Thursday, August 01, 2013

The greatest food in human history

I have been defending, advocating and enjoying McDonald's burgers for many years.  The first words my toddler son learned -- now nearly a quarter of a century ago -- were his McDonald's order -- JR

In terms of cost-per-calorie, no locavore, organic veggie can compete with the McDouble

What is “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history” Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.

Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger.

The argument above was made by a commenter on the Freakonomics blog run by economics writer Stephen Dubner and professor Steven Leavitt, who co-wrote the million-selling books on the hidden side of everything.

Dubner mischievously built an episode of his highly amusing weekly podcast around the debate. Many huffy back-to-the-earth types wrote in to suggest the alternative meal of boiled lentils. Great idea. Now go open a restaurant called McBoiled Lentils and see how many customers line up.

But we all know fast food makes us fat, right? Not necessarily. People who eat out tend to eat less at home that day in partial compensation; the net gain, according to a 2008 study out of Berkeley and Northwestern, is only about 24 calories a day.

The outraged replies to the notion of McDouble supremacy — if it’s not the cheapest, most nutritious and most bountiful food in human history, it has to be pretty close — comes from the usual coalition of class snobs, locavore foodies and militant anti-corporate types. I say usual because these people are forever proclaiming their support for the poor and for higher minimum wages that would supposedly benefit McDonald’s workers. But they’re completely heartless when it comes to the other side of the equation: cost.

Driving up McDonald’s wage costs would drive up the price of burgers for millions of poor people. “So what?” say activists. Maybe that’ll drive people to farmers markets.

For the average poor person, it isn’t a great option to take a trip to the farmers market to puzzle over esoteric lefty-foodie codes. (Is sustainable better than organic? What if I have to choose between fair trade and cruelty-free?) Produce may seem cheap to environmentally aware blond moms who spend $300 on their highlights every month, but if your object is to fill your belly, it is hugely expensive per calorie.

Junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories, whereas fresh veggies and the like cost more than 10 times as much, found a 2007 University of Washington survey for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. A 2,000-calorie day of meals would, if you stuck strictly to the good-for-you stuff, cost $36.32, said the study’s lead author, Adam Drewnowski.

“Not only are the empty calories cheaper,” he reported, “but the healthy foods are becoming more and more expensive. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods.” Where else but McDonald’s can poor people obtain so many calories per dollar?

And as for organic — the Abercrombie and Fitch jeans of food — if you have to check the price, you can’t afford it. (Not that it has any health benefits, as last year’s huge Stanford meta-study showed.)

Moreover, produce takes more time to prepare and spoils quickly, two more factors that effectively drive up the cost. Any time you’re spending peeling vegetables is time you aren’t spending on the job.

Activists will go anywhere to wave the banner of caring and plant their flagpole of social justice right in the foot of the working class.

Forcing New Yorkers to pay unnecessary high prices, they’ve managed to keep Walmart out of the five boroughs of New York City. The City Council of Washington, DC, recently passed a bill, designed specifically to punish only Walmart, which would mandate a super-minimum wage to benefit a small number of employees while effectively placing a surtax on every Walmart shopper. (Walmart responded by saying it was canceling plans for three stores. The bill may yet be vetoed by Mayor Vincent Gray.)

Fuel prices, like food prices, disproportionately hit the poor, so do-gooders do everything they can to raise energy costs by blocking new fuel sources like the Keystone XL pipelines and fracking. And they are always up for higher gasoline taxes and regulating coal-burning energy plants to death.

If the macrobiotic Marxists had their way, of course, there’d be no McDonald’s, Walmart or Exxon, because they have visions of an ideal world in which everybody bikes to work with a handwoven backpack from Etsy that contains a lunch grown in the neighborhood collective.

That’s not going to work for the average person, but who cares if they go hungry because they can’t afford a burger anymore? Let them eat kale!


10 'unhealthy' foods which are not as bad for you as you think

The McDonald’s double cheeseburger has been described as “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history”. With the help of a nutritionist, Daniel Johnson gives you 10 traditionally ‘unhealthy’ foods which may be better for you than you think

1 - Fish and chips

Heavily doused in salt and vinegar, a portion of fish and chips is rarely thought of as a good, nutritious meal. And although it is very high in calories and fat, the fish itself is very nutritious.

A portion provides vitamin C, vitamins B6 and B12, some iron, zinc and calcium, as well as iodine, omega-3 fatty acid and some important dietary fibre.

As Claire Williamson, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says: “Fish and chips can be eaten as part of a healthy diet, if eaten in moderation.

“Go easy on the chips though - or share a portion - and have some peas or salad with your fish and chips to make it more balanced.”

Unsurprisingly, Ms Williamson recommends you go easy on the salt.

The average portion of chip shop fish and chips has around 840 calories.

2 – Cheese

Cheese is high in fat, particularly saturated fat, and can contribute significantly to the amount of calories in a meal, even if just grated on top.

But some cheeses are particularly nutritious. Cheddar, for example, is high in calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, and is a source of vitamin A, riboflavin and folate.

Our nutritionist says: “Cheese should be included in the diet in moderation. It’s a great choice for children as it’s versatile and appealing while being nutritious.”

She also recommends adults eat more mature cheese, so you are tempted to eat less overall.

1oz of chedder holds 114 calories

3 – Baked beans

As a tinned, convenience food, surely baked beans cannot hold any nutritional value? According to Ms Williamson, baked beans – and other beans or pulses – are an important source of protein and fibre in the diet.

Baked beans also provide calcium, potassium and some iron. And in what will be music to the ears of many a late-night eater: “The combination of beans and toast actually provides a good balance of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), so it’s a good option for vegetarians.”

There are 164 calories in a 1/2 cup serving of Heinz Baked Beans.

4 – Alcohol

A Harvard study of more than 18,000 men found that those who had an average of two drinks every day had a lower risk of a heart attack than those who drink a lot, but less often.

Men also have lower levels of abdominal fat than those who drink only once or twice every two weeks but drink more than four drinks each time, according to researchers at the University of Buffalo.

5 - Pizza

While pizza is not exactly low in fat, if you choose your pizza carefully then there can be a lot of nutritional value. By sticking with a thin crust, whole wheat, half the cheese, either chicken breast or ham, and lots of vegetables, then there is plenty which is healthy.

The cheese gives you some calcium, although it does bring sodium and saturated fat with it. Tomato sauce gives vitamins A and C and the cancer-fighting chemical lycopene. There is also some fibre in the toppings of vegetables.

6 - Fried breakfast

According to research published in the International Journal of Obesity, a breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs, and beans could be the healthiest start to the day.

Scientists believe that breakfast programmes your metabolism for the rest of the day, and a fatty meal will help the body break down fat later on. Dr Martin Young, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who lead the study, says: “The first meal you have appears to programme your metabolism for the rest of the day.

“This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilisation throughout the rest of the day, whereas if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you (can) transfer your energy utilisation between carbohydrate and fat.”

A full English has around 977 calories.

7 – Curry

Eating a curry once or twice a week could also stave off dementia, research has suggested.

Tests on fruit flies found that those given curcumin, the key chemical in tumeric, lived 75 per cent longer. The research, carried out by academics at Linkoping University in Sweden, could explain why dementia rates are lower among the elderly in India than their Western peers.

Alzheimer’s is linked to the build-up of protein in the brain called amyloid plaques damaging the wiring.

Curcumin did not dissolve the plaque, but accelerated the formation of nerve fibres by reducing the amount of their precursor forms, known as oligomers, from which they were formed.

8 – Chocolate

Obviously a lot depends on the bar, because they are high in both fat and sugar.

But cocoa is rich in a number of minerals and polyphenols, mainly flavonols, the same compounds found in red wine and green tea which are good for your heart. It is particularly prominent in dark chocolate.

Our nutritionist says: “Although it is ‘energy-dense’ there is no clear link between chocolate consumption per se and increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. But choose dark chocolate if you can as it has a higher cocoa content and therefore polyphenol content.”

For those suffering from high blood pressure, chocolate could reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke by 20 per cent over five years, meaning a chunk of chocolate a day could have the same result as half an hour of exercise.

There are 546 calories in 100g of dark choclate.

9 – Eggs

Eggs have traditionally been considered bad for you because they are so high in cholesterol. However a number of studies have attempted to disprove the idea that there is a link between eggs and heart disease.

One in the 2011 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that while a single yolk contains nearly the daily recommended limit for cholesterol, it is the most nutrient-rich part, with iron, zinc, vitamins A and D. The yolk also is extremely high in protein.

There are 155 calories in a boiled egg.

10 – Milk shake

Generally thought of as a high calorie treat, milk shakes are actually highly nutritious, largely due to the milk content, Ms Williamson says.

Semi-skimmed milk is a source of calcium and riboflavin and is high in vitamin B12, an important part of the diet, particularly for children whose bones are still developing.

Ms Williamson recommends: “Add bananas or other fresh fruit to make a smoothie and go easy on the sugar for a delicious, healthy treat.”


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