Want a Big Mac? That’ll be 490 calories please
How tantalising will the colour-saturated image of a Big Mac with oozing cheese, crispy lettuce, pickles and greasy meat patties appear to you now that its calorie content is stamped in inch high letters beside it?
Today McDonald’s has voluntarilly replaced menu boards in all its 1,200 UK restaurants in compliance with the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, so that they display the calorific value of each product it offers. This is a bid to help Brits stick to the recommended daily consumption of 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men.
The Big Mac, the new menu board tells us, is worth a total of 490 calories. Possibly surprising for a chain synonymous with the red meat, the most fattening item available is a white meat option: the Chicken Legend burger which weighs in at 535 calories. Featuring two layers of overly yellow square cheese, the Quarter Pounder is another heavy weight option providing 490 calories.
The above can be sampled accompanied by Medium Fries (330 cals), a full fat Coke (170 cals) or perhaps a Medium Milkshake (420 cals). The Garden Salad (10 cals) seems health enough and the Medium Cappuccinos on offer (90 cals) are far from extraordinarily calorific. Chicken Nuggets (250 cals without sauce) are relatively sinless and the Filet-O-Fish is the leanest burger available at 350 calories.
So far so fascinating. But will the revelation that products filled with cheese, processed meat and salt are practically equal in value to the calorific content of a sandwich at Pret-A-Manger influence our eating habits positively?
The new menu boards reveal that a Big Mac compares favourably to a Tasty Cheddar baguette (535 cals) from Pret (of which McDonald’s used to own a 33% stake in the US business). Cheese sandwiches are hardly the healthiest lunchtime snack, but I’m pretty most people would agree they are healthier than burgers.
While publishing calorie counts is an excellent way to give consumers an indication of the amount of food they are eating, it is hardly representative of the nutritional value of what is on offer. The problem with a lot of McDonald’s fare is that the portions appear small, are quick to consume and don’t fill you up so you feel hungry again quickly and go back for more.
Furthermore, the calorie value has no direct bearing on the real health baddies like fat, salt and sugar. While a box of Chicken Nuggets might contain the same calories as a Smoked Salmon and Egg baguette from Marks & Spencer, it contains considerably more fat, doesn’t have the health benefits of smoked fish (like Omega 3) and the nuggets come deep fried.
One of the problems of calorie counting is that it is seen to have a bias toward controlling weight and waistlines rather than providing information about what will and won’t clog your arteries and put you at risk of a heart attack.
McDonald’s is one of 38 fast food companies who have voluntarilly signed up to the initiative by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley today. The move is definitely good news. However, the influence the idea will have on McDonald’s 3 million customer base, as well as frequenters of other participating outlets, will remain to be seen.
Hopefully it will provide an easy-to-understand framework upon which foodstuffs from fast food outlets can be judged. In a world where a Starbucks ‘skinny’ lemon and poppy seed iced muffin contains more calories than a standard apple and cinnamon muffin, and a Costa carrot cake is more calorific than a Krispy Kreme doughnut (research by Which?), this can only be a good thing.
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