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Health Research
Agnus Alexander | agnusalexander122

Puncturing Two Myths: ‘Fast Food is The Worst’ and ‘Healthy Food is Expensive Food’

Jan 2nd 2014 at 9:35 PM

Today brings a pair of items for our constantly-growing “Everything You Know is Wrong” file, both having to do with widely accepted assumptions about the relative values and virtues of types of food. It may actually be an overstatement to call them “myths,” because that implies legendary heroics. “Misconceptions” certainly works, though.

Misconception #1: If you dine out, try to avoid the junky fare at the fast-food outlets and choose instead meals at one of the walk-in, family chain restaurants, which are healthier.

According to an 18-month study by the Rand Corporation, this is a whopping great NOT. They analyzed the contents of nearly 31,000 menu items offered at 245 such family chains nationwide, and their results are cause for glee and smug celebration in the Wendy’s and McDonald’s boardrooms. Not only do 96 percent of the family chains’ entrees contain more calories, fats and sodium than the USDA recommends per meal for both children and adults, but they pack an average 271 more calories and 16 more grams of fat than the fast food entrees.

But wait, it gets even worse. The family chains throw another monkey wrench into your diet, in the form of appetizers. The Rand study found that these items delivered an average 813 calories, which exceeds not only the 667 calories per entire entree recommended by the USDA, but the 674 calories contained by the chains’ own entrees. Of course, you probably split the appetizers with others, right? Right? Hello?

Misconception #2: Unhealthy food is cheaper than the healthy variety.

Not true, say the folks as the USDA’s Economic Research Service, which studied over 4,000 foods and ground out data based on price, weight, calories and portion size, and found all manner of nutritional foods that were less expensive than junky alternatives.

It turns out that the earlier reports that concluded that healthier foods were pricier foods generally compared various food types based on the cost per calorie. The big “Duh” here is, of course, that calories alone are a poor measure of nutritional value, or even of value period. For example, nonfat milk is “more expensive” than whole milk per calorie, but usually just the opposite in actual price per quart.

Among their observations:

Grains, such as rice or wheat or oats, are horse-healthy and the food industry’s biggest bargain however you figure it.
Meat is expensive, but you can get protein on the cheap through eggs, beans and dairy products.
Bananas, carrots, mashed potatoes, OJ, and lettuce are all cheaper per portion than french fries, sodas, sweet rolls, ice cream and deep-fat fried chicken.

Check this out for yourself at your regular market. If it turns out otherwise, you may want to find a new market.

Two final qualifiers: Ultimately, it’s not where you eat but what menu item you order and how much of it you consume that determines your caloric intake. On the other hand, the cost of fruit and veggies depends not just on what you buy but also on where you buy it: consider the price differences between fare purchased at the supermarket, corner market, convenience store, outdoor farmers market or organic greengrocer.


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