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Consumer Reports Tells Which Fast Foods Are Most Nutritious And Tastiest

August 9, 2004
Joan Eve Quinn (914) 378-2436 or
Alberto Rojas (914) 378-2434

—A Salad Can Have More Calories and Fat than a Whopper—

YONKERS, NY—To help diners-on-the-go choose the most nutritious and tastiest fast foods, the Consumer Reports (CR) September issue presents “Fast Food: Adding Health to the Menu.”
Here are some surprising findings:
• Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken Salad, with 630 calories and 35 grams of fat, has more fat than a Burger King Chicken Whopper, which has 570 calories and 25 grams of fat.
• Au Bon Pain Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad has more calories (790) and more fat (56 grams) than two Taco Bell Ranchero Chicken Soft Tacos, with 540 calories and 30 grams of fat.
• Choices from the old-line fast-food restaurants tend to have fewer calories and less fat than the newer, slightly upscale fast-food chains such as Baja Fresh, Cosi, and Panera Bread.
To provide these independent, unbiased findings, CR experts compared the nutritional profiles of 36 chicken sandwiches and salads from 16 chains, and sent two sensory experts to the restaurants to taste the same items at different locations. For the best mix of nutrition and taste in a fast-food chicken sandwich, CR recommends Baja Fresh, Quiznos Sub, and McDonalds. Best overall in the salads category: Subway and Baja Fresh.
CR found big differences in nutrition in both categories: From 360 to 950 calories for a chicken sandwich, and 310 to 800 calories for an entrée salad with chicken. CR also found big differences in taste, from fair to excellent: The two Chipotle choices were especially tasty, while two of the three items from
Blimpie are only fair. Consumers are more likely to get high-quality, good tasting food at one of the newer, fancier fast-food restaurants, but the tradeoff is that the fancier dishes tend to be bigger and have more calories and fat. Many fast-food restaurants are offering or testing low-carb foods, but these may not be low-cal. Carl’s Jr. Low-Carb Breakfast Bowl, with eggs, sausage, bacon, ham and cheese—containing 900 calories and 73 grams of fat—is the highest-calorie carb-counter’s choice we’ve seen.
In the Ratings, CR lists the taste-tested foods in order of increasing calories, along with portion size, price, fat, carbs, sodium and fiber content, and a ranking for taste. CR recommends how to choose:
• Count calories
• Order grilled food rather than breaded or fried
• Avoid or limit toppings
• Avoid mayo and high-calorie dressings
• Control portions
More food news from September CR: Olive Oil: A cheap bottle beats a pricier lineup
CR’s taste-tests and lab analyses of 18 extra-virgin olive oils showed an oil costing 24 cents per ounce was nearly as good as oils costing more than $1.20 per ounce; terms such as “extra virgin” are not verified by the U.S. government; and manufacturers play labeling games: Oils marked “Italian” may include olives harvested elsewhere. The best all-purpose choices are Goya, a CR Best Buy at 24 cents per oz., Lucini at 71 cents per oz., and California Olive Ranch at 76 cents per oz. Best used for cooking are Goya, Tassos, Filippo Berio, Bertolli, Kirkland, and Monini Originale. Two oils that received the highest overall score—McEvoy Ranch ($1.54 per ounce) and B.E. Cohn ($1.21 per ounce)—are best used for drizzling. CR offers advice for how to choose extra-virgin olive oil based on your cooking style and what you eat.
This report also covers the health angle: There is some evidence that people who consume a lot of olive oil may have a lower risk of developing breast and colon cancer. But olive oil is by no means a health food—it has about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat, about the same as other oils. However, it is undoubtedly better for you than butter, beef fat, palm kernel oil, coconut oils, and margarines that contain trans fats. CR explains the terms experts use to describe olive oil taste, and helps shoppers understand “extra virgin” product labels.
Meet members of the Consumer Reports Health Team at Booth #905 in the Exhibit Hall at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Convention, Nov. 7-10, in Washington, D.C.
The September 2004 issue of Consumer Reports will be available August 9 wherever magazines are sold. To subscribe, call 1-800-765-1845.
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