When McDonald’s made the decision to begin listing calorie counts on its menus, food watchers throughout the country collectively licked their lips, rubbed their hands in anticipation and dialed up the Schadenfreude to full blast.
“This is going to be good!” they thought. The fast-food behemoth forced to wear its scarlet letter on every row of every backlit menu board.
Then the calorie counts revealed themselves to be, well, far from great — but in the grand scheme of things, not that bad.
A Quarter Pounder with Cheese clocked in at 520 calories, with about 40 percent coming from fat. A Big Mac was a bit more — 550 calories. True, the Angus Bacon & Cheese offered up a full 790 artery-clogging calories for the taking. But this is a burger that, in all fairness, sells itself as a splurge for the overactive appetite rather than a typical meal.
Speaking of typical meals, you might be tempted to outfit this burger with a 250-calorie serving of french fries and a 150-calorie soda, and you will find this non-supersized meal approaches 1,000 calories.
Without getting into your age, gender or lifestyle, you probably can do well by being somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 calories on a typical day. Eat a sensible breakfast and a nutritious, home-cooked dinner and that lunch splurge at Mickey D’s won’t kill you.
Do “better” hamburgers fare as well? And are they as forthcoming with their nutritional information?
If you base nutritional information solely on calorie counts, then no.
I contacted three of Atlanta’s best-known gourmet burger outlets — Flip Burger Boutique, Yeah! Burger and Farmburger — to find out how they compared vis-a-vis the Mickster. I also looked up nutritional information for an in-between kind of restaurant, Atlanta-based Ted’s Montana Grill.
Of the three, only Flip had nutritional information at the ready. While the information isn’t listed on the menu, patrons can ask to see a calorie count. For instance, a “Butcher’s Cut” with blue cheese, caramelized onions, soy-truffle vinaigrette, pickled shallots and red wine jam contains 696 calories — a bit less than that Angus McFatty patty, but considerably more than a Big Mac.
Ted’s hits the same range with ease. A beef burger on a Kaiser roll with cheddar cheese contains 724 calories before ketchup.
Yeah! Burger currently does not provide any calorie counts but is working with a third-party nutritionist and hopes to offer nutritional information by the end of the year. Because its burgers are so highly customizable with a plethora of toppings and sauces, Yeah! Burger will offer a calorie calculator online. You built the virtual burger with whatever toppings you want, and the calculator keeps a tally.
On the microblogging platform and social networking website Tumblr, one user dubbed One user of Tumblr called “myself-redefined” calculates a Yeah! Burger with avocado, cheddar cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and tomato, put it on a whole wheat bun and then researched a printed calorie guide to come up with a grand total: 882 calories. That sounds about right.
Farmburger doesn’t offer calorie counts and has no intention of doing so, says owner George Frangos.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in posting calorie counts, but if we did it I’d like to do it right,” says Frangos, who was busy opening his third area location in Dunwoody. “I have no idea how to go about it. I’m guessing it would have to be signed and approved by an official somewhere.”
He estimates the grind of the beef Farmburger uses is close to 80 percent lean/20 percent fat, which is on the higher end of fat content for ground beef. Throw in one of those buttery griddled buns and a gush of creamy Farmburger sauce, and you surely have a caloric burger.
What can we conclude? If you base nutrition solely on calorie content, then you’re probably best off eating at McDonald’s.
But, obviously, there’s a lot more to the picture than calories. If you factor in salt content, my guess is McDonald’s standing would less appealing, as many of the burgers contain more than 1,000 mg of sodium per serving.
Yeah! Burger and Farmburger serve grass-fed beef, which contains much less saturated fat than feedlot-raised beef and has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to heart health.
And this is one man’s opinion: Any of these burgers tastes a lot better than McDonald’s, and when food tastes better it satisfies more. Scratch that burger itch well, and even if the meal contains 1,200 calories, you can make allowances to keep your daily calorie count in line.
But if you need a burger bad and your blood pressure isn’t through the roof, then maybe the drive-through would be healthier for you. Seriously.
The real surprise isn’t the decision by McDonald’s to list calorie counts, it’s that it took the company so long to do so.
– by John Kessler for the Food & More blog