By Tom Venuto, Natural Weight Loss Expert,
Author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
What’s on the menu at McDonald's lately? Ironically enough, the answer increasingly is “health food!”
Even more incongruous, WEIGHT WATCHERS in New Zealand has now joined forces with McDonald's and is endorsing some of McDonald's Meals as "healthier choices." (One of those Weight Watcher-endorsed items is Chicken McNuggets!)
This comes on the coattails of other fast food chains advertising their food for weight loss. Healthy weight loss food at Taco Bell, Subway and McDonalds? Is this a positive move to be applauded or a sign of corporate greed?
Critics say the Weight Watchers campaign, even if it were honestly-intentioned, will backfire. Advertisements and endorsements for healthy meals will lure people in, and once through the Golden Arches, they buy the burgers and fries instead of the lower calorie options, they argue.
On a positive note, if you did swap out some of the lower calorie menu items with their regular (and higher calorie) menu items, you’d take in fewer calories and less fat. If all else remained equal, this could help you lose weight. For people who refuse to give up eating at fast food restaurants, this is arguably a positive thing.
Take my brother for example, He’s not a total junk food junkie, thanks partly to my influence and the influence of our parents. I have vague memories of my health-nut mom feeding us wheat germ and cod liver oil (by the spoonful) when we were candy-munching kids in California. She once tried to feed us eggplant pizza as a sneaky way to get us to eat vegetables. That ploy didn’t work – we were young but we weren’t stupid – we knew it wasn’t Pizza Hut! (I hate eggplant to this day).
Many years ago, I even managed to get my brother going to the gym and whaddya know, he’s been going ever since. But despite the positive role models he has, left to his own devices, he WILL make a beeline to McDonalds and so will the friends he hangs out with.
I went to McDonalds with him a few months ago (I was trapped in the car with no choice), and he was about to order a bacon cheeseburger. I glanced at the menu and said, “That’s 790 calories!” I glanced down at his belly, then continued, “Look, they have chicken wraps. Why don’t you have one of those?” Without questioning me he said, “Ok,” apparently happy just to get any McDonalds fix. I couldn’t talk him out of the soda, but I’m working on it okay? At least I got him to stop getting refills.
Right there at the counter they had the nutrition information sheets:
McDonald’s honey mustard grilled chicken wrap: 260 calories, 9 grams fat, 27 grams of carbs, 18 grams of protein.
That saved him 530 calories. Am I happy there is something with 260 calories on the menu and not just 700 calories across the board? Absolutely. And DO I applaud the fast food restaurants for offering lower calorie choices? You bet, although I’d like to see more one-ingredient choices like baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes and whole fruit…plus some decent salads).
The big mistake almost everyone is making, even fitness and nutrition professionals who have been blogging about this lately, is that while they are agreeing that it’s nice to have low calorie items on the menu (especially with calories posted), they are calling these low calorie fast food items “healthy choices.”
Some journalists and bloggers have jumped into the Weight Watchers - McDonalds - "Healthy fast food" fray and cleverly countered…
“These new fast food menu items are NOT healthy, they’re only ‘healthi-ER.’”
I think they are both mistaken.
This food is not healthy nor is it healthier. It’s only lower in calories.
Lower calorie food could help people lose weight, if all else remains equal. If you lose weight, your health improves. Smaller portions of refined carbs also could mean better health from a glycemic point of view. But what if your definition of healthy food is dependent on nutrition, nutrient density and absence of artificial ingredients?
Let’s take a look at that very low calorie chicken wrap. Do you really think it’s healthier just because it’s got 1/3 the calories of a bacon cheeseburger?
Here’s the ingredients straight from McDonald’s website:
McDonald’s Grilled Chicken Breast Filet (wrap): Chicken breast filets with rib meat, water, seasoning (salt, sugar, food starch-modified, maltodextrin, spices, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed [corn gluten, soy, wheat gluten] proteins, garlic powder, paprika, chicken fat, chicken broth, natural flavors (plant and animal source), caramel color, polysorbate 80, xanthan gum, onion powder, extractives of paprika), modified potato starch, and sodium phosphates. CONTAINS: SOY AND WHEAT. Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservative), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color). (and don’t forget the 800 mg of sodium).
Shouldn’t chicken breast be just one ingredient… chicken breast?! Isn’t that generally what healthy, whole food is – one ingredient?
THIS is the kind of "food" that Weight Watcher's is endorsing????
This is not food. It’s more like what Michael Pollan would call an “edible food-like substance.”
What about the honey mustard sauce? First ingredient after water is… SUGAR!
The flour tortilla ingredients: Enriched bleached wheat flour, also made with vegetable shortening (may contain one or more of the following: hydrogenated soybean oil, soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, hydrogenated cottonseed oil with mono- and diglycerides added), contains 2% or less of the following: sugar, leavening (sodium aluminum sulfate, calcium sulfate, sodium phosphate, baking soda, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate), salt, wheat gluten, dough conditioners, sodium metabisulfite, distilled monoglycerides.
Trans fats? Sugar? Aluminum? Stuff you can’t pronounce and have to look up to find out it’s preservatives and disinfectants?
Don’t confuse the issues: weight loss and health…. Calories and nutrition. There IS a difference!
This my friends, makes “healthy” fast food a double edged sword at best.
There are people I care about, not just my clients, but my own family, and I want the best for them all. But my brother, and many other people, aren’t going to completely give up fast food. If I can get him to make "better bad choices", that could help him keep his weight under control. If that works, then I’m pleased that the fast food restaurants have such choices to offer.
But if you wanted to make a good choice - a healthy choice - you’d forget about eating fast food on a daily basis, and you’d save the junk for your planned cheat meals (although, frankly, I can think of far better ways to spend my “free” calories).
The Subway diet, the Drive Through diet, The Cookie Diet, Kentucky grilled chicken or the Weight Watchers-approved McDonalds menu; Don’t kid yourself - it’s not only not healthy, it’s not healthier – it’s lower calorie junk food.
“Welcome to our restaurant sir. Would you like a large plate of dog poo or a small plate of dog poo?”
“No thank you, I will take neither. No matter what the serving size, crap is still crap.”
To see the lists of the top 10 weight loss foods that are TRULY healthy, visit
About Fat Loss Coach, Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models (e-book). Tom has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN-1250 and WCBS. To get more information about Tom's e-book about natural fat loss, visit the home page at: BurnTheFat.com
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