The emergence of heavily advertised salad bars at Wendy's and Burger King outlets was the beginning of this development, noted Pat Moriarty, a Washington spokesperson on fast-food issues for the dietetic association. She said the group hopes to convince consumers that, if they indulge in fast food occasionally, they can balance the rest of their daily food intake to compensate for the comparatively high levels of fat and salt.
Consumption of fast food has become a way of life, said Moriarty and dietitian Sandy Morreale, at least in part because family units where both parties or single parents work and try to raise children, too, have inevitably led to a need to provide prepared food quickly.
"I think what's happening and will happen more," Jacobson said, "is that health and nutrition and ingredient quality will become a factor in fast-food (advertising) wars."
Change, Jacobson said, needn't disrupt the taste expectations of consumers. For children, he said, a standard meal could be changed from a burger, fries and a soda to a burger on a whole wheat bun, carrot sticks and orange juice. The alteration, he contended, would be readily accepted by youngsters and raise prices only by a few cents.
At the Dallas headquarters of the American Heart Assn., nutrition expert Mary Winston said Arby's, which made its reputation as a purveyor of roast beef sandwiches, has qualified for participation in an association program that officially recognizes restaurants that offer some dishes designed with medically conservative nutrition in mind. Arby's, Winston said, has developed a beef sandwich that features unusually lean meat and has dramatically reduced the salt content in many of its menu items.
The association had hoped McDonald's would join the program, Winston said, but after an initial meeting with the heart association two years ago, she said, the Oak Brook, Ill., company did not follow up on the discussions that could have led to heart association certification. The chain, Jacobson and other nutritionists have noted, still uses animal fat--rich in harmful cholesterol--for some of its deep frying.
McDonald's spokesman Stephanie Skurdy said the chain's basic frying grease, which McDonald's calls "I-47," still contains 50% beef fat (the rest is vegetable shortening) because the flavor the animal residue imparts to French fries is responsible for a marketing advantage enjoyed by the product. She said McDonald's switched in August to pure vegetable shortening to fry chicken and fish items.
Skurdy said McDonald's new director of nutrition is expected to renew attempts to be involved with programs like that of the heart association.
"The Fast-Food Guide" is actually a compendium of ingredient and nutrition information obtained from fast-food chains themselves, provided by other sources or gleaned from chemical analysis of food items. The book lists both good and bad examples of fast-food cuisine, rating some by what Jacobson calls the "gloom index," or a weighted scale that takes into account calorie totals, cholesterol levels and amounts of salt, sugar, calcium, questionable food additives and dyes, iron and other substances.
By that standard, the 1,040-calorie Wendy's triple cheeseburger gets the worst rating, though Jacobson gives the chain as a whole high marks for its salad bar, plain baked potato and chicken sandwich on a whole grain bun.
Linda Packer, a Wendy's spokesperson in Dublin, Ohio, said the triple cheeseburger, which contains three-quarters of a pound of beef that has a 20% fat content, has recently been removed from the menus of all company-owned outlets. Of the 3,700 stores in the chain, Wendy's itself operates about a third and the remaining two-thirds are franchises, which, Packer said, may still offer the triple cheeseburger.
She said Wendy's was unable to respond in detail to Jacobson's book. "Mr. Jacobson certainly did not send us a copy," she observed.
Skurdy of McDonald's said that "the wording (of the book) tends to be very sensational . . . (it's) meant to scare people. Frankly, that's not the way we would choose to go with our customers." But she said the Jacobson book performed a service to readers by listing ingredients in every chain's menu items.
More specific rankings in "The Fast-Food Guide" included these:
- Calories. The Burger King double beef Whopper with cheese weighed in with 970, just behind the Wendy's triple. But the Wendy's regular burger on a multi-grain bun had only 340. Dairy Queen's small French fries has 200 calories, but Hardees' larger size has 406. A chicken leg at the regional Roy Rogers chain has 117 while Burger King's chicken sandwich has 688. A small roast beef sandwich at Arby's has 218 while the company's dressed-up version of the sandwich, with cheese and bacon, has 561.