Mom, Dad. You have a message from your friendly California Dietetic Assn.-registered dietitians.
The road to most fast-food dining is paved with health hazards, if you don't know how to control or modify what and how much your children eat.
Many fast-food meals may be made up of 40% to 60% fat. Most of them also contain far more sodium than is considered safe while the amount of vitamins A and C and fiber may be seriously lacking.
Those could be dangerous signs if your children eat fast foods on a regular basis, according to Evelyn Tribole, registered dietitian and consulting nutritionist for Consulting Nutrition Services in Irvine.
"There has been a staggering 52% increase in obesity among children and 39% among adolescents in the last 15 years. And that's only part of the picture. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that fatty streaks in the blood stream which may lead to heart disease in later years are starting to show up among children as young as 7 years old," said Tribole.
Tribole points out that while snack foods cannot be blamed solely for increases in obesity and early signs of heart disease, parents would be wise to teach children how to modify their intake of snack foods because of their excessively high fat and sodium content.
'Trend Is Here to Stay'
"We say this in light of the fact that with hectic family schedules and dual working parents who have little time to prepare healthful home meals, it's estimated that one-third of all meals are eaten away from home. That's a 300% increase in 10 years, and the trend is here to stay," said Tribole. Tribole went on a media tour to alert parents to some of dietary pitfalls when their children dine on fast foods.
Tribole also pointed out that because most fast-food hamburger outlets offer little or no choice of vegetables, parents who rely heavily on fast-foods meals for their children should also consciously include fruits and vegetables in the diet of their children every day, whether at home or carried to the fast-food place. "Although some fast-food chains boast about including lettuce and tomatoes on the hamburger, one could hardly consider a lettuce leaf a serving of vegetable," said Tribole.
Most nutritionists would agree that the bulk of responsibility in feeding children rests with parents. However, dietitians also urge the industry to help parents do their jobs better by offering more fruits and vegetables with the fast food, since that fast food may be the only food eaten by youngsters for dinner or lunch.
Some members of industry have attempted to include salad bars, reports Tribole. "That's good, and we hope the trend continues," she said. However, salad bars, too, are fraught with danger if a heavy hand is applied to dressings and cheese sauces, which add excess fat calories to the meal, said Tribole.
Nine Calories Per Gram
Chicken outlets often include side dishes such as corn, potatoes and coleslaw that provide necessary nutritional balance to the meal. Pizza, too, may contain vegetables and cheese, making it a self-contained, balanced meal-in-a-dish.
"Watch the fats," cautions Tribole. More calories are derived from fat than those from any other food. Fats contain nine calories per gram compared with four calories per gram for fruits, vegetables and grains (carbohydrates).
Cholesterol content may be higher in some fats than others, as well. Some fast-food outlets fry foods in coconut oil, which contains 92% saturated fat compared to 41% saturated fat for animal lard. "Even though coconut oil is derived from plant and not animal, which one usually associates with high saturated fat content, it is extremely high in saturated fat," Tribole said.
Many non-dairy creamers and other products, incidentally, are made with coconut oil, so it is wise to check labels before buying, cautions Tribole. Also watch for products made with palm oil, which contain about the same amount of saturated fat as coconut oil.
Most of the calories in a baked potato topped with cheese can come from the cheese alone, so hold the cheese if you are concerned about calories, advises Tribole. In one fast-food baked potato stuffed with cheese listed on the chart on Page 18, the cheese content is equivalent to nine pats of butter. Total calories for this cheese-stuffed potato comes to 590 calories--mostly from the cheese.
"Hold the mayo," Tribole also advises. Mayonnaise and most salad dressings can increase calories because of their high fat content. "Go for the runny instead of thick dressings, such as Italian dressing. You are less likely to overdo thin dressings. If you must use thick dressing, add it separately, dipping a fork in the dressing to limit the amount added," Tribole said. Adults might consider diet salad dressings for their own meals, as well.