Moving on to calories. In the article, Freedman muses that “many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement are as caloric as anything served at Burger King.”
There it is again, the calorie card! Right, let’s talk about what is wrong with obsessively counting calories as a way of assessing whether or not the food in question is good for you.
When a dish made from fresh produce such as beets and kale (used as an example in the article) is higher in calories than “anything served at Burger King”, which meal shall we go for?
The thing is, a calorie is not just a calorie. For example, obesity-promoting (12) HFCS (13) is not metabolised like other foodstuffs and doesn’t contain any calories so it does not raise the calorie count of a meal even though it is highly detrimental to health.
Refined sugar, however, is a calorie, but when choosing between a meal that contains 10% of calories in the form of sugar or 15% of calories in the form of saturated fat or carbohydrates from a whole grain or a plant protein you should definitely choose the latter regardless of this being the higher calorie option.
This is because in religiously avoiding calories we omit many health promoting foods. By for example avoiding a food that is high in good fats we end up getting hungrier sooner and falling off the diet-wagon as we grab the closest possible thing to eat. We also need fats in our diet to absorb the vital fat-soluble vitamins as A, D, E and K and for many other reasons (14) and obsessively counting calories will remove the health benefits of these foods. Low-fat foods often have sugar or calorie-free HFCS added to them to make them palatable: I will come back to fats and sugar later.
Most of the calories in a Big Mac, as we will see in just a little while, comes from corn starch and I bet you the Burger King menu items are not much different.
Genetically modified corn is found in most fast foods in the form of “fillers” in processed meat products, in bread products, in the coating of foods and a the sweetener high fructose corny syrup. The ingestion of genetically modified corn leads to toxicity, food allergies, infertility, birth defects, cancers and damaged DNA.
Many will argue that this has not been “scientifically proven” and indeed this is true: there has been no major study on humans when it comes to the effects of ingesting genetically modified foods.
However, what has become known as The French Study clearly showed that genetically modified foods promoted horrifying tumours in rats (15) and this gives us some inclination as to what it might be doing to us. Unfortunately there are many large corporations that do not wish testing to be done on a larger scale as there is a lot of money at stake. Scientists have been ruined and had their reputation during dismantled in pursuit of legitimate research into genetically modified food.
HFCS contains, as you might guess, incredible amounts of fructose which, as already mentioned, leads to fatty liver disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease. There are also many dangerous chemicals and heavy metals involved in the making of HFCS, mercury being one, that over time accumulate in the body (16) and causes irreparable damage.
In addition to the problem with sugar, HFCS and corn in terms of counting calories, the calorie card also does not makes sense when we bring meat into the equation.
Farm-raised meat has a completely different constitution to pasture-fed meat and this is not accounted for when Burger King count their calories: for them a burger is a burger.
But it is not so. Corn fed beef had much more inflammatory promoting omega-6 fatty acids than pasture fed beef (17) as corn feed changes the constitution of livestock tissue. Similarly, farm-raised salmon (and I can guarantee you that Burger King does not serve wild caught fish) is substantially different (18) from wild salmon and contains 46% more calories. Thus we again see how counting calories does not necessarily give one the right idea of the overall healthiness of the meal in question.
On a side note on calorie counting: labelling law legally allows for a 20% margin of error on nutritional facts. A quote from the FDA Guidance for Industry, Nutrition Labeling Manual states that:
“[T]he ratio between the amount obtained by laboratory analysis and the amount declared on the product label in the Nutrition Facts panel must be 120% or less, i.e., the label is considered to be out of compliance if the nutrient content of a composite of the product is greater than 20% above the value declared on the label.”
So when Burger King claims that a meal contains 500 calories, it could be nearly 600. Legally.
Choosing lower calorie fast food options over whole foods is dangerous as all food calories do not have the same impact on fat storage and energy expenditure regardless if they are a fat, protein or carbohydrate. Many highly processed calories like sugary foods take no energy to digest at all and only give frenetic blood sugar spikes (followed by blood sugar lows and the desire to eat more) by way of energy burst and the body stores the sugar that is not used as fat.
On the other hand the body uses more energy on digesting whole foods which in turn slowly release nutrients into the body and keep us fuller for longer and provides a more stable energy level.
“The difference between losing weight and not losing weight is a few hundred calories a day.” says Dr. Robert Kushner in the article.
There is, as we see, a big difference between calories and calories. Dr. Lustig rightly says that “When God made the poison, he packed it with the antidote”: fructose in nature is found only in high fibre foods and by taking away the fibre and adding a lot of fructose to the diet we are spurring on the obesity crisis. This crisis will not be resolved by counting and limiting calories, but by eating proper food.
Fresh whole foods provide important fibre, valuable nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, essential fats and protective antioxidants that help regulate metabolism and protect the body from disease.
In the same way that we have calories and calories we have fats and fats.
Fats have been demonised and made out to be the culprit of the obesity epidemic as well as the cause of cardiovascular disease: this is known as the so-called “lipid hypothesis”.
Interestingly, the article supports this hypothesis while choosing to completely disregard the fattening aspects of fructose: 30% of fructose ads up as fat in the body and in Dr. Lustig’s famous talk The Bitter Truth he shows how researchers ended up with the double amount of triglycerides in their blood after following a high-fructose diet for only six days. Six. Days.
Fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar does.
A low fat product from McDonald’s isn’t going to make you any healthier because this product would be disgusting if it has not been tweaked with sugar in one way shape or form. HFCS is one of the most common ways to make low fat products edible, to lend them health claims by virtue of being low on fat and to limit the calorie count of the product.
I will guarantee you that the “low-fat salad dressing that was better than any I’ve ever had” mentioned in the article was loaded with HFCS, refined salt and worse…
But more on food additives and chemicals later. For now, lets us for the sake of argument look at fat and the two items compared in the article.
In the article the author has a go at a product called the Vegan Cheesy Salad Booster (VCSB for ease) and points out that “what the stuff does contain is more than three times the fat content per ounce of the beef patty in a Big Mac (meaning that more than two thirds of the calories come from fat) and four times the sodium.”
However, the article neglects to mention what kinds of fat we are talking about here.
The complete ingredients list of the VCSB is “Sprouted Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Sprouted Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic High-Protein Chlorella, Organic Organic Red Bell Pepper, Organic Herbs and Spices (including garlic, onion and chilies), Himalayan Crystal Salt, Nutritional Yeast, Organic White Chia Seed, Organic Spirulina, Organic Dulse and Organic Kelp(19)”.
Just for fun I am now going to present the ingredient list of a Big Mac, all from the official Mc Donald’s PDF (20) (feel free to skip this part unless you are a total geek like me):
Bun: Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar, Yeast, Soybean Oil and/or Canola Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Ammonium Sulfate, Ammonium Chloride, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of: Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Monoglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Guar Gum, Calcium Peroxide), Sorbic Acid, Calcium Propionate and/or Sodium Propionate (Preservatives), Soy Lecithin, Sesame Seed.
Cheese: Milk, Cream, Water, Cheese Culture, Sodium Citrate, Contains 2% or Less of: Salt, Citric Acid, Sodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Lactic Acid, Acetic Acid, Enzymes, Sodium Pyrophosphate, Natural Flavor (Dairy Source), Color Added, Soy Lecithin (Added for Slice Separation).
Sauce: Soybean Oil, Pickle Relish (Diced Pickles, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Spice Extractives, Polysorbate 80), Distilled Vinegar, Water, Egg Yolks, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Onion Powder, Mustard Seed, Salt, Spices, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Mustard Bran, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy and Wheat), Caramel Color, Extractives of Paprika, Soy Lecithin, Turmeric (Color), Calcium Disodium EDTA (Protect Flavor).
Pickle slices: Cucumbers, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Alum, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Polysorbate 80, Extractives of Turmeric (Color).
Beef: 100% Pure USDA Inspected Beef; No Fillers, No Extenders.
Prepared with Grill Seasoning (Salt, Black Pepper)
Lettuce and onions: … Are actually just lettuce and onions!
We see that the components of a Big Mac aren’t as simple as they might look.
The bun is full of genetically modified corn as well as HFCS, highly unstable and cancer promoting polyunsaturated oils such as canola and soybean oil (also often genetically modified) and some crazy sounding “dough conditioners” that I would want nowhere near my body. The cheese is not just cheese, but a chemistry experiment of food colouring and soy.
The sauce contains no less than FOUR different sugars: HFCS, from corn as already mentioned; sugar; corn syrup and xanthan gum – also derived from corn. It packs in even more corn as vegetable protein, just for fun.
Oh, side note: that thing called propylene glycol alginate is commonly found in anti-freeze, engine coolants and shampoo. It can be as low calorie and fat as it wants to, but I don’t want to eat it.
Lastly, there is the beef. As I have already covered in this article, commercially raised beef does not have the nutritional content of beef like we used to have beef.
Additionally the livestock that are being raised in factory farms are unhealthy and dying by the time they reach the slaughterhouse, they are pumped full of antibiotics and the meat itself is saturated by corn because of the corn heavy livestock feed. Again genetically modified corn finds its way into the burger.
Back to fats. Aside from all the other nasties in this burger, if we were to look at the fat content alone and compare it with the Vegan Cheesy Salad Booster and then make an informed decision on which one to eat, which one would it be?
The fats in the VCSB are coming from saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids from organic seeds while in the burger there is a mix of saturated fats from milk/cream and meat alongside polyunsaturated fats from canola and soybean oil.
The saturated and monounsaturated fats in the VCSB are coming in an untreated form and are stable, safe and health promoting. The seeds in the VCSB are high in essential and anti-inflammatory omega-3s and the fats in the VCSB are heart healthy, supports hormone production, metabolism, cell regeneration, fertility, lung health, correct nervous system function, support the immune system, promote bone calcium incorporation and protect the liver.
In the making of the Big Mac the unstable polyunsaturated fats of the vegetable oils are subjected to high heat and their bonds begin to break. When these unstable oils are ingested they attack the body in the form of free radicals (21) and eating these oils leads to cancer, obesity, inflammatory diseases, autoimmune diseases and cardiovascular disease.
As already mentioned the corn fed beef in a Big Mac is high in omega-6 which is an inflammatory promoting fat which we get far too much of in a western diet.
A Big Mac also contains 1.3 grams trans fat per item. Trans fats are created in the process of hydrogenation of vegetable oils in order to turn them from liquid in room temperature to solid (think margarine). The vegetable oil is artificially saturated with hydrogen, but since this is done by humans and not by nature the final product ends up with an unnatural chemical structure and our bodies have trouble breaking them down. For example, cell walls made out of trans fats are unable to open and close to let nutrients in and waste out. Trans fats also stop our cell receptors from functioning properly, which may be why trans fats contribute to diabetes type 2 (as this is a condition where the insulin receptors in the body are not responding). Trans fats, not cholesterol, seem to be the reason for artery clogging and heart attacks according to many studies (22) and are so dangerous they have actually been banned in many countries.
The presence of trans fats in a Big Mac is reason enough alone not to eat it, but looking at the big picture of the different fats involved in these food items should be enough to tell you which one to choose for your health.
Lastly, when comparing these two foods it is necessary to talk about the portion size. The fat ratio of a bag of VCSB is higher than in a single Big Mac yes, but one bag of VCSB contains over 6 servings of the stuff! While I can easily envision someone eating a Big Mac in one sitting I have a harder time seeing someone eating a bag of VCSB by the spoonful.
Keep this is mind when we talk about the sodium content of the two items, a concern of the author of the article in question. The sodium in the VCSB comes from Himalayan crystal salt, nutritional yeast and the sea vegetables dulse and kelp, all of which have a lot of nutritional chutzpah going for them with the Himalayan salt packing in over 80 trace minerals alone.
Comparatively the Big Mac sodium content comes from refined salt. This salt is harvested mechanically from salt mines as brine, a highly concentrated salt and water blend which is chemically treated to remove “impurities”: these “impurities” being a wide range of beneficial minerals. Then the salt is bleached with chlorine and sulphuric acid to make the salt sparkling white before it is dried at extremely high temperatures which alter the chemical structure of the salt. Finally the salt has anti-caking agents added to it such as aluminum silicate, sodium ferrocyanide and ammonium citrate – not good for you!
Salt is mentioned on the Big Mac ingredients list five times.
When you eat one Big Mac you ingest 1007 mg sodium, over 40% of your RDA. When you eat on serving (14 grams) of VCSB you ingest 272 mg sodium, or 11% of your RDA.
As for the Trader Joe’s snack food called Inner Peas, it doesn't sound too good and this may be the only time I ever agree with the article. However, the Inner Peas product is a processed snack food and not a whole food made from fresh farm vegetables and does not make any health claims. I suppose you can’t blame the author for picking just one health food battle he would be sure to win…