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The Misleading Menu

Don’t believe everything you read, on the menu that is. You’d think a dietitian would be able to choose the healthiest items on a menu blindfolded. Wrong! One problem may be that menus may emphasize lovely parts of a dish (“sweet fresh-picked organic carrots”) while leaving out perhaps unnecessary but costly details (the carrots arrive in a heavy cream reduction). More than once, I’ve selected harmless-sounding foods that end up more damaging to the waistline than other richer-sounding menu items.

To verify this problem, I experimented at McDonald’s, now a common destination as my finicky son has fallen for their French fries. McD’s lists nutrition information on all their items, so my task was to choose what I believed were the 3 healthiest entrees, based only on their title and photo, and then compare the nutrition breakdown with similar entrees. Trying to compare apples with apples, I chose items that were about the same size and type of food. My top picks: the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich, Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips (5 pc), and the Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken, mainly because of the words “grilled,” “premium,” and “breast.”

The results: Thumbs up for the Grilled Chicken Sandwich, which has the least amount of fat of all the sandwiches, but I would have been better off with the 6 piece Chicken McNuggets than the Premium Breast Strips (saving over 350 calories and 20 grams fat). The Asian salad qualifies as a healthful choice (at 300 calories, 10 grams fat), but both the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken and Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken have even less fat and calories! Portion size is key, for example with the nuggets vs. strips: the strips weigh almost double the amount of the nuggets, and therefore have more calories. However, you wouldn’t know this based only on the description of “5 pieces” vs. “6 pieces.”

There’s a reason why studies show that the more people eat out, the fatter they are. Restaurant portions are big, and descriptions are deceiving. Going for typically “healthful” items like salads or chicken isn’t always the best option. Better to choose what you really want, eat just enough food to fill you regardless of how much comes on your plate, and view eating out as a treat rather than a daily ritual.

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