The Food Police and Consumer Choice

John Cisna, a high school teacher, has documented how McDonald’s fast food can be a basis for losing weight.  His regimen was to eat 2,000 calories of McDonald’s food and walk 45 minutes each day.  Over a 6 month period, he lost 56 pounds and greatly improved his physical condition.

Cisna’s book, “My McDonald’s Diet,” is a long overdue response to Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” a chronicle of weight gain through careless dieting on McDonald’s foods exclusively.  Spurlock seemed to have disdain for McDonald’s whereas Cisna seems to be indifferent to the company.  Regardless of what you think of fast food outlets, exercise and your menu choices clearly matter. 

Cisna’s McDonald’s diet shows that careful calorie and nutrition-aware choices can help restore good physical condition.  A registered dietitian somewhat grudgingly commented on Cisna’s experience: “Fast food can be part of a healthful, balanced and nutrient-rich diet but it… shouldn’t be a large part.”

So Spurlock’s lampooning of McDonald’s is shown to be precisely that – character assassination rather than a principled acknowledgement of the consumer’s role in the outcomes.  Of course there are many self-appointed food police ranting on popular evils such as salt, trans-fat, and fructose (behind the soft-drink size limitation imposed by Mayor Bloomberg).

Common sense is a better guide than the food police.  The diets of healthy Americans must have moderate calorie intake and the right mix of foods.  The CDC summarizes elements in a sane diet as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, lean meats, beans, eggs, and nuts.  The CDC says the diet should be low (not zero) in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.  The total calorie intake should align with your needs.

Anything to excess, even water, can be detrimental.  For foods, “excess” is defined by what your body chemistry needs or can safely assimilate.  For example, your body needs about 500 mg of sodium (usually from table salt), and 1500 mg of sodium per day is fine.  But ingesting more than 2300 mg of sodium per day may encourage high blood pressure – increasing your chance of heart attack and stroke. 

Fructose (corn-sweetener used as a substitute for cane sugar or sucrose) is often used in soft drinks and of course the calories are listed on the container.   Whether the typical 136 calories in a 12 ounce can of cola come from fructose or from sucrose does not matter.  Fructose is a popular villain, because instead of satiating your cravings for sweetness, it supposedly increases those cravings.  You can judge for yourself how much truth there is in that allegation: try regular Coca Cola (fructose sweetened), and then try Mexican Coca Cola (sucrose sweetened). 

The contrasting outcomes of Cisna and Spurlock prove that consumers’ common sense matters more than all the huffing about what ingredients are “in” or “out” and what commercial food sources have fallen out of vogue this month.  In the end, consumer choice is very important.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research

 

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