The High Price of Cheap Eats – NYTimes.com
The High Price of Cheap Eats
By RONI CARYN RABIN
Published: December 11, 2008
Dollar â€œvalue mealsâ€ at fast food restaurants may not be such a bargain when you look at the potential health costs.
Many of these low-cost menu items are packed with fat, salt, cholesterol and processed meat, notes The Cancer Project, a nonprofit cancer prevention organization. The group has produced a list of what it says are the five unhealthiest items sold at the nationâ€™s largest fast food chains.
The organizationâ€™s dieticians reviewed so-called value menus at five of the largest fast food chains in the nation, awarding points for such unhealthy characteristics as sodium, fat and low-fiber content. Jack in the Boxâ€™s junior bacon cheeseburger topped the list as the worst offender. The burger costs just one dollar but is packed with 23 grams of fat, including 8 grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol and 860 milligrams of sodium and just one gram of fiber.
The Cancer Project is affiliated with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which aggressively promotes a low-fat, vegetarian diet. The organizationâ€™s list was spurred in part by a concern that during tough economic times, more people will resort to eating inexpensive fast foods, said Krista Haynes, a dietitian with the project.
A spokeswoman for Jack in the Box said that the junior bacon cheeseburger is a â€œgreat valueâ€ but that diners may also choose from healthier options, like salads and a fruit cup. Theyâ€™re more expensive, however: an entrÃ©e salad with grilled chicken strips is $4.99, and a fruit cup is $2.29.
â€œOur guests can also customize their order, so if youâ€™re dining on a budget you have a lot of choices at Jack in the Box,â€ said Kathleen Anthony, media relations manager at Jack in the Box.
The other four menu items on the cancer groupâ€™s list were:
* In second-worst place, the 89-cent Taco Bell cheesy double beef burrito, with 460 calories, 20 grams of fat and a whopping 1,620 milligrams of sodium.
* In third-worst place was the one-dollar Burger King breakfast sausage biscuit, with 27 grams of fat, including 15 grams of saturated fat and over 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
* Fourth worst went to the one-dollar McDonaldâ€™s McDouble, which contains 19 grams of fat and 65 milligrams of cholesterol.
* Last, and least-worst, was the Wendyâ€™s junior bacon cheeseburger, for $1.53, with 310 calories and 16 grams of fat.
Being overweight can increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease, and the American Cancer Society recommends limiting high-fat foods, which are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
But Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, questioned whether the declining economy would have much effect on peopleâ€™s eating habits.
â€œIt would be nice if they decided it was better for their budget to start preparing food at home more often,” she said.