March 16, 2007

Is it healthy to read this website?

For the past six months, I have been advocating for RightSize portions at RightSize prices. And as part of that effort, I have been quick to criticize restaurants that serve enormous portions of calories, fat, cholesterol and salt. In other words, they serve the WrongSize.

Yesterday, a new website popped up on my computer, called I’m thinking, this is great, finally a place where we can find not just the right portion of foods, but healthy as well.

This story, however, doesn’t have a happy ending.

I typed in my zip code to see what “healthy” restaurants I could dine at for dinner. Whoa….the first restaurant to pop up was….Burger King. Then Arby’s logo materialized. And then, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but that health food restaurant, Hooters!

OK, what’s going on? Well, the website says it’s a collaboration with the National Restaurant Association. More like a chapter out of George Orwell’s book, 1984, where very-bad-for-you fast food is on a “healthy” website, and suddenly it’s good for you. War is Peace. Fat is Thin.

There’s a lot more to this story. They even got money from the government to help tell us that Burger King and Hooters is serving healthy food.

Due to the important public health implications of this program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided partial funding for the development of "By making healthier food choices, Americans can help reduce the risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which are all major health concerns," said Michelle Reyes, Ph.D., M.S., an epidemiologist with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. " provides Americans with a tool to identify healthier restaurant menu choices."

So how are those “healthy” choices selected? Entrées must not exceed 750 calories, 25 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat, while the cut-offs for appetizers, side dishes, and desserts are 250 calories, 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat.

So healthy means just the entrée can be 37% of your calories, not counting side dishes, drinks or desserts. So basically, “healthy” means eating half your calories and fats at one meal.

Doesn’t sound particularly healthy, but let’s see what I can eat at Hooters? Nothing. The site displays the Hooter logo, but there’s no food entrées or side dishes or even desserts that meet that liberal “healthy” definition.

I love Italian food, what’s healthy at Buca di Beppo? Ah, here’s an entrée. Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce at 260 calories. Well, that sounds healthy. Wait a minute, the small print says…serving size is ¼ of a small order. You got to be kidding, who, other than a seven-year-old, gets a small order. Let alone, eats just ¼ of it. Does that mean that Buca di Beppo’s small order of spaghetti is really 4 portions? Of course it does, everything at Buca is too big.

Is this a healthy dining finder? OF COURSE NOT.

But don’t take my word for it. On the website, at the bottom of one of the pages, in fine print, says:

The FDA has very strict criteria for any food or meal designated as "healthy." Most of the menu items featured on this site do not [their emphasis] meet the FDA criteria for "healthy," and neither the restaurants nor Healthy Dining claims that the featured items meet the FDA's criteria for "healthy."

So the limited food choices are not “healthy”, even though the website is called “Healthy Dining Finder”.

I’m all for choices. I’m all for informing diners of the calories and fat in their food. But this website is only telling you a very small part of the story. More like a fairy tale.


Anonymous said...

This is such a great blog! I can't imagine why you don't receive dozens of comments on it every day. Keep up the good work! JD, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Ralph said...

Thanks. Tell your friends.