The healthwashing of kale


                                                                Is kale the new oat bran?


By now you have  heard that McDonald’s kale salad has more calories than a Double Big Mac. A CBC news report states that once you plop the accompanying Asiago Caesar dressing on the “crispy chicken” version, the salad’s nutritional profile doesn’t look so good. According to McDonald’s own numbers, the salad tops up at 730 calories, 53 grams of fat, and 1,400 milligrams of salt. (When you first look up the salad on McDonald’s website, be aware that the dressing is listed separately and in a different category than the salad itself.)




Now if you prefer a lower calorie dressing, consider that while you may save some calories (160 in the Calorie-Wise and 210 in the regular), the sodium counts in the lower calorie offering surpass those in the regular (340 milligrams versus 210 milligrams).

The fact that the salad supplies more calories and sodium than the double burger offering is not a surprise to many. The salad as diet food myth is not a new one. I remember doing a segment for the CBC TV business show Venture where I went down to Bay Street in Toronto (the financial capital of the city) and interviewed diners as they ate their salads and sandwiches, asking people which had fewer calories. (The show has been off the air for almost a decade.) Almost all believed  that the salad was the lower calorie choice.

McDonald’s has added a new twist this time, though. Back in 2013, it was their new Signature McWrap® with “crisp fresh veggies”. It’s the perception that if you add kale to anything, it makes it healthy.

This reminds me the oat bran craze of the 1980s.  After studies showed that oat bran lowered blood cholesterol readings, the grain product showed up in all kinds of less than wholesome fare from butter and sugar-laden oat bran baked goods to deep fried chips. It took just one study showing  oat bran wasn’t as powerful in its heart healthy action to burst the oat bran bubble – no matter that the study was actually shown later to be flawed. Oat bran products quickly disappeared off store shelves.

The lesson of the whole issue is that one ingredient does not make a dish into a healthy one. We need to look at the entire picture.

At the same time, food companies and fast food chains need to stop trying to put one over on us.


Are there any examples of healthwashing that really irritate you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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Categories: Nutrition News, Rosie's Rants, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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