that had any calories. Rationing myself like this means I'm taking in a relatively small amount of calories. A large Big Mac meal is quoted as only 1164 and that's even including full sugar Coke as the drink which has over 200 on it's own. If you want to try the McDiet and you're not doing it to take advantage of a special offer like the one I mentioned then you can get some variety by choosing to eat the single meal a day at different fast food outlets. Most of the "meals" on offer are no more than 1500 calories, which is still sufficiently down on an adult's recommended daily intake (And potentially less than your RMR - mine's just over 1500). In my opinion, managing your food intake generally is more important than any particular item you eat or where you get the nutrition from. It's a way of dieting without just eating lettuce or starving yourself for two days a week. Basic calorie control. And if you're bothered about the relative unhealthiness of the McDiet, take a daily multivitamin too to balance it out. For those with a busy lifestyle it's a low effort way to go.

Obviously I'm not expecting or advocating that everyone runs out and start living off a diet of Big Macs - I just want people to appreciate that it's not inherently worse than many other types of food, and when the companies say you have to be sensible about consumption, it's true. But that's true of all food. I believe that people should be able to do whatever they want to their bodies, and if you're dumb enough to want to eat excessive amounts of fast food that's your decision, and it's your decision to make. People who want to raise lawsuits against fast food companies for making them fast are missing the point - don't criticize the company for meeting a demand for something that isn't illegal. That's called 'business'.

The BBC did a three part documentary recently on life at KFC restaurants covering many aspects of the company, including some insight to the random "CER" checks they do on stores to ensure quality and consistency of the food.

Another related article is this one I saw recently from a list of people from across the world and how much food/calories each of them consume in a typical day - some of them could probably handle the intake from "Super Size Me":

And now in the interest of balance, here are some articles which will make you wonder how any of this could possible be healthy:

The Telegraph: Burger King USA's 'Pizza Burger'

LA Times: KFC's 'Double Down' sandwich

Hungry Horse's now discontinued double donut burger (Sorry, that's a Daily Mail link but it does have the nutrition details - here's a proper review from the Guardian instead)

Guardian (UK): Tesco's Lasagne sandwich

Gizmodo: The pink goop that makes your chicken nuggets

Nando's advert based on Sugar Hill Gang

15 Facts About McDonald's That Will Blow Your Mind

McDonald's and PepsiCo to help write UK health policy | Politics | The Guardian

What 5 days of junk food does to your metabolism (Amusing because they said "a McDonald’s diet isn’t even saturated enough compared to what we fed the people in our study"!)

Nutrition docs for [KFC] [McDonalds] [Burger King] [Pizza Hut] [Nandos - click (i)]

Thanks for reading ;-)