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Advertising Aside: A Beef About Fast Food

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My Globe and Mail arrived this morning in a huge, colourful plastic bag decorated with pictures of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries and other fresh fruit. There were big yellow arches on the lower half of the bag and the promotional message read "Introducing McDonald's Lighter Choices Menu..

My Globe and Mail arrived this morning in a huge, colourful plastic bag decorated with pictures of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries and other fresh fruit.

There were big yellow arches on the lower half of the bag and the promotional message read "Introducing McDonald's Lighter Choices Menu."

Wow, I thought, these guys are sharp!

The already tarnished reputation of fast food has taken a real beating of late. This spring, Swedish scientists revealed that high-temperature baking or frying of carbohydrate-rich foods forms a substance called acrylamide, which causes nerve and reproductive damage in animal tests and is a probable human carcinogen. French fries from Burger King and McDonald's were found to contain about 100 times the maximum allowable limit of acrylamide.

Wouldn't that be something to see warning labels on fries just like the labels on cigarettes? "Fries contain trans fatty acids that may cause heart disease." "Trans fatty acids in fries may cause cancer." Burgers could come with the warning, "Saturated fats may clog arteries and cause strokes."

Wherever you look with a watchful eye, you will see two new trends emerging. The first is rising sales in fresh, organic fruit and vegetables, which isn't of itself a bad thing. The demand has been primarily consumer-driven. People are discovering that their health improves dramatically when they add more living foods rich in enzymes, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to their diet.

Juicing, an extension of this concept, has also become very popular. There is nothing better than starting the day with a glass of fresh juice. I've made it a habit to drink carrot-beet juice with an added tablespoon of freshly pressed flax oil every morning. This combination is rich in beta-carotene and lycopene, and provides important omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Even better, it's a real cancer-fighter.

The second trend that of functional foods is very influential in today's marketplace and will continue as such for years to come. The term "functional food" was coined in Japan, where foods with nutritional additives promised to be healthier and to support certain functions of the body. For example, some egg producers have enriched their eggs with omega-3 fatty acids by adding flax seeds to the chicken feed. Adding vitamin D to milk to help the body absorb calcium is another example of the functional food idea. (Unfortunately, the chosen form of vitamin D is synthetic and doesn't work very well.)

In health food stores you will find hundreds of powerful functional foods that are designed to supply the body with nutrients and everything that's missing from our convenient, contemporary diet. "Green" drinks with chlorophyll and fruit and vegetable extracts come in a concentrated form of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and secondary nutrients. Sports nutrition products are a combination of proteins from soy or whey powder, as well as lactic acid, vitamins and minerals to help muscle development during exercise.

These functional foods seem to fill a void in our fast-moving, mobile society. And while regular meals with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables are still the best way to ensure proper nutrition, perhaps this is an unrealistic dream for many young and working people. Hence the popularity of functional foods, and accordingly, manufacturers cannot find new formulas quickly enough to fill the demand.

For better or worse, this fast food corporate giant is apparently keen to participate in the "going fresh" trend by offering a Lighter Choices Menu. If they jump on the functional food bandwagon, who knows what we'd see? "Trans fatty acids in fries may cause cancer. But don't worry. Enriched with lycopene for cancer protection."

The real question is, will fast food ever be as healthy and nutritious as a whole foods meal? Advertising aside, I doubt it.

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