An email came out recently at work that mentioned our new "Heart Healthy Lunchroom". I found myself sitting mouth-agape reading what they find to be "Heart Healthy". Here is the bulleted list of options available in the cafe.
• new, guilt-free French fries or chicken tenders, now being fried in zero-trans fat oil and zero-transfat butter
• an array of fat-free salad dressings and more fresh fruit are now available at the salad bar
• vegetables on the steam table are perfectly steamed without any butter
• 100-calorie snack packs in the vending machines
• Nestea green tea, Propel fitness water and Crystal Lite coming soon
Let's just start with the first one: "guilt-free" French fries and chicken tenders. There is (or rather should be) nothing guilt-free about French fries and breaded, deep-fried chicken. Fry it in zero-trans fat oil, fry it in water, fry it in air...it's still a fried potato or a heavily breaded and fried piece of chicken. Regardless of what the potatoes are fried in, there will still be very high levels of cancer-causing acrylamide. Second, the oil is no doubt a polyunsaturated blend because we wouldn't want to fry in saturated fats. We all know that they are deadly. But as long as the fries are trans fat free and low in saturated fat, they're not bad for you. Puhlease! The greater the level of unsaturation, the greater the instability of the fat. Polyunsaturated oils, being highly unsaturated, are highly unstable, which means that at the extreme temperatures required for frying, they will oxidize and turn rancid. Saturated fats would be a much better choice here. Not to mention the high sugar hit and insulin load of those potatoes. The high temperature frying probably also causes some denaturing of the proteins in the chicken and there's the grain-based flour coating, that is also starchy and probably also contributes some of that delicious acrylamide. Still guilt-free?
The second and third options aren't so bad. More fresh fruit is good. We could do without the fat-free dressings though. But again, we all know that fat is bad for your heart. Ugh! And it's good to know that the vegetables have not a single touch of butter. We wouldn't want to have any fat at all in our diets. Nevermind that fat is absolutely necessary for proper vitamin absorption and that people eating fat-free dressing absorb far less of these essential vitamins than those eating normal dressings.
One-hundred calorie snack packs as heart healthy? Let's check Nabisco World and see just what offerings we have for a 100-calorie snack. First up, I see Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies. Cookies! Always a solid nutritional choice. Then there are the Teddy Grahams. How could something that cute be bad for you? Ritz Snack Mix, Wheat Thins, Peanut Butter Cookie Crisps - I know that my diet is deficient in those essential food groups. We continue with Ritz Chips and Cheese Nips and finish off our journey with...yes folks, those are Oreos and Chips Ahoy cookies that you see! And let's not forget the granola bars and pudding. But worry not my Heart Healthy Friends, they are all low in fat. And there's probably only 18-20 grams of carbohydrate, most of it sugar. It's ok though...they're low fat and we all know that sugar isn't bad for you. Now let's consider some other 100-calorie "snack packs". You can have a medium apple at about 75 calories. 30 grapes or 15 raw almonds or 10 oil-roasted almonds - all about 100 calories. Three cups of raw broccoli or 20 large baby carrots or...have I made my point? There are so many healthful 100-calorie options that will actually fill you up and provide some vitamins and minerals as to make the 100-calorie Snack Packs a joke. Of course, focusing on calories is a misguided effort anyway, one that has gotten us into our current obesity situation, but that's a topic for another post. Seriously, eat some beef jerky (preferably without MSG and nitrates) and some nuts for your snack. Or have a piece of fruit. Remember: There is no such thing as junk food. There is junk and there is food. Cookies, chips, etc all qualify as J-U-N-K.
And finally, the last option. I can't really find anything negative to say about this one. I was quite intrigued by the heading of the email and was quickly disappointed at the offerings. Instead of pushing meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruit, they are providing access to the same stuff only in a "more healthful" package. But to not be a complete nay-sayer, at least there is an attempt to provide more healthful options. They may have missed the mark by a bit, but the groundwork is laid. And 1.5 out of 5 isn't bad, is it? Batting .300 is pretty decent if you're playing baseball.