Eating by the numbers

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Some fast-food trends are outrageous; others are well worth adopting

A funny thing happened in the world of fast food the other day.

Bucking the trend toward healthier options, Kentucky Fried Chicken in the United States rolled out its latest sandwich: the Double Down - presumably as in down with sense and down with nutrition.

The Double Down tosses out the bun and, instead, serves up two slices of cheese, two slices of bacon and the Colonel's Sauce between two grilled or fried chicken patties.

A funny thing happened in the world of fast food the other day.

Bucking the trend toward healthier options, Kentucky Fried Chicken in the United States rolled out its latest sandwich: the Double Down - presumably as in down with sense and down with nutrition.

The Double Down tosses out the bun and, instead, serves up two slices of cheese, two slices of bacon and the Colonel's Sauce between two grilled or fried chicken patties.

Can you say, double your risk of heart attack?

The ad on the KFC website is hilarious.

"Finally, someone was listening," it says. (Uh, who exactly? Homer Simpson?) "Now, that's a chicken sandwich!"

That's also one hell of an unhealthy menu choice.

At more than 1,400 mg of sodium and more than 450 calories for the grilled version, that's nearly your whole day's worth of salt and a heck of a lot of energy (more than 200 calories) from fat.

It's also a heck of a lot of fat, period, at a whopper - er, whopping 23 grams. How much dietary fibre? Zero.

The KFC web ad ends with this catchphrase: "UNthink. Taste the UNhungry side of KFC."

UNthink, indeed.

Whoever came up with the Double Down was definitely UNthinking - UNkind, even.

"This is not a healthy choice," said Walter Willett, the chair of nutrition at Harvard's School of Public Health, in a recent Associated Press article.

That's called UNderstatement.

You don't need to watch the 2004 documentary "Super Size Me" to realize that a steady diet of Double Downs, fries and Coke could spell double trouble for your health.

Deprived, thus far

Now, so far, despite the warm welcome the Double Down's getting south of the border, there are no plans to bring it here.

However, there is one thing being offered in the U.S. that I wish they would bring to Canada.

KFC has committed to printing calorie counts on its restaurant menus as of Jan. 1, 2011, the Associated Press reports.

"A recently passed federal law eventually will require all chain restaurants to do so," said the AP article.

Can we get that policy imported? And can it cover coffee shop chains, too?

Not just yet, I'm afraid. In Canada, when it comes to calorie counts, we're leaving it up to restaurants to come clean on their own.

"In 2005, the Canadian Food and Restaurant Association launched voluntary guidelines for providing nutrition information to consumers," wrote Health Canada media relations officer Philippe Laroche, in response to my query.

"Health Canada recognizes that it will take time for this initiative to be adopted by the food service industry. We continue to closely monitor this voluntary initiative to determine if a model for regulatory compliance could be developed that would be both practical and enforceable."

The other side of the counter

Now, in fairness to the fast-food chains, they've adopted healthier offerings so that consumers have a greater choice when they're dining in a hurry.

And most of the major players post nutritional information and calorie counts for their menu items on their websites.

As Burger King notes on its website: "Establishing a healthy, balanced diet is much easier if you have the right tools at your disposal. ... It's all a part of living life in a healthy way, making informed choices and having things your way."

And as Laroche from Health Canada says, "The department continues to encourage consumers to look for and request nutrition information on those food products that are exempt from the regulations."

But wouldn't it be a heck of a lot easier for consumers if major fast-food joints had to post calorie counts and other nutrition information on their menu boards? Let's face it, getting fast food to go is often an impulse decision made in the middle of a hectic day running errands, or between work and other commitments. How many of us are likely to pop home and download a McDonald's calorie count before hitting the drive-thru?

And if you're grabbing a coffee and dessert to go, wouldn't you rather know that the walnut crunch you're so fond of has 360 calories and 23 grams of fat when you could opt for a low-fat blueberry muffin that has 290 calories and 2.5 grams of fat?

Information is power, as they say, and if we had those facts in front of us we could make better choices.

Now, some city and states in the U.S. have taken this further and called for mandatory sodium reductions for food manufacturers and the phasing out of the use of trans fats in bakeries.

I'm not sure that's absolutely necessary if it would cause businesses undue hardship in the short term.

And when it comes to publicly posting calorie counts, small mom-and-pop takeouts, for example, might not be able to afford the food analysis needed to get that information, but they could certainly provide ingredient lists with their menu items and let people make informed choices.

You want fries with that? Go for it.

But you might also consider getting a side order of more information.

One serving of ranch dipping sauce at Burger King is 170 calories and 17 grams of fat - and that's before you dip anything into it.

A large A&W chocolate shake? That's a sweet and frothy 1,120 calories.

Quick, somebody pass the Tums.

Pam Frampton is the Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Associated Press, Health Canada Harvard School of Public Health Burger King Canadian Food and Restaurant Association McDonald's

Geographic location: United States, Canada

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  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Eating by numbers . I had a friend in Comox, BC. , who use to cycle to Campbell River , a trip of 50 km to get an ice cream . Now that is someone worried by calories .

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Eating by numbers . I had a friend in Comox, BC. , who use to cycle to Campbell River , a trip of 50 km to get an ice cream . Now that is someone worried by calories .