Thursday, June 9, 2011

Never Trust McDonalds & Ingredient List 101

Hey guys! Sorry I haven't been posting lately. For the past couple of days I have been in Arkansas for the University of Arkansas orientation. I got to sign up for my classes and stay in the same residential hall as the one I will be staying in this fall.

The most fun part of orientation was meeting a bunch of students (surprisingly, all girls) that were planning on majoring in Food Science as well! I got to also talk to a few people that had already graduated who majored in Food Science. It was nice to talk to them and get a feel of what a FS major does; I know I'm in the right place (:

Food-wise, the orientation was pretty good during the 1 day stay (from 2pm on Monday to 3pm on Tuesday). We ate mostly in the dining halls, so there's always plenty of options there. In the morning, they supplied only sad looking donuts, muffins, and danishes that were probably the farthest from anywhere close to natural or nutritious. However, they did have a huge platter of amazingly delicious fruit that I took advantage of and luckily I had a granola bar with me that I ate instead.

Traveling can always be tough when you're trying to keep to healthy diet. The best advice I can give is try to find an option that is filling but also contains complex carbs and fiber. I mostly stuck with salads that came with a protein.

For example, our first stop was at Taco Cabana. I was concerned what my options could be but quickly found something that made me a very happy camper. They had "Cabana" bowls where you can build your own bowl of Mexican deliciousness (much like Chipotle) .
 I went with black beans, the salad blend, fajita chicken, cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Very good, filling, and fresh!

For dinner, we stopped at Ruby Tuesday. I got the spaghetti squash pasta dish which came with roasted spaghetti squash and zucchini slices all topped with a marinara sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. WOW! I had no idea how good and FILLING this was when I ordered it. The marinara sauce was super flavorful and I think my dish must of had at least 6 servings of vegetables in it. The combination of a few cups of spaghetti squash with a large handful of zucchini slices and a half a cup or so of tomato sauce was not only amazingly delicious but also very high fiber.

Eating out while on the road is always a little stressful, but so can continental hotel breakfasts. For the most part, I always stick with oatmeal and fruit as a safe choice. Usually hotels will have plain instant oatmeal packets that you can spruce up with sliced banana. Sometimes I like cooking the oatmeal with a little bit of coffee to give it some more flavor.

This time, they didn't have plain, but I've learned that most of the flavorings and sugar settles down at the bottom, so the best bet is to dig out most of the oatmeal from the top of the packet with your fingers and leave the last tablespoon or so at the bottom. Not the most flavorful thing in the world but a million times better than fake maple syrup, simple carbs, and stale biscuits! (does anyone ever eat that nasty mystery gravy anyway??)

But the main point I brought up what I ate while traveling is because I wanted to share a meal I got at McDonald's.

"McDonald's?!!" Yes, I actually chose to go to McDonald's.

We were in the middle of no-man's land at dinner time, on the way home from Arkansas. The choices were a place called Chicken and BBQ or McDonald's.

To be honest, I actually went into the barbeque place first! I quickly changed my mind after I saw the menu and my parents were considerate enough to get back into the car and go to McD's instead. I'm glad I have parents that put up with my pickiness; pickiness that probably seems quite outrageous to some people. Some people would think "Why can't she just eat the fried chicken and mashed potatoes? It's not going to kill her." I'm glad my family understands that healthy living is very important to me.

I figured at McDonald's I could at least get a salad and was very surprised to see a salad on the menu that actually sounded quite appetizing! Their Asian salad came with salad greens (not just iceburg!), edamame, steamed red bell pepper and snow peas, sliced toasted almonds, mandarine orange segments, and low fat sesame ginger dressing. You also have the choice of "crispy" or grilled chicken that comes with a sweet orange glaze.

In seconds, my salad was ready (yes, that is scary) and I was surprised how appetizing it looked. The salad was fresh and the chicken was hot. I had very little expectations when I went in, but was taken aback by the flavors going on in this salad! I could see a salad of the same taste and freshness being at a restaurant for over double the price.
The picture above is not one I took, but correctly represents exactly what I got when I ordered my salad. (picture from Brand Eating) Very fresh looking, no?

In the back of my mind, I knew there was probably some "bad" ingredients in this salad, but I figured what I didn't know wouldn't hurt me. I had hoped that McDonald's had turned over a new leaf. Perhaps they made something new and amazing that would change my mind of what McDonald's could be. Maybe my hatred for McDonald's was preconceived?

Of course, curiosity got the best of me and I looked up the ingredients. Never trust McDonald's.

I wish people knew to look at the ingredients. And then I wish people knew what certain ingredients even were. I wish people knew more about what they're putting in their body! *sigh*

If I could just get to a few people in this post, I would be happy. The most educated we become, the more change of the food industry will occur!

Here are the ingredients of the Chicken Asian Salad (from McDonald's website)-
Salad Mix
Iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, baby lettuces (which may include lettuces such as baby red romaine, baby green romaine, baby red leaf, baby green leaf, baby red swiss chard, baby red oak, baby green oak, parella, lolla rosa, tango, totsoi, arugula, mizuna, frisee, and radicchio), carrots. CURRENTLY, OUR SALADS DO NOT CONTAIN SPINACH.

Asian Blend
Edamame (green soybeans), snow peas, red bell peppers.

Mandarin Oranges
Mandarin orange segments, water, sugar, citric acid.
Sliced almonds.

Okay, these four ingredients are good. Of course, iceburg lettuce as the first ingredient isn't preferred, but I'll live. The ingredients in the orange segments were completely expected and aren't very concerning. Now we get into the not-so-good stuff.

New Grilled Chicken Fillet
Boneless skinless chicken breast fillets with rib meat, water, seasoning (rice starch, salt, sugar, yeast extract, canola oil, onion powder, maltodextrin, chicken skin, paprika, flavor, sunflower oil, chicken, garlic powder, chicken fat, spices), sodium phosphates. Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil and hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, soy lecithin, mono-and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).

First, you can see the chicken itself contains a lot of extra oil. And what's the need for the added chicken fat? 

The maltodextrin you see listed isn't as scary as you may think. It's not necessarily bad for you or good for you and is found in a lot of processed foods. It is a easily digestible carbohydrate that is often used in artificial sweeteners to add bulk. It is similar to corn starch and contains little to no nutrients. The sodium phosphate is basically another name for salt. 

The real trouble begins when you look at the ingredients of the liquid margarine. Hyrdogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils are the worst type of fat to consume because it lowers HDL (good cholesterol) and raises LDL (bad cholestorol)! They should be avoided at all costs.

The other ingredients definitely aren't natural or necessarily good for you (in fact, mono-and diglycerides might be similar to trans fats in some respects) but are found in almost everything, so they are hard to avoid.

Orange Glaze
Water, soy sauce (water, wheat, soybeans, salt, lactic acid, sodium benzoate as preservative), sugar, orange juice concentrate, hoisin sauce (sugar, water, sweet potato, salt, food starch-modified, soybeans, spices, sesame seed, caramel color, wheat flour, garlic, chili pepper, acetic acid, red 40), food starch-modified, distilled vinegar, ginger, salt, citric acid, soybean oil, xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), spice, acesulfame potassium, ascorbic acid.

Most of these ingredients aren't particularly preferred and are processed but for the most part harmless. Caramel color has been linked to causing cancer but the studies have been a bit inconclusive and there is practically no way to avoid this one.  

Red 40 has been shown to have negative effects on children's behavior and an increase in hyperactivity, but that too is very hard to avoid.

Propylene glycol alginate is a safe additive that is used to thicken, stabilize, and preserve many processed foods.

The biggest and hugest mistake in this sweet orange sauce is the acesulfame potassium. Though all the other ingredients I mentioned are not good by any means, I would perhaps turn the other way and order this again if I was in a situation where I needed to get something at McDonald's. The biggest no-no so far has been the trans fats, but even that finds its way into my diet sometimes when I don't realize what I am eating contains it. A delicious salad with a little trans fats is something I would deal with if my options were limited. However, the acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame K) is the worst offender of it all and, mark my words, I will never order this salad again.

Why is acesulfame K so bad? Well, it is another one of those artificial sweeteners. Not just any artificial sweetener but, in fact, the worst of them all (well, either that or aspartame). It is usually used in combination with other sugars or artificial sweeteners because it can withstand heat and is commonly found in soft drinks and chewing gum. Studies have shown that it can cause cancer; it also contains the carcinogen methylene chloride, which has it's own set of side effects like headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects and visual disturbances.

The salad ingredient list ends with another dose of liquid margarine and does not mention the low fat sesame ginger dressing that accompanies the salad. Luckily, the dressing is from Newman's Own and contains mostly natural ingredients with the exception of caramel coloring. (PS- when in doubt and don't know if a salad dressing has a good ingredient list, go with almost any organic dressing or any Newman's Own dressing which is usually easy on the wallet and tasty)

I hope I enlightened someone out there about "hazardous" ingredients that can be lingering in some of the most innocent looking foods. The main point I want to get across is that you should always look at ingredient labels before buying something (and the shorter it is, the better).The ingredients I found in my salad are only a few of the thousands of ingredients that are added to foods that really shouldn't be. Be aware!

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