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Oxymoron department: Healthful fast food?

Fastfood Last week I ran across this interesting, albeit baffling, "restaurant report card" in Men's Health magazine. (I read it for the pictures.) The report card grades America's most popular fast-food chains according to how healthful their food is. Huh? Apparently my long-held belief that fast food is, by its very nature, unhealthful, isn't exactly accurate.

According to Matt Goulding, the report card's author and the man partially behind last year's zeitgeisty non-diet diet book, "Eat This, Not That," certain chains actually deliver food that won't send your blood pressure to Mars, and your thighs to the local big-and-tall shop. The catch being that you need to know what to order.

Goulding breaks down the restaurants accordingly:

"To separate the commendable from the deplorable, we calculated the total number of calories per entree. This gave us a snapshot of how each restaurant compared in average serving size—a key indicator of unhealthy portion distortion. Then we rewarded establishments with fruit and vegetable side-dish choices, as well as for providing whole-grain options. Finally, we penalized places for excessive amounts of trans fats and menus laden with gut-busting desserts. What we ended up with is the Eat This, Not That! Restaurant Report Card, which will show you how all of the nation’s largest eating establishments stack up nutritionally."

After scrolling through the long list (there are 62 entries), I was astounded to find out that the KFC fried chicken chain actually scored an admirable B. Other surprises include Taco Bell's B+, Pizza Hut's C and In-N-Out's C+. Not surprisingly, Subway is teacher's pet with a solid A-. An A+ gets doled out to Chick-Fil-A, but I've never eaten there so I can't weigh in on that one.

As interesting as I find all of this fast-food grading (don't ask me why), I'm more than a bit dumbfounded as to why anyone in L.A. who is actually truly concerned with counting calories and trans fat content would actually deign to set foot in a fast-food joint at all. I know many of us are on the move all the time and that makes coming home to cook a truly healthful meal a total drag, but still.

This city is full of juice stands, sandwich shops and even places to grab a quick plate of sushi or a California roll. Farmers markets are also a dime a dozen and many of them have healthy booths set up that serve fresh veggies and fruits as part of filling entrees. But then again, most don't have $1 value menus. (Curses upon on you wily fast-food gods!)

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (17)

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Here's an observation most probably missed, the Men's Health article discussed in this blog could not have been written about the non-fast food restaurants in LA because nutrition information is not widely available in smaller restaurants. Even the State-wide menu labeling law, which will not take effect until 2011, will only apply to chains with more than 15 stores nationwide and then will only provide minimal nutrition information on menu boards. It's hard to report or compare healthy or unhealthy options if we don't have the nutritional information (though common sense can go long way).

7-11? Farmers market on every corner? Guess that is LA. (I've been there a few dozen times - guess I missed them) In the T.O - WLV area the best we have is Gelsons, I guess, and a LOT of fast food. I do the mediocre salad for $7.50 when I can, but when I want to splurge or maybe not spend 7 bucks on lettuce I stray. Options? yeah... I guess I could walk into Taco Bell, Carls, or one of the others and order a salad, but why pay twice as much for 1/2 the food? TJ's does offer some valid 'do it yourself at work' lunches, but one does need to get out every now and again.
Bottom line - you can make what you can in almost any area, but it is a hell of a lot easier, quicker, and usually cheaper to eat what is not good for you. c'mon. Who the hell actually orders a SALAD at McDonalds? and if you do... please do the math and your homework on the cost - they punish you to try to be good.
simply my 2 cents

Look it up in the dictionary. Healthy and healthful are both adjectives.

Sean K--healthful is an adjective used to describe a noun. (Fast) food is a noun (a noun is a person, place or thing). Healthy is an adverb, used to describe an action or state of being, i.e., to modify a verb. Fast food IS healthy (IS being the verb...I know, your head is about to explode), and we should all eat healthful fast food (food being the noun). The writer was only using proper grammar, but I love how that's offensive to you. Hilarious. And sad.

Anyway, I think that healthful fast food is a great idea and that there is a market for it. I'm considering starting a business myself!

"Healthful" refers to something that is conducive to good health. "Healthy" describes a state of being, referring to a person, state, animal, society, etc. that is in good health.

"unhealthful |ˌənˈhelθfəl|


harmful to health : radon can build up to unhealthful levels.


unhealthfulness |ˈənˈhɛlθfəlnəs| noun"

i agree that LA is full of wonderful, relatively cheap, healthy options but these options don't exist in every part of the city--think about why we don't see whole foods or trader joe's in south la.

"Unhealthful"? I believe the word is 'unhealthy'. I'm not certain 'unhealthful' is even a word in the English language. Even if it is, it certainly isn't one I've ever heard anyone use in my entire 35 years of life. It makes the writer sound like pompous weirdo and is so off-putting I couldn't read past the first paragraph.

"Lately I've been eating Grilled Chicken Pita Snack for only $2.15 with tax and 210 calories (without the mayo) Best part? The place is about 3/4 of a mile from my office, so I walk a mile & a half at lunch.


People who can't eat healthy at fast food joints are probably eating too much. Go for the snack menu, dump the mayo & add extra greens when possible. And buy an apple at the 7-11.

Posted by: cybele | March 13, 2009 at 04:45 PM "


You couldn'
t find it because the article was written for a NATIONAL audience.

Contrary to the beliefs of Californians - particualarly those in LA - "you" are not the majority. California is only 11.8% of the entire US population.

LA area is only 3.24% of the entire US.

No one else across the country has ever HEARD of some of the frou-frou too-precocious-for-word trends in LA.

There's a great Boar's Head deli that just opened up right by my work across the street from East LA Civic Center. I am addicted to their turkey avocado wrap. I just ask them to leave the bacon off and make it with balsamic vinaigrette, its sooooooooo good and everything is made fresh right in front of me. Prices are great too, only $5.99 for a combo! I can eat there everyday! Dave's Deli at 3rd & mednik.

Im a budget cyclist, and went all over the city, cheap food is always needed, sometimes one cant find the great tacqueria in a certain neighborhood. vegetarian options at fast food restaurants with deleted cheese and sauce/mayo is usually OK, hamburgers with no mayo, are also good, its the sauce and mayo/cheese that kills the nutriion.

Colonel Saunders healthy? I should live so long. Try Bob's Donuts in Farmer's Market in Hollywood.

I was just thrilled that you used the correct 'healthful' to describe the food, most people say 'healthy', even professional writers. People are healthy, food is healthful, or not. . . .

Regardless of calories, fast food (from a chain) is never healthy. The way the food is grown, processed, shipped, "cooked" is not good for you, society or the environment. Yes, it may be cheap but so is an apple. The only reason to ever eat fast food is if you are on an island, you have consumed every bit of fruit, vegetable and animal on the island and there happens to be a McDonald's there!

Jessica, I think you have taken the excellent work of Matt Goulding out of context, added cheap sarcasm, and passed it off as a "new" item for LA Times. I hope you didn't accept payment for appropriating Goulding's article and submitting it as "your" work. First, "Eat This Not That" is readily available as a continuing feature on yahoo.com so this specific article of Goulding's is non-news. Second, it was not directed to just a Los Angeles audience - so your tone of "dumbfounded" astonishment isn't warranted - yes, we have abundant alternatives here. And lastly - you are not Goulding's target audience anyway - he's writing an accessible feature and offering some achievable nutrition goals for the readers of Men's Health. An apology in your blog would be a mature and professional gesture.

I agree if you live in LA where you can find delicious and healthy foods, you probably won't want to go fast food. But for those on the road, in airports, train and bus stations or in small towns where choices may be limited, fast food may be the only option. BUT before you decide, visit the websites of your favorite fast foods and check out the specific nutritional data on the foods you like. Find out the details: calories, fat, sugar and sodium. Even the healthier options are often loaded with sodium. Choose wisely. Marcia Schurer, Ed.D. author FitDelicious: Lose the Pounds, Not the Taste

Healthy fast food isn't an oxymoron, but for some reason cheap healthy convenience food is.

I was disappointed that I couldn't find El Pollo Loco on the list.

Lately I've been eating Grilled Chicken Pita Snack for only $2.15 with tax and 210 calories (without the mayo) Best part? The place is about 3/4 of a mile from my office, so I walk a mile & a half at lunch.


People who can't eat healthy at fast food joints are probably eating too much. Go for the snack menu, dump the mayo & add extra greens when possible. And buy an apple at the 7-11.


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