Fast food nutrition facts are not enough

Fast food nutrition facts on food labels in Canada right now is voluntary. Many places provide this information, but it can be hard to find or simply not available.

Among retailers who do tell, nutrition facts are found in all kinds of different places – websites, posters near the restrooms, tray liners, brochures, or in a binder at the condiments counter.  Some provide absolutely no information whatsoever. I wonder what they’re really serving!

While researching a recent story for Best Health online, The 5 Worst Smoothies in Canada, I needed to dig to find ingredient lists because the fast food nutrition facts are not enough information to make an informed decision about healthy eating. I soon learned that fast food ingredient lists are tricky to find. Some head offices sent them by email or snail mail, whereas others wouldn’t return calls. One outlet in particular referred me to their nutrition binder in store – full disclosure, but in a cumbersome format.

Here’s the rub. You can’t make an informed consumer choice just looking at a calorie count, or by only looking at the nutrition facts about fat, protein, carbohydrates and sugar. You need to see the ingredient list too.

By reviewing the ingredient list for the new Tim Hortons Real Fruit Smoothies, I found two reasons why I would never order one of these, even though they provide “a full serving of fruit.”

  1. There are three extra sugars – high fructose corn syrup, glucose, and molasses. That detail is missing from a nutrition facts table that shows 60 g of sugar in Mixed Berry Fruit Smoothie with Yogurt (18 oz size).
  2. The real fruit is sourced from fruit purée and fruit juice concentrates. So much for the images of real, bouncing strawberries in their advertising. I find this imagery misleading, because when you make your own smoothie at home you throw real fruit in your blender – not jam, juice, corn syrup and molasses.

The FDA recently proposed new U.S. fast food labeling requirements that would require a clear disclosure of calorie counts for each menu item by 2012.  Touted as an important measure to address the rising obesity epidemic, this is a start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough to provide consumers with full disclosure.

Full disclosure should include nutrition facts together with ingredient lists.

Wouldn’t you like to know exactly what you’re buying and eating?


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