I'm not referring to the oft-recommended 5-6 small daily meals recommended by nutritionists (emphasis on small). I'm talking about an actual ad campaign that wants to promote the idea that three super-sized, super-fatty, high-carb, low-protein, low-fiber, nutriontally-void fast food meals a day are just one shy of perfection.
In case you haven't seen the ads, this particular gem comes from Taco Bell. The good folks at TB (a division of Yum! Brands, the folks who also bring you the wholesome goodness of KFC, Pizza Hut and that mecca of Omega-3, Long John Silver's).
Out of curiosity, I did some exploration at at Taco Bells Nutrition Calculator
. Their "fourth meal" is not quite as unreasonable as I assumed. A regular old taco would add only 170 calories and 10 grams of fat to your other three meals, and even a full gram of fiber, unless you add a small Coke (who adds a *small* Coke?) and bring the grand total up to 320.
So what kind of impact would this have on your diet? Let's consider that the average American woman is 5'4" and weighs 152 pounds. For the sake of argument, we'll make her 30 years old, and give her a generous rating of moderate activity (jogging on a daily
basis). Her daily caloric needs would be around 2200 (calculations courtesy of 24HourFitness' calculators
). To be fair, she could indulge in a little over six of these meals, a bit more than the recommended four, were she to choose to subsist exclusively on tacos and Coke..
But let's be honest. How many people are really jogging *every* day? How many people are only ordering one basic taco and a small Coke when they go to Taco Bell?
I'm not even commenting on the content of the meal. Cholesterol, saturated fat, transfats, growth hormone, antibiotics, and recently, E. coli and rat feces. I won't say that if you made your "fourth meal" an ounce of cashews and a banana you'd be getting complex carbohydrates, protein, unsaturated fats (the good kind!) and potassium, stay full longer, and still fall 60 calories shy of the Taco Bell meal. Okay, maybe I *will* say that, but that's not the object of this post. This post is merely a rant on the role marketing plays in the American obesity epidemic. I shall try to stay on topic. No promises.
The real bee in my bonnet lately is the McDonald's "snack time" campaign. You've seen them. Same guy appears in various contrived situations, wrap sandwich in hand, declaring any and all abnormal behavior he encounters to be the results of "missing snack time."
Low blood sugar can be a terrible thing. Shakes, headaches, muddled thinking. We've all been there. Fear not, Mickey D's to the rescue! You may think "snack time" means a couple graham crackers smeared with peanut butter, a granola bar, a piece of fruit, some popcorn or heck, even a few cookies, but thanks to the marketing genius of the McDonalds Corporation, we are now aware that an entire sandwich must be consumed to avoid embarassing behaviors like trying to dig your way out of your office through the drywall with a spoon or surprising your wife with three cheerleaders in her newly redecorated sports-themed living room.
So let's for a moment examine this "snack." The same people who brought you 500-calorie meals (with toy!) for toddlers now offer a line of chicken wraps that have 260-330 calories a piece, with up to 16 grams of fat. Again, add in that small Coke (do they even sell small anymore? I thought the sizes started with "bucket" and worked up to "50 gallon drum") for up to 480 calories. In what universe is this considered a "snack?" Consider that 4 ounces broiled chicken, a cup of long grain rice (a generous serving!) and a cup of cooked carrots with a glass of water and lemon comes to 458 calories with only 6 grams of fat. I've never heard that called a "snack." Most people call it "dinner."
Don't get me wrong. I love food, I love to eat, I have bad habits and I've made mistakes in the past and surely will in the future. What bothers me is the deliberate, reckless marketing of huge portions of unhealthy food to the public. To put it out there that it is completely acceptable, even necessary, to have a "fourth meal" of low-grade beef and cheese "product" or that a fatty sandwich packing upwards of 300 calories is a little between-meals-somethin'-somethin' is grossly irresponsible, bordering on immoral. When you consider the plentiful locations of these establishments in communities that cover the entire socio-economic spectrum, and the price/portion ratio, it's hardly a secret these entities prey on the poor.
I don't mean to ride Morgan Spurlock's coattails. In fact, I think he missed the mark a bit. He left people an out; they can always fall back on the fact that *of course* a person eating nothing but fast food for an entire month would gain weight, lose muscle mass, have cholesterol/triglyceride/liver enzyme/blood sugar issues, feel sluggish and become physiologically addicted to the product. A more realistic experiment may have been to visit McD's four or five times a week over the course of year so that people would get a better picture of what their true habits are doing to them. Of course, I don't blame Mr. Spurlock for one minute for wanting to get the experiment over and behind him within 30 days, and his points were not lost on me.
There's a lot of lip-service paid to the obesity problem in this country yet, as with everything, it is Corporate America who gets the final word. Next time you visit an impoverished neighborhood, if you ever do, count the supermarkets along your way. Consider the weight of the packages you load into your minivan or SUV each time you shop for your family. Now imagine that you have no car to transport those packages from the market, if you can find one, and your main objective is to fill bellies until pay day with whatever keeps the Mom-I'm-hungries to a minimum. Consider that low-grade ground beef costs $.99/pound, while grapes cost $2.39; that Kashi or Grape Nuts cost twice as much as the big Malt-o-Meal sugary-poofs; that soda is cheaper than milk. Pardon my cynicism, USDA, but your new-and-improved food pyramid is a load of crap. Start making fresh, chemically unaltered, nutritionally valid foods available to even the poorest Americans and we'll talk.