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McDonald’s double cheeseburger is a very good source of low-cost nutrition – and it’s pretty tasty, too

mcdonalds-Double-CheeseburgerDaniel Johnson, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has been having some fun talking about foods that raise the hackles of the beansprout brigade, not to mention the ire of Department of Health bureaucrats who want them either banned or sold in plain wrappers from under-the-counter shelves. First he went to town by writing about the debate that Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, hosted on his blog.  Dubner described a McDonald’s double cheeseburger as “the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.” Behind the hyperbole he is making a serious point. The double cheeseburger provides 390 calories, 23 grams of protein – half a daily serving – seven per cent of daily fibre, 19 grams of fat and 20 per cent of daily calcium, all for between $1 and $2, or 65p and £1.30. This gives it immense bang for the buck, or nutrition per dollar. It’s a fairly low-cost way for poor people to feed themselves. Johnson quotes a University of Washington survey finding that this type of food can cost as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories, whereas a diet of fresh vegetables and other healthier foods can cost ten times as much.

One of the facts about the modern scourge of obesity is that highly nutritious food has never been so plentiful or so cheap. Modern farming and processing methods have produced low cost food in such abundance that poor people in developed countries no longer need suffer the deprivation and starvation that some faced in previous generations. Of course, with that abundant supply comes a need for sense and restraint that was simply not needed before. No-one seriously suggests that people should live on a never-ending supply of double cheeseburgers. Michael Moore, whose movie-making career seems to have made him a lot of money from deceit, did just that to make the obvious point that it would be bad for you if you did. Dubner is making the valid point that cheap and nutritious food is one recourse that poorer people have to secure an adequate diet.

I’ll be visiting this subject again because Daniel Johnson mischievously consulted a nutritionist to find out whether other foods castigated by the health food lobby might also have nutritional merit. I’ll cover some of the findings in a couple of later posts.


3 Responses

  1. If you are referring to “Supersize Me” that wasn’t Michael Moore but Morgan Spurlock, and was very accurate. His “30 Days” TV series was very good too!

  2. Yes, I said Michael Moore in error; it was indeed Morgan Spurlock. Thanks for pointing that out.
    “The film depicts an experiment he conducted in 2003, in which he ate three McDonald’s meals a day every day (and nothing else) for 30 days… The end result, according to Spurlock, was a diet with twice the calories recommended by the USDA. Further, Spurlock attempted to curtail his physical activity to better match the exercise habits of the average American (he previously walked about 3 miles a day, whereas the average American walks 1.5 miles). He was of above average health and fitness when he started the project; he gained 25 pounds (11 kg), became quite puffy, suffered liver dysfunction and depression by the end.”
    No-one is seriously suggesting people should live like this, though, and Dubner’s point stands that this cheap nutritious food, eaten in moderation, can form a useful part of a poor person’s diet.

  3. I quote a very old saying……’ a little of what you fancy does you good ‘. This could be true of many human traits but where food is concerned it’s reasonably true. Overeating and overweight tend to go hand in hand and I quote Jasper Carrott…….’ overweight is what goes in one end versus what comes out the other ‘. It’s not easy to argue with that hypothesis.

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