Wednesday, March 02, 2011

McDonald's oatmeal

A surprisingly lively internet discussion has arisen from NYT food columnist (and author of the virtually comprehensive reference book How to Cook Everything) Mark Bittman's latest article on McDonald's new offering of oatmeal. Bittman, whose column is called "The Minimalist," is unimpressed:
The oatmeal and McDonald’s story broke late last year, when Mickey D’s, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it’s offering “a selection of balanced choices” (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice.
The aspect one cannot argue is nutrition: Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

Several people from my side of the aisle have surprisingly taken aim at Bittman's characterization of the nutritional issue, most notably Adam Serwer, who points out that at 290 calories McDonald's oatmeal isn't actually that bad on its own.

Here's McDonald's nutritional information chart. I'll point out that the oatmeal also has 5g of fiber. It would cost 5 points on the old Weight Watchers system, for those of you familiar with it. I find it useful because it considers calories, fat content, and fiber. 5 points for breakfast isn't bad. It's less than the whole wheat English muffin, egg, and tablespoon or 2 of cheese I normally have for breakfast (6.5 points).

Of course, the real nutritional threat of McDonald's oatmeal isn't what's in the oatmeal, but rather what's on the rest of the menu. Bittman is pretty close to the mark: in order to get the oatmeal, you have to get in line at McDonald's and then stare at a menu covered in salty, sugary, fatty decadence while listening to a parade of people ordering said decadence, at which point many people will succumb to the temptation of sausage gravy biscuits and fried hash brown disks and hammy eggs Benedict muffins and egg-filled, cheesy, bacon pancakewiches and whatever else they offer.

There's a reason every diet begins with cleaning out your kitchen and every "stop smoking" strategy involves no longer hanging out with your smoking friends. Willpower is not an infinite resource, and if you're faced with the choice your brain is hard-wired to prefer over and over again, you will not make the right decision 100% of the time. And of course, every bad choice makes it much more likely that you'll make that choice again.

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