Category Archives: food and health

Fast Food – know what you are eating #dietary-calculators #nutrition #fat #diet #fast food #RDI #Sodium #Carbohydrates

Ever wondered what is in that fast food meal you just ate? I don’t mean a burger with meat, cheese & tomato sauce served with hot, salty chips,  I mean nutritionally. Most of us don’t read food labels, but for those of us who do, you will struggle to find all the details about your fast food choice.

This may surprise you? The major fast food outlets have nutrition calculators available on-line.  These tell you the amount of energy, protein, fats, carbohydrates (sugars) and sodium (salt).  You can enter one item or an entire meal and the calculator will add it up for you. The totals also include the number of Kilojoules (energy) consumed.

I want to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a few of these web site calculators. I hope you enjoy.

KFC – This is possibly the easiest of them all.  As long as you know their menu, you can just type in the search bar your chosen meal, hit calculate and the numbers all appear for you in the totals box. It does have a weakness in that, it tells the consumer the recommended amount of Kilojoules an adult male should be eating and no recommendations for any other demographic. It does, however, provide a link which is aimed at guiding you through the ‘nutritional puzzle’ for children (because kids don’t get abstract ideas, such as Digestion, Chronic Disease, Vitamins and Minerals and Recommended Serve Size). My 4 year old can tell you about the digestive system from the top to the bottom as well as tell you that ‘you are going to get fat and die early if you drink too much soft drink (soda)’?

McDonald’s – Maybe not as easy as the KFC web-site but still fairly easy once you get going.  It could be just me, but I couldn’t find an Australian version, so you have to go with the UK one. You need to know which meal items fall into what category, for example condiments and sauces is different to sides. Once you select your chosen product you hit the calculate button and it adds it to your meal.  The odd thing is that the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) is set for a woman and this can’t be changed, or at least I couldn’t work out how to change it.  So if you are male or under the age of 18 (which is well over 50% of McDonald’s customer base) the recommendations of daily intake mean nothing.  Another flaw is that what is being recommended is coming out of the UK and not Australia.  In saying all of that – with half a brain you can work it out fairly easily.

Subway – This web site is probably the most interesting of them all.  It effortlessly takes you to the nutritional information of its sub range, but there is a major flaw.  I could not find the nutritional information on their cookies or soft drinks.  I guess when you are a multi-national, marketing yourself as healthy, it would be a shame to shine a bright light on the reality of the additional products and the total lack of nutritional value that they provide.  Let’s face it, when we buy these additional products, we already know a cookie and a bottle of coke hold little to no nutritional value.  I guess as a consumer I want transparency in what is that I’m buying, especially if I am eating or drinking it!   Good on you for protecting your image Subway ‘Eat Fresh’ has taken on a whole new meaning.

Hungry Jack’s These guys have produced a 7 page PDF. This makes it really easy to run your eye down the list to find what you are looking for.  As far as I could see, I don’t eat Hungry Jack’s, the PDF includes everything on their menu.  Congratulations Hungry Jack’s, maybe someone at Subway might like to check out how to do things a little more thoroughly.  The negative, when compared to the on-line calculators, is that you have to add the totals yourself.  This is not a major issue, it just takes a little more effort.

My Daily Intake This website is awesome if you are wanting to find out how much of what you should be eating. It has a calculator so that you can enter your own data to find out how many kilojoules you should be consuming in a day.  There is a guide here for BMI (Body Mass Index) if that’s your thing, I don’t personally prescribe to this method of finding out if you are healthy or not (that’s just me). The last thing I will mention here is that this website also explains, in simple terms, what the role of each nutrient is in the diet.

My Fitness Pal This website  is a fantastic resource if you are trying to get an individual breakdown on each food item you are consuming.  I am not claiming that it is exhaustive, but I can tell you it is pretty good.  All you have to do is add your individual ingredient and the quantity and then hit the add button and it does the rest. It then breaks down the nutrition value of each of your entered items. It gives you the Calories, Carbohydrates, Fat, Protein, Sodium and Sugar. It also gives you a total so you can find out what a whole meal provides. There are two negatives – it gives you calories instead of kilojoules, in Australia we use kilojoules.  There are plenty of websites that can convert your info over e.g. The only other issue is that the weights are in Ounces (oz).  Same principle applies here, Google a conversion calculator to get your data in Grams (g) e.g.

It probably seems like a lot of work on your initial look.  It doesn’t take long to work out that the major fast food outlets are selling us food that is high in fats, salt and sugar and low in vital nutrients, but hey we know that when we walk up to the counter right?

Eat fresh, eat raw, eat organic, eat real food.


Preservatives in food

Preservatives in food

We all know that they are there in the food that we consume and we have this trust that our heavily regulated food production industry is doing the right thing. But do we truly know, what we as consumers are eating?

When my father was growing up, he used to ride with his father on a cart being pulled by an old draft horse, delivering bread though the streets of Sydney. My dad, who is now seventy, still goes to a special place when recalling the story of sitting next his father, a fresh hot loaf of bread in his lap, picking at it as they rounded the streets on their morning run. What bread was left over got eaten that day or its fate was sealed – bread and butter pudding or chicken food. They did this because the bread would be either stale or in the early stages of deterioration by the next day.

I used to laugh when I was growing up and dad would flatly refuse to eat day old bread. You see I am child of the 80’s. Mass produced, heavily adulterated food was the norm and it was found in every Australian’s fridge and pantry. This trend has continued to today and it’s even more prevalent than ever. To those of us who get around by car rather than horse; and who eat ice-cream from a tub rather than a freshly made dessert, preservatives are essential to maintaining the lifestyle that we love. They are something most of us don’t question or even think about.

For me to make bread at home it takes 5 key ingredients – flour, water, sugar, yeast and a pinch of salt. What do I need to add to this to make it last for several days sitting on my kitchen bench-top?  I recently counted the number of ingredients on the back of a packet of flat bread.  I did this because I noticed the ‘used by’ stamp said that it could last for 6 weeks (if unopened) in a cupboard. I know that after 6 weeks my home made loaf of bread would resemble something out of a dark green swamp if subjected to the same form of treatment. I stopped counting when I got over 30 ingredients. I understand that there were a variety of sugars, anti-caking agents, leavening ingredients; hell there was even flour and salt.  It was some of the numbers that got me thinking, more than just thinking. If these preservatives could sustain bread outside a freezer for that long, what were they doing to my body?

Sorbic acid is one of the more common preservatives and it originally comes from rowanberries and mountain ash berries.  This acid is often sprayed onto the surface of the bread to inhibit mould growth.  Sorbic acid today, however, is often made by using Crotonaldehyde and Allyl Chloride.  The former, Crontondalehyde is a known irritant, and in America it is listed as ‘extremely hazardous substance’ [1] The latter, Allyl Chloride is made from propylene and chloride [2] , I would love to see the marketing gurus spin those words into an appetising advertisement for their client, the maker of the flat-breads with 6 weeks shelf life. In the past this Alllyl Chloride could be found in paint strippers and solvents. What makes this particular ingredient even worse is that today it gets used for making pesticides. It is highly toxic, highly flammable and may lead to possible impairment of vision [3]. I am not saying that companies in Australia are using Sorbic acid created in this way with 100% certainty, but when you consider the low cost of such products as flat breads it does have to make you wonder… I for one choose not to purchase these products anymore.

Calcium Propionate is another common preservative of breads and baked products.  It has been linked to autism, hyperactivity and dystonia – a neurological disorder that makes muscles spasm or contract involuntarily [4]. Sodium Benzoate is the final preservative to be discussed.  This chemical is considered to be healthy and I am not discrediting it for its health implications but you have to know that it is often used in the manufacturing of fireworks as a fuel for the whistle mix [5]. I am not sure, but I don’t know how well it sits with me that I am possibly consuming a product that plays a major role in celebrating the coming of the new year some 100 metres above my head.

It is fair to mention preservatives have been linked to skin issues including eczema, adenoidal congestion, irritability, inattention and attention deficit disorder [6]. Next time you are feeling out of sorts, just blame it on chicken and mayo wrap you had during your lunch break.

Without preservatives we increase our chances of getting sick if we consume products that have been made some time before we consume them – that is if we don’t know some common sense rules about how our food works.  Moisture and warmth promote bacterial growth in our baked products. If we allow our bread to be exposed to either or both we are putting ourselves at risk.  Does this mean we have a major dilemma to weigh up – do I find myself headed to the emergency room with food poisoning if I attempt to avoid preservatives or do I consume foods that have connections to pesticides and fireworks.  The answer for me is simple.  Avoid preservatives as much as you can.  Choose to either find a baker who makes bread preservative free or with preservatives made from natural ingredients (vinegar) or bake your own.  Once baked, allow your product to cool, slice it, bag it and freeze it. I realise this last suggestions runs counter to the lifestyle so many of us love and take for granted. Often we don’t make major changes to our diet unless the situation is dire i.e. cancer, diabetes or heart disease.  It seems ironic that the lifestyle we love often creates these conditions but it is a requirement that we must change them to live out a full and healthy life.  Why wait?

So – for my Dad refusing to eat bread more than a day old, it looks like there was something in that, after all.  Dad’s not perfect in his food choices and neither am I am but I guess the fact that we are making choices is great.  It is your choice to make informed decisions and know what is going on with the foods you eat.

Eat fresh, eat raw, eat organic, eat real food.

Damian McAvoy.

Reference List:

[2] Ludger Krähling, Jürgen Krey, Gerald Jakobson, Johann Grolig, Leopold Miksche “Allyl Compounds” in Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2005. Published online: 15 June 2000
[3]International Programme on Chemical Safety & the Commission of the European Communities. “Allyl Chloride”. International Chemical Safety Cards. © IPCS CEC 1993. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
[4] D. F. MacFabe, D. P. Cain, K. Rodriguez-Capote, A. E. Franklin, J. E. Hoffman, F. Boon, A. R. Taylor, M. Kavaliers and K.-P. Ossenkopp (2007). “Neurobiological effects of intraventricular propionic acid in rats: Possible role of short-chain fatty acids on the pathogenesis and characteristics of autism spectrum disorders”. Behavioral Brain Research 176 (1):149–169.