I don’t think anybody – even McDonald’s – is touting “fast food” as a godsend to nutrition, but out of the “Good, Fast, or Cheap – pick any two” matrix they usually tick the Fast and Cheap options.
Is it really far-fetched that they could possibly tick the Good option also?
Today’s outcry is about a brainfart that someone had when he reframed the situation and told us how one of the most reviled multinational food corporations may actually have a great thing going for humanity:
The greatest food in human history
In terms of cost-per-calorie, no locavore, organic veggie can compete with the McDouble
By KYLE SMITH
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 Levitt, who co-wrote the million-selling books on the hidden side of everything.
Full article in The NY Post.
The Fast And The Spurious
I’m not a fan of fast food, the products are mostly the lowest common denominator of artificial processed foods scientifically engineered to trick our tastebuds into thinking it’s something we can or even should eat. I’m all about Low-HI – Low-Human-Intereference – in both diet and lifestyle, but sometimes life happens and convenience trumps Maslow’s heirarchy of needs.
Just recently after several weeks of nothing but wholesome meals which were otherwise just fresh meat and the occasional veggie, I craved the awfulness of a horribly processed junk food burger – but instead of acquiescing to convenience I went and built one to suit my own desires (ie, sans bun etc).
I called it – The Blurgher:
For some reason I was craving a Hungry Jacks/Burger King experience, but delete a few ingredients – such as anything that wasn’t animal based.
Still, I craved that plastic cheese making love to bacon and beef taste that they
havemanufacture. So I went to the store and picked up three ingredients: beef patties, bacon, and individually wrapped plastic-inspired cheese slices.
Full post here: The Blurgher – Beef, Bacon, Cheese, and Drool
I used to eat crazy amounts of meat and cheese and bacon. I still do, but I used to, too.
So Bad, But Sooooo Good
So you catch yourself in a weak moment, do you let the monster within escape and just go and get that burger – “cheat” on your well-disciplined diet and lifestyle – or do you stay the course knowing it’s a slippery slope that you may not recover from?
It’s a tough moment, you’ve been so good for so long – whether it’s losing weight or sorting out various other body/health maladies or simply just staying healthy – challenges like this come along sometimes to test us, and sometimes to show us that maybe we’re just freaking out about nothing.
I’m also known to partake in 3am “Discoburgers” – which is drunkspeak for adding a ridiculous number of meat patties and bacon and cheese slices to otherwise normal burgers, then pushing as much of that down my steak-hole as gag reflexes will allow.
More epicness here: Hungry Jacks/Burger King Tower Of Meat – AKA Discoburger
So let’s go ahead and take a look at these semi-tongue-in-cheek claims that a $1 McDouble is the most nutritious and caloric dense and available “food” we have ever had in history…
Helpfully enough, on McDonald’s own site you can uncheck ingredients from the burger and it will give you updated information on the various nutrient aspects:
Ingredients: 100% Pure USDA Inspected Beef;
Blissfully ignoring the transfats and whatnot it’s likely prepared in, this is good news so far.
Sidebar – anyone who’s done even the slightest bit of independent research into mass media hysteria claims knows that red meat has NOT been proven to cause cancer, cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, saturated fat doesn’t clog arteries, and salt hasn’t been proven to be good OR bad in moderate quantities either way. (the cooking methods applied I’m not privy to though so will leave the perils of that question open)
So before the news watchers and conventional wisdom subscribers have an aneurysm over these “risk factors”, just know that the (mostly self-) educated folk know better than to freak out about all the BS our governments and media tell us we should stress and obsess over.
The salient point to take away from this is that all the guidelines on nutrition were established with no scientific proof, just a lot of hunches and poorly constructed theories that have turned out to be horrendously wrong – but inertia of the mainstream keeps this false information in popular circulation, slowly killing people whilst making them miserable trying to stick to the misguided recommendations.
Devil In The Details
Cheese is good and wholesome though yeah?
PASTEURIZED PROCESS AMERICAN CHEESE
Allergens: MILK AND SOY LECITHIN
Ingredients: 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).
Ohhhh ok. Well actually upon inspection most of those things don’t seem toooo bad – I’m sure it’s not great, but it appears to be in minimal – almost acceptable – quantities.
You Say Tomato, I Say High Fructose Corn Syrup
A bit of sauce should be nice though, it’s just tomatoes mostly right?
Ingredients: Tomato Concentrate from Red Ripe Tomatoes, Distilled Vinegar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Natural Flavors (Vegetable Source).
Oh, alright then. Aside from many other things, I avoid HFCS as much as possible – but lets say it’s only a smidgeon, according to the McDouble-figurator it’s 8 grams, 2 grams of which is sugar – that’s less than half a teaspoon – most people put 4 times that in a coffee, and if you’re drinking a soda with it you’re probably getting 2,000% more than that.
So in the end all we have on our burger is meat – supposedly 100% beef inspected by the USDA – a slice of almost passable cheese, and a splodge of sauce. Pretty decent.
Automatically Becomes Portable When Carried
Now, let’s just add those buns made from nice heart-healthy grains…
Allergens: WHEAT, SOY LECITHIN
Ingredients: 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.
Oh dear… And this is where they’re saying you get some of your fiber “needs”? Setting aside the massively overhyped recommendation for fiber from every outlet, the only ingredient in the list from that “regular bun” you should consider putting in you is water.
All Your Acid And Base Belong To Us
All of a sudden our burger has gone from “pretty decent” to something The Joker fell into.
I can see where all the outrage about someone saying a burger is good for you is coming from, I mean just look at it – a diet frequently consisting of this whole burger will very quickly make you sick, and if you’re lucky you’ll get fat and do something about it rather than be one of those “lucky” folk who can eat anything and stay slim – the damage happening to them is on the inside and often not noticeable for years/decades.
So really we should just avoid eating altogether then I guess, the buns are a scourge on humanity, of course there’s no mention of which part of the cow we’re talking about that goes into the patty – it could include hooves and stomach lining and testicles and hair – the sauce is constructed from some of the most awful by-products of industrialisation, and who knows how the vegetable products got from ground to burger.
The bigger issue though is CAFO feedlots, growth hormones, being force-fed the wrong diet, and all that jazz – a whole ‘nother subject that can barely be touched upon here.
It seems almost insurmountable, and sometimes you just want to either ignore these issues, or ignore that the industry exists and go back to eating your well sourced “kind life” foods, forgetting about the rest of the world.
But in the end I don’t care much about which part of the cow is used – I’m a nose-to-tail kinda guy – if I have the opportunity to use the entire animal, I will.
And FWIW the final meat/fat product of a cow isn’t as bad as you might hear, it’s not optimal, but the amount of deleterious stuff that makes it’s way through the cow to us is barely discernible – if at all. The omega 3/6 profiles of the fat are altered a fair bit by a grain-fed cow relatively speaking, but if your diet is otherwise not a cookie monster gorgefest on polyunsaturated/hydrogenated trans-fats then it’s nothing to be particularly concerned about.
Also, just take another look at the monstrosity of perfectly moulded industrial waste those buns are – the simple act of NOT eating those is likely to take away ~90% of any of the perceivable issues eating a burger might have.
Eating those buns and being worried about the meat and cheese killing you is like being in a burning building and stopping to consider whether global warming is going to be a problem for your grandchildren.
When taking away everything except the meat and cheese it actually comes out decent, at $1 I’m inclined to agree it’s pretty good value – both calorically and nutritiously and convenience’ly – IF YOU EAT ONLY THE MEAT (and maybe cheese) AND DISCARD THE REST.
Next time you hear about one of those daft epidemiological studies saying “meat eaters are higher risk of dying of X”, just ask yourself if those “meat eaters” are also eating the bun and sauce and chips and soda and nuggets and sundae etc.
The bits of the burger that are vilified – meat and fat – are the only bits that made the burger pretty decent, it only became an atrocity once you added everything else.
Here’s what the original burger gives you:
The other random ingredients (pickles, onions, mustard) are pretty minor in the scheme of things, they add nothing much for me so I’d leave them off also. So here it is when you delete anything that’s not animal-based:
It comes out at 80g total – 18g of protein and 17g of fat which is pretty much perfect proportions if you’re eating low-carb/ketogenic, the cheese adds 2g of carbohydrates but that’s inconsequential for the “taste” benefits. Even if you’re not a carb-dodger it would be inadvisable for any known species to attempt to consume those buns.
Three of these Carnivore McDoubles – twice a day – would actually constitute a reasonably filling and satisfying short-term weight-loss diet, well, at least for those who can stomach McDonalds more than once a month. Just add more as a snack/lunch as needed – or even better, put butter on them or chop them up and throw them in a pan with eggs. I don’t know – it’s not a great plan nor one I would advise – I’m just saying it’s probably better than what a majority of people out there are eating daily, and at the very least it’s better than living on ramen noodles and Coke if you’re on a severe budget.
Put it this way, you’d be looking at:
- 480g of food
- 1,380 calories
- 108g of protein
- 102g of fat (~50g saturated, 6g trans)
- 12g of carbohydrate
- 2,700mg of sodium
All for $6 bucks a day – no preparation, no time spent searching for ingredients, no cleaning up the kitchen!
The trans fats aren’t great, but the amount there is pretty small compared to the standard Western diet which is typically in mass excess of trans/polyunsaturates. There’s other stuff there that I’d rather delete, and conveniently ignoring the likely awful conditions the cows are subject to and what they’re fed – it all comes down to an otherwise good meal.
How Does It Stack Up To Real Food?
However – to call it “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history” might be a stretch.
I just did a write-up on “gourmet” vs “budget” steak, I was able to make what I’d consider a restaurant quality meal with 250g of steak for $2.50 – and my local market always has meat available for much less than $10/kg – but we’ll go with that price-point.
Let’s put it up against the McDouble, pound-for-pound – the “reduced” steak is to compete with the “healthy” McDouble Carnivore which is only meat and cheese:
|Mcdouble Standard||Steak Standard||McDouble Carnivore||Steak Reduced|
So what we have here is for the most part it’s pretty much a wash, the standard McDouble is indeed a good deal cheaper per calorie than decent budget steak, but that means you have to choke down those buns. All well and good to get more energy per $ – but the havoc it wreaks throughout your system on the way to becoming energy is terrifying and best avoided.
The McDouble version which I consider to be closest to be able to be called “healthy” is the one with only meat and cheese – sans bun and all. When put up against steak it’s much closer – if anything steak just beats it caloric-wise, and there’s pretty much no other factor that you can imagine a McDonald’s patty and plasticheese beating out a good steak.
The McDouble has got the steak down and out when it comes to convenience though, just drive through and here’s your calories sir, a steak requires fetching then preparation then cleaning, however the trade-off here is a taste and experience which is impossible to compare objectively.
Also, I don’t know of anyone who got laid by giving their date McDonald’s instead of bestowing upon them a sexy-time steak.
All in all – the argument that a McDouble is our greatest source of abundance on a value scale is shaky – and it requires that you consume some awful things in order to achieve this. If you’re willing to sacrifice the bad parts of the burger, it’s actually quite decent nutritionally speaking (as far as fast food goes) and still great value.
I would have no problem indulging in a McDonald’s burger now and then – mostly for convenience sake though – and I don’t think it’s particularly harmful to have on a semi-regular basis if you deep-six the buns etc.
So McDonald’s have definitely ticked the Fast and Cheap boxes, and in my book they’ve ticked the Good Enough Now And Then box too – sans buns.
But in the end – steak is the undisputed champion.
The only thing that could bring this fight to a closer match is if the McDouble included bacon…