McDonald's McDouble: Cheapest, Most Nutritious Food in History? No Way.

Thank heavens for the McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger, “one of the unsung wonders of modern life.” Right?


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Though the unhealthiness of fast food should be pretty much a given at this point, New York Post columnist Kyle Smith has giddily praised the McDouble not only as an unsung wonder but also as a wonderful way for people to eat cheaply and healthfully. In his nearly-800-word opinion, published Monday, Smith praised the McDouble’s $1 price and pitted “class snobs, locavore foodies and militant anti-corporate types” against “the poor.” He mysteriously called organics “the Abercrombie and Fitch jeans of food,” and even challenged the notion that fast food is linked to obesity.

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Smith’s column was inspired by a recent Freakonomics radio podcast titled “A Burger a Day,” in which host Kai Ryssdal based his show around a comment from a listener (Ralph Thomas) calling the McDouble “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.”

Oh, Thomas and Smith, where to even begin to tear down your crazy claims?

Let’s start with the plainest of facts: nutritional content. One McDouble contains 19 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat, representing a whopping 29 percent, 42 percent, and 65 percent of your USDA daily allowance intakes, respectively, in just a single meal. The cholesterol content is at 22 percent of daily allowance—so if you’ve already had more than one egg for breakfast, you’re sunk, way before dinnertime. Fiber is at a woeful 2 grams, or 7 percent of the daily recommended intake (DRI). And the sandwich contains 850 mg of sodium, which is a pretty high 35 percent of the daily limit.

“It’s a pretty extreme claim,” Jim White, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Yahoo! Shine about Smith’s column. “My main problem is it’s got 40 percent of the saturated fat for the day,” he explained, which can only add to the problem of lower-income populations having higher rates of disease. "I'm worried about heart disease. And I hate to hear a claim like this," he added, "because affordable foods can still be healthy."

So, taking cost in to account, what's the alternative?

As a guest on the Freakonomics broadcast, Mother Jones food columnist Tom Philpott wisely suggested that you “get a pound of brown rice, organic, and a pound of red lentils for about two bucks each. And a serving size, say a cup of each of those things, would be about 75 cents.” And check out the nutritional benefits: That serving size of red lentils contains 57 percent of DRI for fiber, 18 grams of protein (compared with 23 for the double burger), less than one gram of total fat, zero percent sodium and no cholesterol. The brown rice, meanwhile, adds 14 percent of daily fiber and 5 grams of protein, with a scant 1.8 total grams of fat and no sodium or cholesterol.

But Smith responded to that solution by snarkily dodging the issue. “Great idea,” he wrote. “Now go open a restaurant called McBoiled Lentils and see how many customers line up.”

He basically echoes an opinion shared on Freakonomics, in which guest Blake Hurst, a corn and soy farmer, declared, “I’m sorry, there is no amount of marketing that’s going to make me prefer brown rice and lentils over a McDonald’s cheeseburger.”

Are people like Smith truly concerned about feeding poor people nutritiously and cheaply? Or are they perpetuating corporate, agri-business myths that help to brainwash Americans into believing that healthy, plant-based whole foods are snobbish, while fat-drenched and antibiotic-laden meats and processed foods are cool?

While the cheeseburger may cost a mere buck, it brings with it less obvious costs related to healthcare. A constant stream of studies show that fast food contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure; a recent study found that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters due to having lower blood pressure. And while McDonalds has worked to lower the amount of antibiotics in its meats, it has not eliminated them entirely—something that concerns many health experts.

All of this does not even touch on the large carbon footprint and the inhumane treatment of animals that go into the making of McDoubles. But that kind of talk is what Smith is waiting for. “Activists will go anywhere to wave the banner of caring and plant their flagpole of social justice right in the foot of the working class,” he wrote. So I’ll save that part, and let the nutrition facts speak for themselves.

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