Men's Health Worst Foods: Healthy List or Sneaky Ad?

Image by flickr user Matt NichollsFrom Men's Health magazine comes a list of the worst foods in America of 2009. By "worst" Men's Health means worst for your body; by "food" the magazine means products or menu items. The list is basically a catalog of the fattest prepared foods in America.

Topping said list is Baskin Robbins' infamous Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which with 2,600 calories (about 400 more calories than I consume in a day) and 263 grams of sugar (that's equal to about 18 cupcakes), is essentially a heart attack in a disposable cup. Ian Froeb at the St. Louis Riverfront Times tried the Oreo Shake last month and found the taste and color somewhat wanting:
For all those calories, the Chocolate Oreo Shake's texture is kinda thin. It certainly lacks the lung-draining thickness of a classic soda-fountain shake. And all that crumbled up cookie gives it a grainy feel. A colleague astutely compared it to a protein smoothie loaded with whey powder.

Other gems from the Men's Health list include the 2,000 calorie Chili's Smokehouse Bacon Triple-The-Cheese Big Mouth Burger with Jalapeno Ranch Dressing, and the Quarter-Pounder-equivalent Romano's Macaroni Grill Dessert Ravioli.

The list is sort of compelling in an oh-my-God-how-can-people-eat-that-crap kind of way, but something's a little odd about the 20 worst foods in America. They're part of the magazine's "Eat This, Not That" campaign (and $19.95 accompanying book), so each fat bomb is shown with another, slightly less fattening, food twin. The book is published by Rodale Press, which also owns Men's Health.

While it does make sense to encourage people to make healthier eating choices, the whole project is derailed by encouraging Americans to eat other prepared foods. And, melodrama aside, it's not the Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake that's responsible for American obesity. As this recent article in the New York Times about The Biggest Loser shows, the problem is that Americans rely too much on prepared foods.

Even if home cooking is of the fried-chicken-and-mashed-potatoes variety, it rarely produces extreme obesity, said Barry Popkin, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Almost any kind of cooking you can produce in a kitchen is healthier than fast food." The decline of home cooking worldwide, he said, is an underlying cause of obesity.
"People are eating more, and more often," Dr. Popkin said. "And the foods that they are consuming almost always replace meals cooked in a kitchen and eaten at a table." It is difficult to quantify a decline in cooking skills, but many studies show that time in the kitchen has declined steeply since 1965, when American women spent a weekly average of 13 hours cooking.

The Men's Health article is amusing to read, but it fails to address the underlying problem. If you're really trying to eat healthier, the Prime Minister's Prime Rib is not going to save you.

—Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user Matt Nicholls