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Fast Food Facts

Posted Jun 02 2009 4:41pm

Here's a quick quiz: Which McDonald's item has more calories - a Quarter Pounder or a grilled chicken sandwich?

The answer, which I'll get to in a minute, can be found right in the restaurant. But customers rarely, if ever, seek out such information, according to research published in this month's American Journal of Public Health.

In the study, observers recorded how often customers accessed nutritional data available at four chain restaurants: McDonald's, Burger King, Au Bon Pain, and Starbucks. Of the 4311 customers seen making purchases, only six - a measly one-tenth of one percent - bothered to look at wall posters, pamphlets, or computer screens in the restaurants that displayed calories, fat, and other facts about menu items.

For the authors, the take-home message is that the information needs to more visible - displayed, for example, on menu boards, as is now required in New York City. chicken sandwich.jpg

Perhaps. But the study may also reveal something else: Customers at fast-food restaurants may not look because they're afraid of what they'll find. Some people assume that any place whose offerings include a Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino or Triple Whopper with Cheese can't be paragons of nutritional virtue. If you're going to eat fast food, the thinking goes, why fret about fat and calories?

In fact, there are plenty of relatively healthful items available. And some that appear to be better for you actually are not. To make good choices, you need to be armed with information, which you can find - if you look - at many fast food restaurants or on their Web sites.

You can also get calorie counts and other nutritional information for popular menu items through searchable databases such as those provided by the USDA, the American Cancer Society, and

As registered dietitian Carolyn O'Neil reminds us in this video segment on navigating the mall food court , the more you know, the more you can eat.

OK, now the answer to the question: The grilled chicken sandwich actually has a few more calories (420) than the Quarter Pounder (410), though the QP has more saturated fat. For a lower-calorie option, go for the regular hamburger. It has 250.

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