Filed under: DUH!

Or, as my mom used to say: No shit, Sherlock!

Fast food for children high in calories, study says

An excerpt from the Detroit Free Press article on the website this morning:

The report looked into the nutritional quality of kids’ meals at 13 major restaurant chains. The center found 93% of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories — an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day.

The report notes that eating out now accounts for a third of children’s daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed away from home 30 years ago.

The report also found that 45% of children’s meals exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and 86% of children’s meals are high in sodium.

The report recommends restaurants:

• Reformulate their menu items to reduce calories, saturated and trans fat, and salt, and add more healthy items such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

• Make fruit or vegetables and low-fat milk or water the default sides instead of French fries and soda for children’s meals.

• Provide nutrition on menus and menu boards. New York and San Francisco are among the cities and localities that have adopted menu labeling policies.

Excellent recommendations. Let me know how that turns out.

Three years ago, a different study was done about access to fast food by kids in school. That study, reported on HERE analyzed the proximity of Chicago schools to fast food chains. They found:

  • 78% of the schools have at least one fast-food place within less than a half mile or about a 10-minute walk.
  • Half the area’s schools have a fast-food restaurant a third of a mile or closer, about a five-minute walk. In some cases, the restaurant is right next door or across the street.
  • There are three to four times as many fast-food restaurants within less than a mile of schools than would be expected if the restaurants were evenly distributed around the city.

I guess we should be happy they will get 10-20 minutes of walking in everyday. Oh, wait, I suppose they might have cars.

Way back in 1992, a school in California was leading the way to a Fast Food Nation. This article, by Dan Froomkin originally appeared in the Orange Country register.

Seems that fall, Capistrano Valley High School (California) started serving lunch as provided by Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC). SOme schools had already started serving items from fast food restaurants under a resale agreement but Capo took it one step further: they allowed the chains to come in and remodel the school’s cafeteria. Now the school could make and sell the tacos, pepperoni pizza and nuggets right on site.

For instance, $1.85 or a card showing they qualify for a free lunch gets them a small pizza, fruit and milk. A 16-ounce soda with unlimited refills
costs another buck.

Fruit and milk. Very good. I wonder how much cola a 16 year old boy can guzzle down in his 35 minute lunch period?

The chains gain access to campuses and make some money. And school officials get more business and feel confident that more students will eat lunch, which [Bill] Caldwell [food service director for the Capistrano Unified School District] said they often skip otherwise.
Caldwell said the district culled through offerings from the chains, selecting the most popular meals and rejecting those that
didn’t meet district nutrition standards. For instance, Caldwell said, the Taco Bell Taco Salad was rejected because it is too high
in fat.

I’m not saying the TB salad is all that good but is there any salad available?

Get ready, we are coming to my favorite part of the article….

Pizza Hut and Taco Bell sent several men in suits from their corporate offices in Irvine to oversee the first day. …

“It will work,” said Mike Johnson, director of Pacific Coast operations for Pizza Hut. “We haven’t wrestled it down yet, but it
works. I think it’s got a lot of potential.” Johnson said the profit margin in schools is small, but the pennies add up with the potential of so many new “points of distribution.”

And, he said, there’s a long-term benefit in developing brand-name loyalty among the schoolchildren.

Ah yes, Pizza Hut, savior of my childhood, provider of greasy pizza and soda pop every day at lunch. Heaven knows I would have starved without them. Better make sure I eat there once a week.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has quite a reputation as the “food police” after they released reports telling us how Chinese food, popcorn and pretty much every other consumable is bad for us. Part of their mission is to pass legislation that will regulate food and producers from farmer to processor to seller to retailer, grocery or restaurant. If you haven’t guessed by now, I am more of the “make up your mind and be responsible for your own choices” kind of person. So, I don’t exactly agree with everything CSPI does or promotes or even reports. Some of their analysis is obviously biased. However, I do appreciate having this information so I can make my own decisions. And reading the report about Kid Meals, I can see how parents get confused- apples are healthy, get those as a side. Except not these apples, swimming in some kind of sugar-cinnamon syrup glaze. I don’t think this group should be demanding that laws be enacted to require restaurants to post their nutrition data. I think the public should be demanding the stores do it, if they want the business. And parents should really think hard about their own choices before they order for little Johnny and Jane. Get the kids a healthy grilled chicken with broccoli and fruit sides then sit there and eat a double-cheeseburger with bacon, fries and a giant coke. Excellent role modelling!

To read CSPI’s full report on Fast Food, here is the PDF from their website

S’mores and Blue #1

We went camping this weekend- kind of a last minute trip. Much like summer means fresh meaty tomatoes- camping means campfire which means S’mores.

Chris and I picked up a box of graham crackers, packages of marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate bars. We also found some higher quality chocolate but I couldn’t bring myself to not use the ubiquitous Hershey bar!

It ended up raining so we didn’t really get to make traditional S’mores with toasted marshmallows but we made do. Lying in the tent, munching on our little sandwiches of yum, I looked at the bag of marshmallows. The ingredient list in particular.

Now, I know that marshmallows are hardly the highest form of quality good food. I know they are mostly made of sugars and gelatin. But, I was surprised to see artificial coloring- Food dye Blue No. 1.

Marshmallows are white! Why do they need artificial color- to make them more white?!?

There is a growing movement in this country to ban many of today’s commercial food dyes. Most are purely synthetic and made from some scary stuff. Blue No. 1 is made of coal tar. Coal tar is about what you’d expect: a very thick by-product of turning coal to coal gas or coke. According to wikipedia, it smells like napthalene. Napthalene- the primary ingredient in mothballs. (Coal tar is also used in certain anti-dandruff shampoos and in the making of aceteminophen (Tylenol)).

Of the artificial food colorings currently in use in the United States, Blue #1 has a better reputation than some of the Yellow and Reds.  Blue #1 is not linked to behavoioral problems in children however it has caused cancer in lab rats- no doubt in extremely large amounts.  There is a large group of parents who believe that excessive consumption of artificial food colorants and certain preservatives causes hyperactivity in children.  And there are some studies, mostly from England, that seem to support such a finding.   Time Magazine recently published an article about one such consumer advocacy group’s efforts to ban food coloring in the US.

While searching for more information about synthetic food colorings, I found an interesting piece from the FDA. Its essentially propaganda for the wonders of fake-colored food.  I quote here:

The color of food is an integral part of our culture and enjoyment of life. Who would deny the mouth-watering appeal of a deep-pink strawberry ice on a hot summer day or a golden Thanksgiving turkey garnished with fresh green parsley?

Even early civilizations such as the Romans recognized that people “eat with their eyes” as well as their palates. Saffron and other spices were often used to provide a rich yellow color to various foods. Butter has been colored yellow as far back as the 1300’s.

Why Are Color Additives Used In Foods?

Color is an important property of foods that adds to our enjoyment of eating. Nature teaches is early to expect certain colors in certain foods, and our future acceptance of foods is highly dependent on meeting these expectations.

The primary reasons of adding colors to foods include:

  • To offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture and storage conditions. 
  • To correct natural variations in color. Off-colored foods are often incorrectly associated with inferior quality. For example, some tree-ripened oranges are often sprayed with Citrus Red No.2 to correct the natural orangy-brown or mottled green color of their peels (Masking inferior quality, however, is an unacceptable use of colors.) 
  • To enhance colors that occur naturally but at levels weaker than those usually associated with a given food. 
  • To provide a colorful identity to foods that would otherwise be virtually colorless. Red colors provide a pleasant identity to strawberry ice while lime sherbet is known by its bright green color. 
  • To provide a colorful appearance to certain “fun foods.” Many candies and holiday treats are colored to create a festive appearance. 
  • To protect flavors and vitamins that may be affected by sunlight during storage. 
  • To provide an appealing variety of wholesome and nutritious foods that meet consumers’ demands.

Now, they seem to be saying that consumers are more likely to buy something that is brightly colored.  Sigh.

Yeah, I can see that.

But where did it start? Which came first- the desire for more color or the marketing campaigns that forcefully you an orange should be crayon-orange and anything less is inferior product?   I had no idea that oranges were sometimes sprayed to look more orange-like.    But I know I’ve looked at oranges in the store and turned up my nose at the ones with more muted yellow-orange skin. 

Bottom line is, I’m not going to stop eating marshmallows. I rarely eat them now. I’m not going to eliminate all artificial food coloring from everything I eat. Its not practical at this point and I’ve got bigger fish to fry- namely avoiding High Fructose Corn Syrup and tomatoes, from either Florida or Mexico. Can’t help but notice, however, that if I avoid eating a lot of processed foods with HFCS, I’m reducing my intake of food coloring by default.