It’s not a surprise McDonald’s is unhealthy (if this is a surprise to you, you are either living on Mars ((how’s the food out there??) or in denial). But, do you know why McDonald’s is not good for you? For my first of many “What the Fork” posts on here (!!!), I want to dig into exactly why McDonald’s is so unhealthy for us.
The issue doesn’t lie in hamburgers and French fries, per say, but in the processing these foods undergo and the lack of actual, real food in these “food-like” products. If their French fries were simply potatoes and salt, I wouldn’t be too concerned about them. (The frying is a whole different conversation for a different day – short story, it’s not good for you, but I want to talk ingredients today.) Potatoes are not bad for you, but these French fries do not deserve to be called potatoes! Once McDonald’s is done with them, you are left wondering where were the actual potatoes in there? What I’m getting at is that it’s all about the ingredients. Have you ever dropped a piece of French fry between the seats of your car only to find it weeks, maybe months later? Have you noticed how it still looks the same way it did the day you bought it? That is because the preservatives they spray and soak these “potatoes” with have quite literally preserved that fry in all its glory … and now it’s been riding under your car seat for months. They’re so bad even bacteria & mold won’t touch them! Let’s take a look at the ingredients, shall we? All 19 (NINETEEN!! – first red flag) of them:
Potatoes, Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated soybean oil, Natural Beef Flavor, Hydrolyzed Wheat, Hydrolyzed Milk, Citric Acid, Dimethylpolysiloxane (a silicone used in silly putty), Dextrose (sprayed on the fry so that they do not turn grey) Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Salt, Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Tertiary-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), Dimethylpolysiloxane (used for safety reasons to stop cooking fat foaming when the fires are cooked).
Keep in mind, French fries should have only two ingredients: potatoes and salt! Now look back up at those ingredients one more time and let’s chat about them!
Canola oil is a cheap, highly refined oil that does not belong in a healthy diet. This oil was non-existent in our diets before the 1980’s. First off, most canola oil is GMO (genetically modified) and you should be concerned about this because GMO crops are very heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, one that’s used a lot in particular (Glyphosate) was just declared a possible carcinogen (causing cancer) by the World Health Organization. Before canola oil can become canola oil, it starts out as a rapeseed plant, which undergoes a series of chemical processes (with a petroleum solvent) to extract the oil, including bleaching & deodorizing. The oil must be chemically removed and altered, it can’t just be extracted naturally by pressing or separating like coconut oil or butter. During this processing, the oil becomes exposed to such high heat and so many chemicals that it alters the color and taste, so it must be bleached and deodorized in order to be palatable!
Hydrogenated soybean oil: This is the probably #1 worst “edible” thing you can put in your body. Hydrogenated oils are the lovely trans fats we have all hopefully by now been hearing about, and these are a huge, big fat NO. I mean so huge that the FDA has finally cracked down on the food industry and made food companies make arrangements to phase them out of their products. You know they’re bad when the FDA actually stands up to big food corporations. These man made oils go through a similar process as mentioned above, and then are purposefully heated to such high temperatures that it actually changes the molecular makeup of the oil. The finished product is what we call a trans fat and it wreaks havoc on your heart and your arteries. Not to mention, most soybeans in the US are now GMO; so unless otherwise stated, you assume they are GMO and therefore heavily sprayed with pesticides.
Natural Beef Flavor: Natural flavor is a blanket term used for any one of the thousands of ingredients the FDA deems as natural; and the company does not have to conceal what the actual flavoring is, so there’s no telling what it actually is.
Hydrolyzed Wheat & Milk: Remember, the process above involving chemically extracting oil from places we shouldn’t be extracting it from, because it doesn’t naturally come out? This is the by-product of that whole process. When we extract seed oils from soybeans, wheat or corn, the dehulled, defatted wheat (and corn & soy) is what is left over from this process. This “mush” is generally fed to cattle because it’s cheap and there’s so much of it, but there is great financial incentive to feed it to us. Seeing a pattern here yet? I’ve gotta give it to our government and big food companies; they sure are resourceful, using every last bit. But in the interest of our health, they really need to start using better, more natural, quality ingredients. Back to the mush! So in order for this mush to be more edible, it must be hydrolyzed, aka dropped into a vat of sulfuric acid for a day, then lye is added in to bring the pH back up to neutral. Say, what? But, oh, I’m not done. When the protein is hydrolyzed, it breaks down the protein into shorter proteins, otherwise known as amino acids. One of the amino acids we get in the process is glutamic acid, or better known as glutamate. Glutamate is what triggers our taste receptor “umami.” Umami, a human sensory taste described as “savory,” is more famously known for being triggered by MSG. The moral of this story? Hydrolyzed anything is added into our food as a flavor enhancer. Meaning it’s put in there to get you addicted. You know how you can’t stop eating them once you start? This is why.
Dimethylpolysiloxane: This is a silicone used in silly putty. Do I need to say more?
Dextrose: Sugar. They add this to keep the fries from turning gray. Yuck. I’d also go out on a limb and say this is just another additive to keep you addicted.
Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (SAPP): A leavening agent (raises baked products) to keep the fries “fluffy.”
Tertiary-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ): A chemical preservative found mostly in cosmetics, varnishes and lacquers. This chemical is a form of butane, and in some studies, it is linked to colon cancer.
Phew! Can you believe all of that is just in the French fries! I want to tackle the burger next. Burgers in general are not what concern me from a health perspective (an organic, grass fed burger can be healthy). The quality of the meat and bread used to make these burgers are the issue! If the meat is not organic, and I can tell you at McDonald’s it is not, that meat is guaranteed to be pumped full of antibiotics, hormones and GMO fed corn and soy. Conventionally, non-organic cows are fed corn and soy to fatten them up (what do you think it’s doing to us? *Wink*); and the issue is, cows’ stomachs are designed to digest grass, but not corn and soy. So when the cows eat corn and soy, they become sick and must be then given antibiotics. Essentially, when you are consuming corn & soy fed (aka non organic and non-grass fed) cows, you are consuming sick cows. There’s just no way around it. Unfortunately at McDonald’s, the poor quality meat is only one of our worries.
Let’s look at the ingredients in the ever so popular Big Mac.
Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar, Yeast, Soybean Oil and/or Canola Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Ammonium Sulfate, Ammonium Chloride, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of: Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Monoglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Guar Gum, Calcium Peroxide), Sorbic Acid, Calcium Propionate and/or Sodium Propionate (Preservatives), Soy Lecithin, Sesame Seed.
PROCESSED AMERICAN CHEESE:
Milk, Cream, Water, Cheese Culture, Sodium Citrate, Contains 2% or Less of: Salt, Citric Acid, Sodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Lactic Acid, Acetic Acid, Enzymes, Sodium Pyrophosphate, Natural Flavor (Dairy Source), Color Added, Soy Lecithin (Added for Slice Separation).
BIG MAC SAUCE:
Soybean Oil, Pickle Relish (Diced Pickles, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Spice Extractives, Polysorbate 80), Distilled Vinegar, Water, Egg Yolks, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Onion Powder, Mustard Seed, Salt, Spices, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Mustard Bran, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy and Wheat), Caramel Color, Extractives of Paprika, Soy Lecithin, Turmeric (Color), Calcium Disodium EDTA (Protect Flavor).
(NON-ORGANIC) BEEF PATTY:
100% Pure USDA Inspected Beef (editor’s note: supposedly. Also, not listed: hormones, antibiotics, GMO corn and soy feed)
Cucumbers, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Alum, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Polysorbate 80, Extractives of Turmeric (Color).
That’s a lot of ingredients in a burger! Think about what your ingredient list would look like if you made the burger at home:
Organic beef, Bun (100% whole wheat, water, salt, yeast, honey) and whatever condiments you like to put on it. THAT’S it!
I’m not going to go over all of the ingredients because hopefully by now, after reading above, you get the gist. But if you are interested, I urge you to Google some of these ingredients yourself.
The bottom line here is, the ingredients McDonald’s allows in their food should not be deemed edible, and do not exist in a healthy diet. We as a society need to get back to the basics; we need to get back to real ingredients; and we need to get back to real food.
If this post discourages you, I want to empower you to think outside the box. Okay, all horrible (Taco Bell) fast food jokes aside; if you find yourself craving a hamburger and fries, try making them at home. Or find a restaurant that uses real, organic ingredients and grass fed beef. There are plenty who will dispute my suggestion to eat meat at all, but that is a different discussion for a different post; I urge you to look at the big picture here. I hope if you take anything away from this post, that you take away this: Eat Real Food. This means if you find yourself craving that burger & fries, buy quality, organic, grass fed beef and real, organic potatoes; and make them at home! This is how we get our health back, by eating real food.