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Value menus not such a good deal when it comes to nutrition

Submitted by on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 No Comment

Here’s some unexpected fallout from the recession — I can call it that now, right?

AIG executives might not be shopping at Big Lots just yet, but the higher income bracket is gobbling cheap junk food.

That’s according to a fast-food industry analyst who says he’s seen a trend toward those making the bigger bucks ordering off the “value menus” right along with poor folks and the middle income. Isn’t it great that the economy is an equalizer?

“Two McDoubles for $2 is a pretty inexpensive way to fill up,” Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst at Technomic Inc. in Chicago, told the Los Angeles Times.

Wonder if Times owner Sam Zell is scarfing bargain burgers yet. Nah — he’ll just rape another pension fund and spring for full price.

The problems with Zell I’m not going to go into. That’s a whole other blog. But the problems with the cheap stuff is that it’s not such a bargain in the long run. A study the Cancer Project released today reminds us of that yet again.

Nutritionists for the Cancer Project examined value menus at five popular fast-food restaurants and found offerings dripping in fat, oozing in cholesterol and caked in sodium.

But then we knew that. What we didn’t know, though, was which picks were the worst:

  1. Jack in the Box Junior Bacon Cheeseburger
  2. Taco Bell Cheesy Double Beef Burrito
  3. Burger King Breakfast Sandwich Biscuit
  4. McDonald’s McDouble
  5. Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger

The ratings are based on calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, excessive dairy and carcinogens. The latter looks preparation methods such as grilling and processing, which can increase cancer-causing agents in meat.

That explains why two bacon cheeseburgers made the top 5. Their calorie counts aren’t excessive on a fast-food scale — 400 for Jack in the Box, 310 for Wendy’s. But the demerits for processed meat, grilled meat and cheese help weigh them down.

It gives me more ammo in my on-going battle to improve Dad’s diet. The Jack in the Box bacon cheeseburger happens to be his favorite — and he eats two at a time. “See! This stuff is just awful!” I’ll say.

But then he’ll apply the whip to my sanctimonious high horse, which will buck me right off when he mentions “jalapeno poppers.” They’re my favorite treat to sneak in the house in the dead of night, as my fast-food deprived guys dream blissfully of the Happy Meals Mom stingily rations.

The poppers aren’t on the Cancer Project list because they’re too pricey to be “value menu.” I’d preferred the “ignorance is bliss” approach on their nutritional cost until morbid curiosity made me check last night.

“Yikes!” does not begin to touch it.

Let’s see, 530 calories in a seven-piece serving, more than half from fat, almost half the fat saturated. Sodium: 1,600 grams — that’s three-quarters of a day’s load. I might as well apply the poppers straight to my hips — or my arteries. I’d be better off with a Quarter Pounder with cheese.

I’m suddenly feeling the need to roast a vegetable. And next time I give in to the popper demons, I’ll get three instead of seven.

Thanks for the reminder, Cancer Project.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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