WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Recessionary eating isn't always healthful eating, especially when it comes to the $1 value menus pushed by fast-food chains to keep sales growing through the economic slump, according to one health watchdog.
Jack in the Box's Junior Bacon Cheeseburger was ranked "the most
unhealthful" value item available among the offerings of national
fast-food chains, according to an analysis by dietitians with the
nonprofit Cancer Project in Washington that is scheduled to be released
The item contains 23 grams of fat, 860 milligrams of sodium, and bacon,
a processed meat that Haynes said was associated with increased
colorectal cancer risk.
Jack in the Box spokesman Brian Luscomb said the burger was a "great
value for guests looking for a flavorful meal, but if you are looking
for something else there are plenty of other great items on our value
menu to choose from," including a chicken sandwich and a salad.
McDonald's new $1 McDouble sandwich and Irvine-based Taco Bell's
89-cent Cheesy Double Beef Burrito are among the other items singled
out in the Cancer Project's report on the five least healthful
fast-food value menu items.
Many of the selections from the inexpensive value menus are laden
with the types of fats and processed and grilled meats that studies
have linked to cancer and are among the least healthful items to eat,
according to the group, which offers nutrition advice to cancer
patients as well as information about nutrition and cancer.
"A lot of people underestimate the impact food can have on your health," Haynes said.
Grilled and processed meats are linked to a variety of cancers, said
James Felton, associate director of the UC Davis Cancer Center.
"But with grilled meats, it is the details that count. The carcinogens
are dependent on how you cook the food. The faster it is cooked and the
higher the temperature, the more you are going to get," Felton said.
The popularity of these inexpensive selections has risen as the economy
has deteriorated, said Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst
at Technomic Inc. in Chicago, especially among economically
disadvantaged and middle-income households.
"Two McDoubles for $2 is a pretty inexpensive way to fill up," said
Tristano, who added that some of the fast-food deals were so attractive
that even higher-income individuals were gobbling them up.
McDonald's declined to address any specific criticism of its McDouble sandwich.
But in a statement, Cynthia Goody, director of nutrition for Oak Brook,
Ill.-based McDonald's USA, said: "McDonald's has always been committed
to providing a variety of wholesome, balanced menu options for all our
customers. . . . Our wide variety of menu choices can be made into meal
combinations that provide less than one-third of the government's daily
recommendation for total fat, sodium and calories."
In the study, dietitians evaluated the nutritional data of each
selection, including the item's calories, total fat, saturated fat,
cholesterol, sodium and fiber, Haynes said. They then looked at
carcinogenic factors such as grilling and processing, which the group
said could increase the cancer risk associated with meat products.
Finally they considered the addition of cheese and other high-fat dairy
products, which Haynes said also played a role in cancer risk.
The Cancer Project noted that fast-food eating didn't have to be unhealthful.
The group said that at Burger King, a BK Veggie offers a low-fat,
low-cholesterol option that costs only 90 cents more than the Whopper
Jr. At Taco Bell, a bean burrito without cheese is just 99 cents and
contains no cholesterol and very little fat.
After ranking the Jack in the Box burger as the worst choice, the group
said that Taco Bell's Cheesy Double Beef Burrito was a close second.
The burrito contains processed beef and nacho cheese sauce. It weighs
in at 20 grams of fat, including 7 grams of saturated fat, as well as
460 calories and contains what the Cancer Project called "an
astonishing 1,620 milligrams of sodium."
Burger King's Breakfast Sausage Biscuit ranked third on the list of
five. The McDouble from McDonald's was fourth and Wendy's Junior Bacon
Cheeseburger was fifth.