One meal could make up 88 percent of daily calorie needs
Three major fast food chains have changed little in terms of the caloric, sodium and saturated fat makeup of their menus, according to a new study.
A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory analyzed nutrition of four fast food menu items—cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, fries and regular cola—and found that the average calorie content, salt content and saturated fat content stayed the same from 1996 to 2013.
Levels of calories, salt and saturated fat “are high for most of the individual menu items assessed, particularly for items frequently sold together as a meal,” said Alice Lichtenstein, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Boston, in a news release.
Though nutritionists recommend most people eat 2,000 calories a day, “among the three chains, calories in a large cheeseburger meal, with fries and a regular cola beverage, ranged from 1,144 to 1,757 over the years,” Lichtenstein said, meaning a single meal could account for up to 88 percent of a person’s daily caloric requirements. “That does not leave much wiggle room for the rest of the day.”
Researchers also found that salt content in a single cheeseburger meal averaged 91 percent of a person’s recommended daily intake.
“Restaurants can help consumers by downsizing portion sizes and reformulating their food to contain less of these overconsumed nutrients,” Lichtenstein said. “This can be done, gradually, by cutting the amount of sodium, and using leaner cuts of meat and reduced-fat cheese.”
The researchers did notice a positive trend: Levels of unhealthy trans fats in French fries dropped between 2005 and 2009, most likely because of changes in frying fat mandated by legislation.