|Dr. Cindy Goody, McDonald's corporate nutritionist.|
That's the impression I got while covering a talk given by Cindy Goody to the Utah Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at Weber State on Thursday. Goody is the senior director of nutrition with McDonald's corporation.
After her presentation, she invited dietitians to tour the McDonald's at 5745 South Harrison Blvd. and taste the corporation's new Premium McWrap.
With 14,000 restaurants in the United States, serving 25 million guests per day, McDonald's has a big impact on America's eating habits. Goody said that during 2007-2010 adults consumed on average, 11.3 percent of their total daily calories from fast food.
She said today's quick-serve restaurants are doing a better job of offering more fruits, vegetables and wholesome choices, sharing nutrition and ingredient information on websites and menu boards, offering more customization (such as "Hold the mayo"), and working with dietitians. Goody said at McDonald's, the team of dietitians has grown from two to eight.
Although the company is known for its hefty Big Macs and Quarter-Pounders, Goody pointed out, "We offer a burger that we've been offering since the 1950s that is only 250 calories."
And that also addresses the complaint that you have to spend a lot of money to eat the low-cal items, because the regular burger costs a lot less than a Big Mac or an Angus burger. (But Goody did add that salads and fruit items tend to cost more because the fresh ingredients are more perishable.)
Over the years, the company has added salads, grilled chicken, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and oatmeal to its menu. The oil used in frying is zero-grams of trans-fat oil, a blend of canola, soybean and corn oil.
But now let me digress. Here's what I've noticed. I'll come in to a fast food place thinking I COULD order the grilled chicken salad. But once I'm through those doors, my senses are assaulted with the aroma of french fries, sizzling beef patties and crispy chicken. So it's harder to stick to the original plan without at least ordering a side of fries.That's why I wondered how well these "healthy" items actually sell compared to the McDonald's core menu of burgers and fries. Goody told me sales figures are proprietary information. "But if something is not selling, it comes off the menu. You may notice that the Chicken Selects (chicken breast strips) and well as our snack-size fruit and walnut salads are coming off."
Happy Meals have been healthified; they now automatically include a serving of sliced apples. Goody said milk has been offered as an option for over 20 years, but "when we changed from a paper carton to a plastic jug that was more compatible to kids' hands, we saw a big uptick. We also transitioned from low-fat chocolate milk to fat-free chocolate milk."
Sodium has been reduced in the chicken filet, buns, smoothies and yogurt. The sodium was reduced in chicken McNuggets by 20 percent, but it was done incrementally, and "customers haven't noticed anything," she said.
She added that the 750-calorie Angus Third Pounder burger patty will be taken off the menu.
This past month McDonald's unveiled a Premium McWrap. But beware the healthy halo: Yes, you CAN order the healthy grilled chicken version flavored with sweet chili for about 360 calories. But if you go for the crispy chicken with bacon and cheddar jack cheese, it can run you 600 calories. But you are at least getting a few fresh veggies such as spring greens, cucumbers, and tomato.
(FREEBIE ALERT: From April 9-13, participating McDonald's in Utah will offer a McWrap for just $1 with the purchase of a drink.)
Next month, the company is rolling out an Egg White Delight McMuffin, served on a whole grain English muffin, with Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese. It clocks in at 250 calories, compared with a regular McMuffin's 300 calories.
Goody said listing calorie counts on the menu boards hasn't made a difference in sales. "But we've gotten comments from customers that they are pleasantly surprised at how many calories different items are."