inFact with Brian Dunning inFact with Brian Dunning


Fast Food Phobia

We've all heard that fast food is terribly unhealthy. But have you ever looked into where calories and fat really come from?

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Bashing fast food has been a fashionable trend in Hollywood for ten years. But are those horrible McDonald's ingredients really responsible for America's weight problem?

Fast food chains buy their basic ingredients - ketchup, bread, potatoes, frying oil - from the same wholesalers that supply all food retailers. Mustard at McDonald's is not magically worse than mustard at the supermarket.

At 540 calories, a Big Mac by itself is actually an excellent balanced meal. You could eat 3 a day and get plenty of nutrition from only 1620 calories. It's simply not as bad as people think.

There are really only two things to avoid at most fast food: Saturated fat in the canola oil used to fry the fries, and gobs of sugar in the soft drinks and shakes.

If you're concerned about quantity, look instead at sit-down restaurants, where you're served much more food. At a fast food place, I get a burger and a drink. If you order the same thing at a restaurant, you get a burger that's twice the size; drink refills; plus a pile of giant french fries (way more than you get in the little paper fast-food envelope, and fried in the same canola oil); plus a scoop of mayonnaise-heavy cole slaw... not to mention the bread and chips you ate for half an hour waiting for your order. Even if you go to an Italian or Mexican restaurant or whatever, the total quantity almost always eclipses a fast food order.

If you want to see where most supposedly health-conscious people get their calories, you have to look at a modern 21st-century fast food restaurant disguised as a trendy coffee house: Starbucks, and any of the similar chains. Starbucks' own online nutrition information shows pages of drinks over 600 calories, and some over 700 calories.

Why don't any of these documentary filmmakers ever mention Starbucks? Probably because they wrote their screenplay sitting in one, slurping a white chocolate mocha every day.

Just as bad are fruit smoothies. No matter how organic or detoxifying they claim it is, a fruit smoothie is basically a giant cup of sugar calories. Healthy? Sure, if you want to be healthy and fat.

If Americans are too fat - and we are - pointing your finger at someone else doesn't help. Don't blame one type of restaurant, blame what you eat.

— Brian Dunning

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References & Further Reading

Dupont, J., White, P., Feldman E. "Saturated and Hydrogenated Fats in Food in Relation to Health." Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 1 Jun. 1991, Vol 10: 577-592.

Nyström, F.H., Lindstron, T., Kechagias, S., Ernersson, Å., O Dahlqvist, O., Lundberg, P. "Fast food based hyper-alimentation can induce rapid and profound elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase in healthy subjects." GUT. 14 Feb. 2008, Volume 57, Number 2: 649-654.

Painter, J. "EIU Prof's 'Portion Size Me' Says Bring on the Fast Food -- In Moderation." University Communications | Media Relations. Eastern Illinois University, 17 Oct. 2005. Web. 15 May. 2007. <>

Rice, S., McAllister, E.J., Dhurandhar, N.V. "Fast food: friendly?" International Journal of Obesity. 1 Jun. 2007, Volume 31, Number 6: 884-886.

Rudolph, T., Ruempler, K., Schwedhelm, E., Tan-Andresen, J., Riederer, U., Böger, R., Maas, R. "Acute effects of various fast-food meals on vascular function and cardiovascular disease risk markers: the Hamburg Burger Trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1 Aug. 2007, Volume 86, Number 3: 334-340.

Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Chloride and Sulfate. Washington DC: The National Academies Press, 2005. 37-49.


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