Restaurant Chains Beginning To Serve Healthy Fast Food?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Health Current Events, Supplements and Health

Would You Like Hydrocolloids In Your “Healthy Fast Food?”

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

The fast food industry is changing. Some of the changes are good. Some of the changes are bad. Some of the changes are downright ugly. Let’s start with the good.

healthy fast foodIn recent months Panera, MacDonald’s and Subway have all announced that they are switching to ingredients that people can recognize – ingredients that you might actually use in your own kitchen. Chipotle has recently announced that they have removed all genetically modified organisms from their foods.

This week Pizza Hut said that it will remove artificial colors and preservatives from its food. Taco Bell pledged to remove artificial colors, artificial flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and palm oil from its foods.

For example, Taco Bell will start using real pepper instead of “black pepper flavor” in its food (I didn’t even realize that there was an artificial pepper flavor. Come on! Real pepper can’t be that expensive!). They also plan to remove Yellow No. 6 from their nacho cheese, Blue No. 2 from their avocado ranch dressing, and carmine from their red tortilla strips.

Are restaurants making healthy fast food? Or is this all for show?

Will Healthy Fast Food Be Available At  Ordinary Fast Food Chains?

Now let’s look at the bad. Perhaps the first question to ask is: “Why is the fast food industry making these changes? Have they suddenly decided that they want to become part of the health food industry?”

One clue to those questions is the name of the parent company that owns both Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. They call themselves Yum Foods. You will notice that they don’t call themselves Health Foods. Their name alone speaks volumes about their priorities.

When the CEO of Yum Foods was describing these changes, he didn’t speak about any desire to make healthy fast food. He spoke about responding to shifting consumer attitudes and the desire of consumers for “real food” as driving these kinds of changes. The bottom line is that fast food companies are realizing that consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers of artificial ingredients and are making their buying choices accordingly. The companies simply don’t want to lose market share.

The second question to ask is: “Are these foods actually healthier?” The answer is: “Not really”. None of these companies are talking about removing fat, sugar, salt or calories from their foods. They are more concerned with retaining the “yum” factor than they are in actually making healthy fast food.

Do You Want Hydrocolloids With That Pizza?

hydrocolloidsNow let’s talk about the ugly. Perhaps the most important questions you should be asking are: “What is behind the curtain?” “What aren’t they telling us about?” The answer is: “You probably don’t want to know.”

For example, I came across an interesting article in a food industry journal. A Spanish company called Premium Ingredients was announcing that they had developed a new “food” product from hydrocolloids and melting salts that could be used to replace casein in pizza toppings.

But, first a bit of background:

You’ve heard nutritionists claim that pizza is a perfect food because it contains foods from all four food groups. Of course, that’s ignoring the fact that pizza is generally made with white flour and contains lots of fat – mostly saturated, calories and sodium.

But, when you look at many of the frozen and fast food pizzas on the market it gets even worse.

You noticed that Premium Ingredients didn’t say that their hydrocolloids/melting salts mixture could be used to replace cheese. They said that it could be used to replace casein. That’s because many pizza manufacturers haven’t used real cheese in years.

Instead they are using casein (milk protein) and a chemical smorgasbord to manufacture a cheese “food” with the taste and consistency of cheese.

Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, and it supplies a lot of other essential nutrients as well – such as vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, folic acid, magnesium & zinc. Some of the artificial cheeses on the market do supply the calcium found in real cheese, but almost none of them provide the other essential micro-nutrients. But, because the artificial cheeses have been made with casein up to now, we could at least count on them to supply the protein found in real cheese.

Now, thanks to Premium Ingredients, the manufacturers of frozen and fast food pizzas won’t even have to use casein-containing artificial cheeses. In their trade journal article Premium Ingredients boasted that their product will help manufacturers cut costs (and cut protein and essential nutrients in the process).  Is this creating healthy fast food?

Lucky us?

 

The Bottom Line

  • A number of fast food chains have recently announced that they are removing some artificial ingredients from their foods.
  • These changes appear to arise from a desire to respond to changes in consumer preferences rather than to actually make healthy fast food.
  • For example, most of the fast food chains that are removing artificial ingredients from their foods are making no effect to reduce fat, sugar, salt and calories. Fast foods are not becoming health foods.
  • Even worse are the hidden ingredients you don’t know about. For example, a fast food supplier recently announced that it had developed a mixture of hydrocolloids and melting salts that could be used in place of casein (milk protein) for the “cheese food” that fast food chains for their pizza topping.
  • That saves the fast food chains money, but it leaves you with a pizza that gives you no milk, no calcium, no vitamin D and less of many other essential nutrients.
  • Pizzas are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of us no longer make complex foods like pizza from scratch. We count on manufacturers to use the same natural ingredients that we would use. But, in fact we have no idea of what they are putting in the foods that we are eating. That is why our food supply is becoming depleted of essential nutrients in ways that we don’t even know about. That’s one reason why I use food supplements and why I recommend food supplements for others.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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