Old Habits Die Hard: Fast Food Chains Going Healthy?

The movement towards a healthier lifestyle seems to be finally catching on to even some restaurants whose images promote the antithesis of “healthy”. Although it seems almost humorous that the places that are notorious for greasy, processed, fattening foods are suddenly interested in the well being of on-the-go Americans, we applaud their efforts, even if they are purely capitalistic and long overdue. So how healthy are these “fresh”, “real” and “nutritious” additions to fast food menus across the country? Take a look.

McDonald’s: It seems people are up in arms about McDonald’s newest addition to their menu: “real fruit smoothies” in two delicious flavors of strawberry banana and wild berry. But is it too good to be true?

  • Strawberry- Banana and Wild Berry Smoothies-
    • What We Like:
      • A small in both flavors is at 210 calories and .5 this smoothie is decent proportioned snack or small meal.
      • Strawberry-Banana smoothie includes 70 mg of calcium, 41 mg of vitamin C (70% daily value) and 2 grams of fiber (although the majority of this comes from the cellulose powder, see below).
      • Wild berry smoothie includes 70 mg calcium 48 mg of vitamin C (80% daily value) and 3 grams of fiber (mainly due to the cellulose powder).
    • What We Dislike:
      • On their website, McDonald’s only lists three ingredients for this smoothie:, Ice, low-fat yogurt, and strawberry banana fruit blend. The last ingredient is a dead-ringer for “the catch” that everyone has been waiting for.  By sneaking the “less than 1% and adding “puree” rather then “real fruit”, we find out the truth. Here are the ingredients:
        • Strawberry Banana Smoothie: Strawberry puree, banana puree, water, sugar, concentrated apple juice, contains less than 1% of the following: cellulose powder, natural (botanical source) and artificial flavors, xanthan gum, citric acid, colored with fruit and vegetable juice, pectin, ascorbic acid (preservative)
        • Wild Berry Smoothie: Strawberry puree, water, sugar, blackberry puree, blueberry puree, concentrated pineapple juice, concentrated apple juice, contains less than 1% of the following: cellulose powder, xanthan gum, colored with fruit and vegetable juice, natural (botanical source) and artificial flavors, pectin, citric acid.

Wendy’s: The commercials for four “reinvented” salads make even the anti-fast foodie’s mouth water, and for good reason. The four new salads, Spicy Chicken Caesar, BLT Cobb Salad, Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, and Baja Salad offer a wide range of ingredients that we never thought a fast food chain could carry (avocados and blue cheese, anyone?).

  • Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad- “Caesar salad the way it’s supposed to be, made with hand-chopped romaine, sweet grape tomatoes and shaved Asiago cheese.”
    • What we Like:
      • Although it may be an empty claim, Wendy’s lemon-garlic Caesar dressing is supposedly “all-natural”. Also, the romaine is supposedly “hand-cut” (although we are interested to see how else romaine can be cut).
    • What we Dislike:
      • At 740 calories and 48 grams of fat, this salad is no better than a cheeseburger (in fact, you can get a single cheeseburger and bacon-and-cheese potato for nearly the same amount of calories and less grams of fat, although we do not suggest this meal by any means).
      • The chicken is the “signature center-cut spicy chicken breast” (fried) plus French croutons and 210 calorie dressing; this is not a healthy choice.
  • Apple Pecan Chicken Salad- “A perfect mix of peak-season red and green apples, real blue cheese crumbles, sweet cranberries and roasted pecans, topped with a warm, grilled chicken fillet.”
    • What we Like:
      • Ample amount of apples are in this salad, which are supposedly “rotated seasonally and handpicked at the height of their season” which improves the freshness of the salad
      • At 580 calories and 27 grams of fat this is a little much for a typical meal, but it is not completely terrible, and without the blue cheese these numbers can be reduced further.
      • Grilled chicken supplies 28 grams of protein
    • What we Dislike:
      • The Pomegranate Dressing is 120 calories for two packets, but go easy on the dressing with one and you cut this number in half.
  • Baja Salad- “A hearty salad with a Southwest flair, featuring fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and slow simmered chili, all topped with a red jalapeno dressing.”
    • What We Like:
      • We are big advocates of avocado, and Wendy’s claims that it’s guacamole is made with “real Hass avocados”
      • Creamy Red Jalapeño Dressing is the lowest in fat and calories of all the dressings offered at Wendy’s, at 100 calories and 10 grams of fat.
    • What We Dislike:
      • Even in its description this salad is called “hearty”, which can be a fast food euphemism for “unhealthy”- at 740 calories and 47 grams of fat, the “heartiness” rings true.
      • Tortilla chips add a whopping 80 calories and 4.5 grams of fat.
      • Any salad that contains guacamole is typically not the best choice. The same goes with chili.

  • BLT Cobb Salad- “Treat yourself to the taste of crispy Applewood Smoked Bacon mixed with real blue cheese crumbles, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and avocado ranch dressing.”
    • What We Like:
      • Basically, the tomatoes and the lettuce, plus the added grilled chicken and eggs for protein
    • What We Dislike:
      • This salad comes in at 670 calories and 47 grams of fat.
      • 200 calories and 21 grams of fat come from the dressing alone. Many Wendy’s offer “light classic” ranch dressing at 100 calories and 9 grams of fat, which is at least a better option.

Burger King- The burger giant introduced plans on July 21st of a “children’s meal” for breakfast, starting TODAY. For $3.38, Burger King is offering a meal consisting of egg-and-cheese sandwich, apple slices, and “calcium-fortified” apple juice, plus a toy.

  • What We Like:
    • “Apple Fries” are really just sliced apples, but the name “fries” may make picky children more likely to eat the fruit.
    • Claims that there is 1/2 serving of fresh fruit
    • Protein from egg
    • 410 calories, 11.5 grams of fat, and 4 grams of saturated fat which is a little much for breakfast but conforms to lower-fat and –calorie standards defined by the Council of Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative
  • What We Dislike:
    • Burger King, despite all the recent controversy, is still advertising children’s meals with toys (and the first to give toys with breakfast), but “has pledged to advertise only healthier meal choices to children”
    • We are unsure what the sandwich details are (check out the press release here), but if they are the normal sized Egg-and-Cheese sandwiches, this portion may be too large for children.

Sources: Wendys.com, McDonalds.com, LA times.com, Chicago Tribune.com

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