independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Revealed: why fast food is even more unhealthy than you think

FAST food can be even more fattening than its makers claim, an investigation by the Irish Independent reveals.

Some popular takeaways pack an even worse calorific punch than the restaurant would have you believe.

For example, that Doner Kebab scoffed on the way home from the pub clocks in at over 1,000 calories – a whopping 25pc more than Abrakebabra's published nutritional information, which would put it at just 800.

And Supermac's 10oz megaburger contains a massive 874 calories, far more than the 696 calories claimed for it.

Independent laboratory tests carried out for this newspaper also reveal consumers can put away almost their full daily allowance of food in a single takeaway, while busting recommended fat and salt limits.

Health Minister James Reilly has warned restaurants to roll out calorie labelling on their menus or face legislation forcing them to do so.

We tested a selection of meals and products from some of Ireland's biggest chains to see what they contained.

The analysis we commissioned at Teagasc's Ashtown Food Research Centre reveal the nutritional breakdown of popular meals – and contained some unhealthy shocks.

Mega meaty

Some pizzas tested came in at over 1,800 calories and contained 50pc more salt than the recommended daily maximum and more fat than a woman should eat in a whole day.

A Pizza Hut Mega Meaty stuffed crust pizza contained 1,812 calories, 73.0g fat and 9.4g salt and an Apache Pizza medium-sized stuffed-crust pizza contained 1,892 calories, 78.8g of fat and 9.2g of salt.

That compares with recommended daily intakes of 2,000 calories, 70g of fat and 6g of salt for women, and male intakes of 2,500 calories, 95g of fat and 6g of salt.

However a Milano Pizza Diavolo tested came in at a more modest 831 calories, partly reflecting its smaller size – but its salt level was high at 6g.

Apache Pizza said their menus highlighted the fact that medium pizzas are aimed at sharing between two people – which would cut down enormously on calories, fat and salt.

Managing Director Robert Pendleton said the stuffed-crust pizza we tested was an "extreme case" for one consumer and stressed the company was rolling out detailed nutritional information and advice to help people make healthy choices.

However, consumer research by Safefood showed that 59pc of recent pizza eaters said they opted for medium pizzas, corresponding to the size in takeaways which we tested.

Even a snack can be very calorific – a large tub of Xtra-vision popcorn in front of a movie delivered 871 calories, 45g of fat and 4.3g of salt.

Pizza Hut said the pizza we tested was one of their most calorific, and they specified on their menus most people would share a 12in pizza.

Xtra-Vision said their large popcorn size was typically shared between a group of people, and smaller portion sizes were available for individuals.

Meanwhile Abrakebabra said it was very surprised by our findings for a Doner Kebab as their published values were also based on laboratory tests.

The company is now carrying out further tests on their food and will have results shortly.

"As a franchise operation, product consistency is often a challenge, but, even allowing for that, there does seem to be a discrepancy that Abra will now seek to clarify," a spokesperson said.

Supermac's said its website made it clear that nutritional data provided average values that could vary according to portion size, supplier and seasonal factors. It could vary simply because of issues like the amount of fat in a beef burger.

And, while ethnic takeaways are hugely popular, there is little information for consumers on how fattening they are, as individual stores and very small chains dominate the market.

Our tests showed an Indian meal of Chicken Tikka Masala and Pulao Rice from the Bombay Pantry chain delivered 1,354 calories, a hefty 71g of fat and 2.75g of salt.

A spokesperson for the chain said that their own tests had previously indicated lower values of around 1,027 calories for this meal.

Irish Independent

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