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John Cisna and McDonald's Open Door Tour

Last week I wrote about Freshii, a healthy fast food chain. Now I get to talk about McD's, the fast food icon in an interesting position. Two weeks ago the emperor of fast food announced that it planned to close 900 of its restaurants worldwide after a $400 million loss in the first quarter this year. Increasing competition from new chain restaurants and a negative image of its "junk food" menu are likely contributors. With the rising costs of health insurance and out-of-pocket medical fees, consumers are proactively choosing prevention by eating better and losing weight. This has helped fuel the demand for fast food vegetarian and plant-based options while traditional fast food of hamburgers, French fries and soda loses ground.

Still I'll readily admit that I'm rooting for McDonald's. The golden arches are a familiar comforting sight whenever I'm on a road trip. I enjoy McD's low cost soft serve ice cream cones and oatmeal and allow my son a chicken nuggets/French fries meal a few times a month (and yes I do snitch a nugget and a few fries!). I hope they'll recognize the necessary trend of healthier fast food and continue to evolve their menu.

Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

I attended McDonald's Open Door Tour last weekend with other Boston-area bloggers to get a behind the scenes glimpse of their food production and hear an inspiring talk by John Cisna, the now famous Iowa science teacher who lost over 50 pounds eating only McDonald's meals for three months. This event clearly showed me that McDonald's radar is on, as they highlighted their fresh produce, fruit smoothies, oatmeal with fresh diced apples and dried fruit, and use of fresh whole eggs in their Egg McMuffins. The highlight of this event for me, as a dietitian who sees a majority of patients who eat out more than twice a week, was John Cisna's talk.

If you don't know his story, Cisna is a high school biology teacher who challenged his sophomores to design a scientific research study. With no ties to McDonald's at the time, they created the hypothesis, "Is it possible for a person to become better off by eating nothing but McDonald's for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 90 days?" His students set daily nutrition goals for calories and 14 other nutrients based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances and USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They then researched the McDonald's menu, which discloses full nutrition information, to create a detailed menu for Cisna. This is a timely and relevant hypothesis, as McDonald's suffered a noxious blow with Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me documentary in 2004. If you don't recall the queasy details, Spurlock ate only McDonald's for 30 days and not only gained 25 pounds but increased his cholesterol, developed a fatty liver, and suffered "mood swings." Despite the fact that Spurlock was eating about 5000 calories daily, double the amount the average overweight American eats, viewers walked away with greater distrust for corporate McDonald's and the "poison" it was serving.

Cisna didn't know what his students' experiment would reveal, but he followed their menu strictly. Sure he ate plenty of salads, oatmeal, grilled chicken wraps and Egg White Delights, but he also enjoyed cheeseburgers, French fries and sausage burritos. As long as the meals fit the nutrition guidelines, he was allowed to eat it. The calorie goal was 2000, though certain days he dipped to 1700. Though his sodium and sugar intake exceeded government recommendations on certain days, overall those intakes were significantly lower than in his previous diet. He exercised moderately, walking for 45 minutes 4-5 days a week. 

The results? ...and God bless him, I do have the exact results because he sent me the full Excel spreadsheet displaying all 90 days of each meal with 15 nutrients, his exercise routine, weight, body measurements, cholesterol and triglycerides. From 9-15-2013 to 12-15-2013:

  • Weight dropped from 280 to 243 (37 pounds)
  • Cholesterol dropped from 249 to 170
  • Triglycerides dropped from 156 to 80
  • Lost 4.5 inches from his chest, 6 inches from his stomach, and 4 inches from his hips

Cisna continued to lose weight after the experiment and by March 2014 he had lost a total of 60 pounds. The key factor is that he also kept it off. A self-proclaimed recovering foodaholic, he now believes that there is no such thing as bad food, and fast food is not the problem. Quantity is the problem. Though he still eats at McDonald's several times a week, he stresses that this was an experiment, not a "McDonald's diet," to show that choices matter. "It's ok to have a Big Mac some days but not all the time. If I eat a 700 calorie slice of cheesecake, I accomodate my meals the rest of the day to fit it in."

It's sound, real-world advice. When I counsel patients in the nutrition clinic, I heavily promote a plant-rich diet because I believe plant foods are healing for almost every chronic disease: obesity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, gallbladder, kidney stones, etc. etc. etc.! Many patients are ready for that, but many others aren't. They rely on take-out and fast food. For these folks, I help create sample menus that include take-out food and gradually introduce more plant foods. We research online restaurant menus for nutrition information and make better choices, similar to what Cisna did. And they lose weight and improve their bloodwork, as Cisna did. I agree with Cisna that it's about choices. You don't have to be a vegetarian and a Whole Foods devotee to be healthier, despite what a growing number of whole foods believers preach. I'm actually seeing more patients in the clinic who are gaining unwanted pounds eating too many high calorie foods with a health halo.

I applaud Cisna for going against popular opinion and reminding us about the importance of choices and moderation. Check out Cisna's video 540 Meals for more details about his experiment:

Disclosure: I received compensation from McDonald's in exchange for writing this review. Although this is a sponsored post, all opinions are honest and my own.


Review of Freshii Boston: Healthy Fast Food

I've noticed a bunch of healthy fast food eateries popping up in the Boston area (hallelujah!), many of which have smartly planted themselves next to big health clubs like Equinox and Boston Sports Clubs. I was invited to check out the newest location of Freshii on Dartmouth Street in the Back Bay, adjacent to my gym Healthworks. Freshii has two other locations in Boston, Fort Point and the Financial District, and is actually a world-wide chain with 160 restaurants in 13 different countries.

When I walked into the Back Bay Freshii I could feel the positive energy of a new establishment (opened on April 13). It was a compact, clean modern space with polished wood tables that seat about 18 customers. I was most struck by the number of employees behind the counter...at least ten, five of whom smiled at me ready to take my order. Eager! ๐Ÿ˜„ They all looked young in their 20s and were joking and laughing with each other. It created the vibe of a college campus dining hall, which didn't bother me but may not be every customer's preference. 

I'd already studied the website and menu beforehand, which excited me. Their mantra is "Eat. Energize." with a mission to "serve fresh food to energize people on the go." The menu is customizable and includes soups, salads, wraps, bowls, burritos, frozen yogurt, juices and smoothies touted to supply "fiber-rich, slow-burning carbs, essential fats and lean proteins." They also tap local suppliers for sustainability and fresh ingredients. Definitely my kind of everyday food!

The items I ordered were unarguably fresh. I'll describe each one below.

The Metaboost Salad $8.99 had field greens, spinach, kale, mangoes, carrots, edamame, almonds, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. It was a generously sized salad with beautiful greens but just a tad skimpy on the good stuff: dots of goat cheese, a few edamame and tiny diced mango here and there, and some almonds that I had to poke around to find. It tasted fine, though the salad came already heavily dressed in the vinaigrette which was too tart for me. Next time I'd order the dressing on the side.

The Market Wrap $7.99 came with field greens, spinach, quinoa, beet slaw, apple slaw, carrots, cranberries, avocado and honey dijon dressing in a whole grain tortilla. It was BIG! The filling was lightly covered with a mild and creamy dressing that hinted of a mayo base, which I enjoyed. The beets, apple and cranberries added the right amount of sweetness.

I had to try the Green Energy Juice $6.99 because I haven't yet found a take-out green juice that I've liked ๐Ÿ˜œ. This one blended apple, cucumber, kale, lemon, carrot, romaine and spinach. I was immediately turned off by the muddy color...it looked dreadful (I'd suggest they serve this in a non see-through cup!). But after closing my eyes and taking a sip, I found the flavor to be good. I tasted all the greens, apple and cucumber, and could tell it was all natural without any added sweeteners. On a day that I've skimped on vegetables and fruits, I'd readily order this.

Of course I had to try their specialty FroYo $4.99 offered in two flavors, an original tart or cookies and cream, with two toppings of your choice. I decided on the cookies and cream with slivered almonds and strawberries. The portion was generous and both the yogurt and toppings tasted very fresh and delicious—easily becoming my favorite item. The price is great for the quality and amount you get!

The nutrition information of every item is available online so if you're watching calories, protein, sodium, fiber, etc. you can compare and make the right choice for you. It's a mixed bag with most of the items high in sodium and calories, but there are a few lower sodium and lower calorie options. You can also customize a salad, bowl or wrap and order the dressing on the side to fit your specific nutrition goals.

I didn't think this was the greatest healthy fast food ever, but if I were traveling and eating on-the-go I'd make a beeline to a Freshii if it were available. The ingredients are healthful and fresh and the prices are reasonable considering they use local produce. They're also a green company that uses eco-friendly cleaning products, and distributes utensils, paperware and packaging that are either biodegradable or easily recyclable. A fast food company with a global mission to do good, for our health and environment. Please check it out!

Disclosure: I received a Freshii gift card to help facilitate this post. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my honest evaluation of the menu items.


Loving Matcha and Green Tea Smoothies

I've been drinking a few cups of green tea every day for the past few years. I do enjoy the taste but more than that I've noticed that since I began drinking the brew I've experienced fewer cold viruses. So now when I have a scratchy throat, instead of popping vitamin C pills I drink extra green tea. The tea is easy on my stomach unlike coffee. I recently discovered matcha green tea, which as you can see below presents as a vibrant green powder instead of tea bags. Matcha tea is ground whole green tea leaves, so you end up drinking a super strong concentration of its cancer-fighting plant chemical epigallocatechin gallate (up to 3 times more than is found in regular green tea), yet with only about a third of the caffeine in a cup of brewed coffee...so less stomach irritation and jitters.

To prepare a cup of matcha tea, you only need about a half to one teaspoon of the powder mixed into warm water (boiling water can destroy the tea creating a bitter taste) and then whisked briskly until the tea dissolves and a foam is created. It tastes like regular green tea but more intense. Matcha tea is all the rage now, added to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, banana bread and even cookie dough. It adds that beautiful all natural grass-green hue (I have a feeling St. Patrick's Day recipes will pop up next year using matcha tea!). DavidsTea offers three kinds of matcha green tea and three more flavored matcha varieties. They'll prepare it for you hot or cold, and even sell a special tea bottle with a built-in wisk in the cover so you can easily shake up your matcha tea to go.

Below is my first try at an easy matcha smoothie incorporating my usual fave smoothie ingredients. It's mildy sweet, rich and filling. Enjoy!

Matcha Green Tea Smoothie 


1 cup vanilla soy or almond milk

1 small frozen banana

1/2 cup diced pineapple

1 tsp matcha green tea powder

2 tablespoons chia gel* 


Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend on high until mixed well.

*To make a batch of chia gel, mix 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds into 8 ounces water and let sit for 15-20 minutes.