Interesting dichotomy: At the same time that McDonald’s has become firmly established as the ultimate purveyor of cheap, unhealthy food only nutritional losers could love, a group of dieticians has gone online to pronounce the Golden Arches as a quick, affordable, nutritious source of meals.

It’s an about-face as abrupt as if Ronald got a buzz cut, slipped on a pair of penny loafers and ditched the clown suit for a blazer, slacks and necktie.

The story originated with CNN, which recruited 10 nutritionists — “who tend to avoid fast food like the plague,” as the news organization was quick to note. CNN asked them what their order would be in “an urgent instance” when the only food source on a long road trip was a McDonald’s restaurant.

That doomsday scenario allowed the dietary experts to weigh in on what they’d order at McDonald’s — in the unlikely event they found themselves staring at the fast food chain’s menuboard.

Some of it sounded a bit like a bad version of Drive-Thru Confessions.

“Not only do I eat guilt-free at McDonald’s, I think they get a bad rap,” Christine M. Palumbo, a Chicago-area registered dietitian, told CNN. “When I’m flying in the morning, I typically get an Egg McMuffin and a coffee. The sandwich only has 300 calories and it offers 17 grams of satiety-providing protein.”

Well, she got the protein part right. But drilling down deeper into what these dietary gurus actually recommended was quite enlightening as to why so many Americans believe that animal foods should only be eaten only with side serving of guilt.

Check out some of the actual meals these nutritionists claimed they would eat — or more accurately, what you should eat when you roll up to Mickey D’s:

  • Kid’s Meal with a junior burger, only with bottled water for the beverage and oranges for dessert. Total calories: 390. That’s a heck of a meal — if you’re confined to a prisoner of war camp. It’s called a starvation diet, and it’s doubtful that anyone other than someone punishing themselves on such a diet would find that to be very satisfying.
  • Grilled Chicken Salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing (only a sprinkling) — with water to drink, of course. Total calories: 290. But at least it will take a while to grind up all that vegetation, while you dream about ordering a surf and turf platter.
  • Grilled Chicken Fillet, but hold the bun and skip the dressing, although go ahead and indulge in a small side salad with non-fat dressing. Total calories: 165. Now we’re getting down to a true starvation diet. Hope you had three other meals planned around your “healthy” lunch at McDonald’s.


It gets worse.

When it comes to ordering something substantive from elsewhere on the menu board, the commentary offered by this bevy of dieticians made it clear that fat is the nutritional equivalent of a bad date: Unavoidable, but not to be repeated on a regular basis if you know what’s good for you.

A few comments illustrate what I mean.

  • “The Premium grilled Chicken Ranch BLT, thanks to the super-low calorie count of the chicken breast, allows you to enjoy a splurge-worthy topping, like belly-filling bacon.”
  • “The Southwest Grilled Chicken McWrap is healthy — if you remove the tortilla strips, and the cheese and opt for no sauce. Then it’s only 279 calories of muscle-building protein, and 4 grams of appetite-suppressing fiber.”

Those two observations capsulize what’s wrong with modern nutritional science, at least as it’s interpreted by contemporary dieticians. They’re suffering from terminal fat phobia, for one, and they never met a calorie count that couldn’t be reduced by eliminating the very ingredients that lend a food item its flavor and mouthfeel.

Ever wonder why people can’t stick with all those “diets” that promise big-time weight loss? Because you have to give up the foods you enjoy, while you punish yourself with a starvation-level calorie intake. Then you wonder why your metabolism slows down (because it’s not getting enough nourishment), and your muscle-to-weight ratio heads south (because lack of adequate nutrients forces catabolic breakdown of muscle tissue).

Worse, your lowered energy level as a result of eating less than the body needs to function makes it almost impossible to have enough energy to exercise at a level that would support effective weight management.

One last observation for the dietician touting the “muscle-building protein” in chicken and the “appetite-suppressing” fiber in a tortilla: You don’t build muscles at the dinner table. Not that chicken isn’t healthy, but simply consuming it doesn’t develop muscle strength, endurance or tone.

And dietary strategy shouldn’t focus on consuming something that suppress one’s appetite, it should encourage people to choose foods wisely, to moderate portions appropriately and to stay active enough to maintain, not suppress, one’s appetite.

The bottom line is pretty straightforward here: If ordering a sandwich, and actually eating the cheese, the sauce and the bacon is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator