What’s in fast food beef, fish and chicken? It’s not always 100% meat


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The beef on your fast food burger might not be exactly what it seems. Natalie Jeffcott/Stocksy
  • Beef, chicken and fish products in fast food restaurants are not always 100% meat.
  • They may contain additional additives, such as a textured vegetable protein or soy product, which make them cheaper to produce.
  • Health experts say these types of processed meats are less healthy than unprocessed meats.
  • If you’re concerned about the quality of the meat served by a fast food establishment, health experts suggest checking the ingredient list on the menu, as it may offer unprocessed options as well as plant-based alternatives.

Recently, The New York Times took a deep dive to get to the bottom of one of the big questions of our time:

Is the fish product included in the popular Subway restaurant chain sandwiches actually tuna or…something else?

the investigation report by journalist Julie Carmel was in response to a California class action lawsuit filed in January against the fast food giant. The lawsuit claims that the brand’s tuna sandwiches “are completely devoid of tuna as an ingredient.”

The lawsuit has spread far and wide, even eliciting sympathy from pop star Jessica Simpson – herself having once wondered where Chicken of the Sea came from (is it chicken or tuna, after all? ) – on Twitter.

The headlines generated around the tuna confusion have played into the long-running debate over what exactly is in the meat we eat in fast food restaurants.

How healthy are the highly processed items you might order at McDonald’s or Subway? Are they everything they claim to be as advertised?

In an emailed statement to The New York Times, a spokesperson for Subway wrote that “there is simply no truth to the allegations in the lawsuit that was filed in California.”

“Subway delivers 100% cooked tuna to its restaurants, which is tossed with mayonnaise and used in freshly prepared sandwiches, wraps and salads that are served and enjoyed by our customers,” they added.

For her part, Carmel sent samples of Subway tuna sandwiches to a commercial food testing lab. The results were somewhat inconclusive.

The labs found that “no amplifiable tuna DNA was present” in the samples she sent and they could not “identify the species” present in the sandwiches.

A spokesperson for the lab told The New York Times that two conclusions emerged: either the tuna products are “so heavily processed” that it was impossible to make a clear identification of the tuna, or “there is no ‘there’s nothing there that’s tuna’ in the samples sent.

Carmel cites a previous Inside Edition report that found positive identification of tuna derived from samples from three subway locations in Queens, New York.

Dietitian Amber PankoninMS, LMNT, offered a bit more context for Healthline.

When asked if claims that Subway might be selling questionable meat products were common practice in the fast food industry, Pankonin replied that “it really depends on the brand, their supplier and what ‘he offers on the menu’.

She said fast-food brands that have more than 20 locations in the United States are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly post their nutrition information publicly.

“There are fast food chains that might use a textured vegetable protein or a soy product as a filler in their beef burger or tacos,” she explained. “If you are concerned about this, I recommend searching for ‘100% beef’ in the menu description and checking the allergen information.”

Pankonin directed Healthline to easily accessible information that you can easily refer to if you’re concerned about what foods you might be eating at a fast food restaurant.

This includes official FDA menu labeling guidelines and publicly available beef sourcing information from popular brands such as McDonald’s, Wendy’sand Taco Bell.

Dana HunnesPhD, MPH, RD, senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, echoed Pankonin that it really depends on the specific product.

She told Healthline that it’s “difficult to ‘fake’ a product that looks exactly like it does,” like a meat patty burger.

“However, if it’s a fried nugget, i.e. a chicken nugget, the question can get a little fuzzier, as there are often a number of additional ingredients in the product, such as breadcrumbs, starch, dextrose, for example, which could either mask an alternative meat product or actually constitute more, by weight, of the product than “chicken” or the so-called named meat itself- even,” added Hunnes, who is also the author of the forthcoming book “Recipe for survival.”

What is the nutritional value of fast food meat products?

Hunnes said she generally consults people to limit or avoid meat consumption, adding that a plant-based diet is generally much better for overall health.

That being said, if you eat meat products, she said “unadulterated meat” is better because you will be consuming “unprocessed meat products, which in some ways will be a bit healthier. than » processed meat products. .'”

She said that many restaurants, even fast food outlets, are offering more plant-based alternatives. His personal opinion is to gravitate towards these offers more, and they are better for the environment in general.

Just by looking at menu labeling requirements, Pankonin says it’s now fairly easy to access nutrition and allergen information for your fast food items. She said you should avoid items that might contain potential allergens for you.

“Nutritionally, products that contain fillers will likely be quite similar,” she added, emphasizing, again, that it really depends on the specific restaurant and its suppliers.

So how healthy is fast food meat? There is no single answer.

“In terms of cooking preparation and taste acceptance, they [fast-food meat items] might work differently. With added fillers, there could be more moisture or flour in the product, which could impact baking and quality. And depending on the amount of filler used, it can impact the flavor of the product,” Pankonin said.

She added that with fast food restaurants, “standardized products can provide consistency in terms of estimating nutritional values.” This is compared to buying and preparing a burger at home; it all depends on the “meat used and portion prepared”.

“When I advise people what to order at fast food restaurants, it really depends on their health goals and if there are any food allergies. I can help them assess the calorie information and the nutrition to see if specific menu items match their overall diet,” Pankonin said.

If you’re concerned about headlines about fast food meat, what are some good menu alternatives at your favorite fast food restaurant?

“Some of the plant-based alternatives will be progressively healthier than actual meat. I say gradually because they are still a processed food product and will contain salt,” Hunnes said.

“But, they are healthier in the sense that their fats come from plant sources, which are generally better than animal fats, and they may also contain fiber, which meat will not contain,” said she declared.

Pankonin reiterated that it all comes down to your dietary and health preferences.

“Again, I think it depends on health goals and if there are any food allergies. For example, if someone is allergic to soy, they should be made aware of the meat loads and also avoid some of the options. herbal from the menu,” she said.

Pankonin said that if you’re making a burger in the comfort of home and want to reduce the fat or calorie content, for example, you can try making “a burger mix” by “using ground beef and vegetables like onions and mushrooms”.

She said some breakfast suggestions include offering something you can make and freeze ahead of time.

Try a breakfast sandwich consisting of a whole wheat English muffin, an egg and a slice of cheese. It could be a simple alternative to grab your favorite breakfast sandwich before heading to the office.

She also said no-bake recipes are a good way to cut down on your cooking time. Additionally, Pankonin cited wraps that can be kept in a cooler and taken to the family picnic or dining room as good options.

Beyond that, she said you can’t go wrong with the charcuterie boards.

“These are basically Adult Lunchables, and I love them,” she said. “They’re super easy to put together and can be a great alternative to fast food. Instead of a board, pack in a bento box and lunch is ready to go.

Hunnes said that while it might seem cheaper to go to a fast food joint and order four burgers, four fries and four soft drinks for your family or group of friends for $20, in reality, you could do a lot of damage. your overall health and “you can pay for it in the end”.

“However, since most people don’t think that far ahead when choosing their meals, just from a monetary and momentary standpoint, you absolutely can do something similar, healthier, and potentially even cheaper at home. home,” Hunnes said.

She said plant-based meat brands Impossible or Beyond Burger only cost $9 to $11 a pound. A pound can feed four people. Wheat buns are only $3 for about $8, with lettuce, tomato and onion costing you about $4 more, and soda adding a little more, say another dollar or more.

The grand total? It’s about $17 for your own homemade burgers.

“It’s actually cheaper and much healthier to do at home,” Hunnes added. “And, if you wanted to use real meat, it would probably be even cheaper since most ground meats are maybe $5 a pound.”

Overall, while we may not have solved the big tuna mystery of 2021, some things are clear.

Always examine the dietary and nutritional background of the foods you eat, assess whether they contain allergens, and consider potentially cheaper and healthier options you can make for yourself and your family.

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