By Dr. Mercola
McDonald’s food chain has been in the news after recently revealing 17 menu changes in response to customer complaints and declining sales. On the surface these changes appear to improve the quality of their menu items, but is it too little, too late?
McDonald’s highest selling burger,1 Big Mac, with a side order of fries and a coke, together deliver a whopping 940 calories packed with 123 grams of carbohydrates.2 Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end with the meal at McDonald’s.
Receiving more than a day’s worth of carbohydrates in one meal may trigger a drop in blood sugar in the following two to four hours, increasing hunger and the potential for overeating. The high carbohydrate load may increase your insulin resistance, prompting metabolic syndrome and may lead to weight gain.
The development of the fast food chain began decades ago in response to the ability to integrate mass production and food supply to a large geographical area.
The first fast food restaurants opened their doors in the early 1920s (A&W, 1919, and White Castle, 1921) but the industry didn’t flourish until McDonald’s revolutionized their food preparation and opened chains across the U.S.
From their first restaurant in 1940 to the first franchise in 1954, the McDonald brothers worked to streamline their operation, decrease their overhead and increase their returns. Today, the chain is struggling to change perception and align more closely with health conscious consumers.
Changes in Response to Sales
Declining sales in the past two years prompted many of the newly announced changes to the menu at McDonald’s, and the changes have paid off. Sales rose 5.4 percent in the first quarter of this year and a quarterly profit of 35 percent compared to the same quarter last year.3
However, the health of the organization does not equate to healthier menu options for you. On August 1, 2016, McDonald’s announced several changes that affect nearly half of their menu. These include:4
• Removing artificial preservatives from items on the menu including Chicken McNuggets, omelets and scrambled eggs.
• Removing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from the buns.
• Serving chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine.
Mike Andres, president of McDonald's U.S.A., says the company has been taking a hard look at the preparation and foods being served in the fast food chain. McDonald's had good reasoning for using ingredients such as HFCS and artificial preservatives, but their customers disliked them.
Quoted in The New York Times, Andres said: "Why take a position to defend them if consumers are saying they don't want them?"5 And Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America supply chain, was quoted in Reuters, saying:
"We know that they don't feel good about high-fructose corn syrup so we're giving them what they're looking for instead."
Their effort to improve the image of the food chain prompted the company to file a trademark for the tagline, “The Simpler, The Better.”6 McDonald’s is emphasizing fresh cracked eggs in the Egg McMuffins, 100 percent “real” beef in their burgers and chicken now made with “simple pantry ingredients.”7
Antibiotic Use in Chickens
In 2015, McDonald’s released a statement regarding antibiotic use in chickens and a promise to “stop using antibiotics important to human medicine” by 2017.8 In August 2016 they announced they had achieved this goal one year earlier than expected.9 However, in small print, at the bottom of the press release, is this statement:
“Farmers still use ionophores, a class of antibiotics that are not prescribed to people, to help keep chickens healthy.”
Ionophores are a class of antibiotics used exclusively in animals and more commonly in ruminant animals such as cows. The use of the antibiotic in poultry farming is to control parasitic illnesses in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where disease spreads quickly.
The most common form of ionophores antibiotic used in cattle is monensin, and those used in poultry farming include monensin, bambermycin, narasin and salinomycin.10
However, ionophores are used exclusively to prevent parasite infections in poultry and not as an antibiotic, including therapeutically when a chicken is sick.11
Like antibiotics, the parasite coccidia that ionophores are used to prevent, often become resistant to the drug over time. In beef, the drug is used to alter the gut flora in an attempt to improve nutrient utilization, or increase weight gain and the amount of meat per animal.12
In one study performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cornell University, researchers demonstrated the monensin used in the beef industry and the selection of specific bacteria resistant to monensin resulted in a 32-fold increase in resistance to bacitracin, used in human medicine.13,14
Bacitracin was the only antibiotic to which the test bacteria developed a resistance. Ionophores are not used in human medicine because they are lethal to humans.15 This caveat appears to be important to poultry and beef farmers, but the effects the drug has on the meat and the end consumer are not well documented.
Attempting to explain how continued use of ionophores would not affect antibacterial resistance, microbiologist Dr. Charles Hofacre, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Georgia, made a sweeping statement in Poultry Health Today, saying:16
“The poultry industry has been using ionophores for over 40 years. We’d have seen a lot more resistance with antibiotics used in people if ionophores caused resistance to other classes of antibiotics.”
Butter and Eggs Are Important Ingredients
Two other major changes McDonald’s has either pledged to make in 2016, or has already changed, are switching to more natural products in their foods, such as butter and eggs, and replacing HFCS with sugar.17
These are small steps in the right direction; however, neither the butter nor the eggs are sourced from organic, free-range animals. Not all butter and eggs are created equally.
Every meal you feed your cells has a compound effect on your long-term health. The nutritional value in butter and eggs from CAFO raised animals is significantly lower than pastured, organically raised animals.
McDonald’s admits that these changes increase the cost of producing the food, but said they would not pass those additional costs to the consumer “partly because a decline in commodity prices has reduced some food expenses.”18
Conventionally raised poultry and cows are typically fed genetically engineered (GE) feed laced with food additives. What the animal produces is only as good as what they are fed. According to Food Babe:19
"Conventional dairy cow feed is sometimes fortified with additional protein, omega-3 fatty acids and CLA from GMO rapeseed (canola) because the cows are not getting these nutrients naturally from the grass.
GMO alfalfa hay is also commonly fed to cows. So basically, conventionally raised cows are almost entirely getting their food from GMOs — food that was created in a laboratory, that hasn't been tested long term, but has produced horrific results in several alarming animal studies."
HFCS and Sugar in the Buns
HFCS is more toxic than refined sugar. McDonald’s is acknowledging the need to change as their customers are demanding a menu offering more nutritionally dense products and foods with ingredients you can pronounce. In other words, more whole foods and less processed, preservative-laden, chemicals.
HFCS is high in net carbohydrates. While HFCS is not healthy, it’s not just the amount of carbohydrates you eat, but also the kind that is reflected on your bathroom scale and that creates insulin resistance.
HFCS has been found to promote weight gain, adversely impact the rate of reproduction in animals and cause premature death.20,21
The use of HFCS was also possibly financially driven as it is cheaper to manufacture and use than it is to pay government tariffs on the import of cane sugar.22 HFCS is also sweeter than most sugars, contributing to the reduced cost of using the product, and may contain mercury from the production process.
The switch to sugar in their buns will not appreciably reduce the overall grams of carbohydrates in the product or the number of calories. While removing HFCS is a healthier choice, it is only slightly healthier as the product continues to spike your insulin, increase your risk for weight gain and increase the inflammatory process in your body.23
Foods high in refined sugars and carbohydrates are not part of a healthy diet and may be the culprit behind your challenge with weight management. A high glycemic index from the carbohydrates cause a quick surge in blood sugar, which is stored in muscle and turned to fat when it isn’t used.
Marketing Requirements Are Driving This Train
Stephen Dutton, food analyst at food industry Euromonitor International, quoted in The Washington Post, said:24 "It's more about perception about the actual healthfulness of the product rather than its nutrition value."
And perception drives sales for the company. Steve Easterbrook became the chief executive at McDonald’s in March 2015, and since then the company has been making changes to their product line. Several changes include serving breakfast all day, expanding into self-serve kiosks and interior remodels, none of which change the calorie count or nutritional value of the food served.
These changes are further evidence of major chains trying to improve the image of their restaurants, against their competition. Other chains are exploring alternative food options, such as the Waffle Taco mash-up from Taco Bell and Burger King’s Mac n’ Cheetos, the addition of more real egg to the Dunkin’ Donuts’ egg patty, or actual pepper instead of “black pepper flavor” at Taco Bell.25
While McDonald’s is attempting to change perception by making small improvements to their food supply and remodeling their restaurants, it hasn’t changed the carbohydrate count, calories or lack of nutritional value in the food served. Your best bet continues to be eating real whole food.
Whole Food Choices
In this interview, Australian chef Pete Evans talks about how delicious and easy it can be to eat a healthy diet to improve your health and daily life. Planning your meals at the beginning of your week and spending some time doing food preparation will help you stick to a healthy diet.
I also recommend keeping an assortment of your favorite fresh raw veggies in the refrigerator, and raw nuts for snacking, since the more raw foods you can incorporate into your diet, the higher your nutrient intake. I personally aim to consume about 80 percent of my diet raw.
By the way, it's a myth that eating healthy, natural foods is prohibitively expensive. In fact, consuming a fresh, organic diet doesn’t have to cost much more than a diet filled with processed foods and junk foods. For tips on which foods aren’t important to purchase organic, see my previous article titled, “12 Foods You Don’t Have to Buy Organic.”
Nothing less than the very future of humanity is at stake if the insanity of denatured, processed foods continues unabated. In the United States, fast food is available just about everywhere, including hospitals and schools. This type of diet:
• Exponentially increases your risk of obesity and diabetes
• Is loaded with dangerous additives like trans fats, HFCS and MSG
• Contains GE ingredients
• Lacks the nutrients your body needs to thrive, let alone maintain health
It’s everything your body doesn’t need. It’s time to realize that the average diet has shifted too far from what your body requires, and that there are no magic pills to save you from the ramifications. You’ll begin to experience improved health when you return to a diet of locally grown, fresh, whole and natural foods.