A Burger a Day?

A recent Freakonomics podcast considered this eye-catching claim from a reader:

It has been my gut-level (sorry, pun) feeling for a while now that the McDonald’s McDouble, at 390 Calories, 23g (half a daily serving) of protein, 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and iron, etc., is the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.

A surprising statement, since Super Size Me, Fast Food Nation, and countless other books and movies have told us fast food is practically toxic.  So how can someone still have something good to say about a McDouble?

The listener does have a few good points.  The McDouble has plenty of protein and iron– it is a meat sandwich, after all.  But the McDouble and fast food in general are great at providing cheap, plentiful calories.  For most of human history, getting enough calories was our biggest nutritional challenge.  Now we have the opposite problem: obesity, even among the poor.  Good nutrition doesn’t just mean getting enough calories; it means getting a balance of the nutrients that we need.

By this measurement, the McDouble is hardly the perfect source of nutrition, with its 19 g of fat and 8 g of saturated fat.  This is especially true when you consider what comes with your burger: a medium fries brings with it 380 nearly empty calories, while a medium soft drink adds 200 completely empty calories.

So when you go out to eat, think about substitutions you can make: a side salad, baked potato, or sweet potato fries instead of fries; diet soft drinks; whole wheat bun; extra veggies on top; grilled chicken sandwich, etc. It’s just another way you can nudge yourself toward the healthier side of the nutrition spectrum, and still enjoy your occasional burger.

Here are the links to read or listen to the original podcast:

Listen:  A Burger a Day: A New Marketplace Podcast.

Read:  A Burger a Day: Full Transcript.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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