Fast food companies have been all over the news lately: Subway just announced it will remove artificial ingredients from its menu items. Yum Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are making similar moves. So is Panera Bread. Chipotle scored big praises when it recently announced that its menu was now 100-percent GMO-free. And McDonald’s has provided a timeline for the removal of antibiotics from its chicken products and sourcing only rBST-free milk.
“[W]e understand this is something that is important to our customers,” a McDonald’s spokesperson said of its recent announcement. It’s the resounding reason fast food chains say they’re moving towards healthier menu items: it’s what consumers want.
And even though these are certainly steps in the right direction, it doesn’t make fast food healthy. In fact, it can have the opposite effect: misleading customers into thinking fast food items have been magically transformed into whole, real food by simply pulling out an artificial flavor or reducing the sodium content. But that’s not even close to what’s happening. If fast food restaurants really want to make a difference, they might consider the following:
1. Stop serving sodas.
Don’t just pull them from kids’ meals or offer “natural” versions. If you’re serving excessively sweetened beverages, you’re not doing customers any favors. Diet drinks aren’t much better either as artificial sweeteners have been linked to a whole host of health issues. Serve water, unsweetened tea and fresh juices.
2. Decrease serving sizes.
Chipotle may be GMO-free, but you’re still dipping into calorie overload with a burrito lunch, especially if you add a soda and chips to the meal. Humans have this ability to eat until all the food in front of them is gone, whether or not we’re actually hungry. A 20 percent decrease in serving size (without dropping prices!) could help curb our nation’s obesity epidemic.
3. Ditch the deep fryer.
Fried food is tasty. It’s salty and crunchy and not at all good for us. Could McDonald’s start serving oven-roasted potatoes? Or, how about roasted beets and Brussels sprouts with olive oil, sea salt and fresh pepper? They cook up fast and are much healthier than deep-fried potatoes or chicken nuggets.
4. Get salads right.
There’s really nothing healthier than a salad loaded with fresh greens and veggies. Except a salad at a fast food restaurant smothered in cheese and high-calorie salad dressing. It’s not difficult to make healthy salads, fast. And even though they tend to be among the slowest selling items on fast food menus, it’s nothing some marketing ingenuity couldn’t turn around.
5. Stop using sex to sell food.
Carl’s Jr. loves this one: the bikini-clad bombshell mouthing a burger while sauces drip and ooze onto her barely-covered breasts. When we conflate food and sex, well, we confuse desires. Good for selling fast food late at night to lonely men on their way home from the club, not so good for their health (or their sex appeal). It’s undignified, most definitely for the women in the ads, and for the men being pandered too.
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