Does Fast Food Make Sense in a Campaign to Have Kids Eat Healthier?

First Lady Michelle Obama orders a Subway sub during an event at a Subway restaurant to announce that Subway will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America to help advance the goals of "Let's Move!," in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama orders a Subway sub during an event at a Subway restaurant to announce that Subway will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America to help advance the goals of “Let’s Move!,” in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

This week First Lady Michelle Obama took the next step in her Let’s Move! campaign.  This program was developed by the First Lady to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.  As a mom I admire Mrs. Obama’s initiative toward a very serious health issue but do find concern with her latest partner in the program toward getting kids to eat healthier; Subway Sandwich.

This week kicks off SUBWAY’s “Playtime, Powered by Veggies” marketing campaign which with Mrs. Obama’s endorsement and support will promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption. The campaign is designed to encourage kids to pile veggies on their Subway sandwiches and select fruit as their side of choice not chips. Additionally, SUBWAY agrees they will offer milk or water as a default beverage not soda pop. Nobody has said what happens if a child who goes into Subway must have a soda pop or chips and is shy with piling the veggies high? This past week, Mrs. Obama celebrated the move by hosting a group of children in a DC area Subway showing them the ‘healthy choices’ available on the subway menu. It is rumoured The First Lady ate a turkey sub showing her support for the ‘healthy fare’ at the fast food giant.

Increased consumption of fruits and veggies by children is a always good thing in my opinion.  In fact, a huge part of my day to day is cutting up apples, carrots, cucumber, peppers for my two daughters.  I see that veggies make it into every lunch box and most every dinner.  And fortunately my kids eat them raw, unadulterated, unprocessed, unpreserved and uncoloured.

When fruit and veggies are being promoted by a fast food chain they will undoubtedly be accompanied by synthetic colours and preservatives, there to help them get through ‘shelf life’. Not to mention they are accompaniments to a sandwich filled with highly processed meats and sauces. Who considers highly processed foods a healthy choice by simply adding some (preserved and/ or coloured) fruits and veggies with it? So I am stumped by this latest initiative of the Let’s Move! program.

A quick check of Subway’s ingredient list on their website gives detail of the oodles of additives included in their sandwiches.  So it is easy to see that by eating at Subway you will get a significant dose of not-so-good-for-you ingredients such as added sugars, salt, colours (ie tartrazine, caramel colour), nitrates, nitrites, carageenan, azodicarbonamide (oh my!) just to name a few.

So irregardless of Mrs. Obama’s seemingly well-intended endorsement of Subway as a way to eat healthier, I will still opt daily to have my kids eat fruits and veggies at home, taken out of the fridge then sliced AND without a side of any synthetic, processed fake foodstuffs. Now isn’t that the best way to promote healthier eating?

The Low-Down on Commercial Baked Goods

Bread still life

It is no secret that I became a card-carrying label reader and avid googler of all things food while developing food products for a large Canadian company.

I have seen the inside of many factories producing food for mass distribution. I have had to study and research food ingredients to ensure regulatory approval and to ensure a sufficient shelf life. My colleagues and I used to joke that ‘our employer was the best university in the world for learning all about processed foods’. And now as a parent, navigating grocery labels in terms of health I believe my food industry experience was just that…no joke.

I am often asked why I avoid commercial baked goods like the plague. Because over and above the undesirable GMO wheat and oils, there are a host of unsavoury chemicals used to cheapen production and to extend shelf life.  Sadly, many of them are linked to ill health. Unlike when I worked for Big Food having to go with the status quo, I now exercise the option to avoid some ingredients.

Here’s the dirt on the ingredients I choose to avoid:

Azodicarbonamide: As time=money, processors use this to speed up the wheat production process. So we all get a dose of this dastardly chem. in most of our commercial baked goods.  Next time you eat fast food, don’t just sweat about the health of of what’s inside the bun, consider also the bun itself.  Europe got wise a while ago and banned it as BOTH a plastic blowing agent ( yes its used in plastics too) and a flour whitening agent as it is linked to respiratory issues.

Calcium Propionate:  Used to prevent mold growth in baked goods, this chem. has been linked to irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in children who consume it daily.  A 2002 study cited in the Journal of Paediatric Child Health confirmed the details. Who thought it was a good idea to have bread last two weeks and to potentially harm human health?

BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene): This is a preservative and a quite controversial one at that.  Widely used, it is considered a human respiratory irritant, as well as a human allergen and carcinogen. BHT and its cousin BHA are flagged for future assessment under Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan. So why would I eat it until they figure it all out? Check commercial cereals and chewing gum as well.

So now I opt for smaller, organic producers when I do buy baked goods. If you make the switch, the first thing you may notice other than feeling better is that your bread no longer lasts for two weeks.  If you really think about what that means, you may come to realize its a good thing 🙂