By Amanda Holpuch
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently published its Terrible 10 and Terrific 10, lists of the best and worst aspects of America's food scene. The lists were released in advance of Food Day, a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably grown food, which was coordinated by the CSPI and will take place on October 24.
The Terrible 10 features foods and practices—ranging from McDonald’s meals to powerful lobbying groups that thwart food reform—that impair American diets and the environment. The Terrific 10, on the other hand, help bolster our health and promote safe and fairly produced food. Among them are federal food programs that fight hunger and efforts by the New York City Health Department to introduce menu labeling.
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“This collection of ‘terribles’ symbolizes some of the things that Food Day is trying to change,” says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the CSPI in a press release. “It’s time to encourage Americans to ‘eat real,’ which means ‘out’ with the Froot Loops and ‘in’ with real fruit. It means more food from farmers’ markets—and much less food, if any, from fast-food drive-thru windows and vending machines.”
Kellogg's Froot Loops landed a spot in the Terrible 10 for representing the detrimental effects of sugary cereal on American health. Loaded with synthetic dyes, these fruit-free, super saccharine rainbow-colored circles of cereal entice kids to eat but fail to provide substantial nutrients. “If you start your day with just sugar, your going to be hungry a lot sooner than if you start your day with a higher fiber cereal,” says Keri Gans, RD, and author of The Small Change Diet.
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The CSPI also nailed nutritionally void white flour for its role in the obesity epidemic. Found in breads, pastas, cakes, and other foods, this basic ingredient takes the place of more vitamin-rich grains. "White flour basically has no fiber, but when you are looking to choose a product to eat, look for one made from whole grain," Gans says.
With the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar in each can, Coca-Cola easily nabbed a place on the Terrible list. The CSPI credits this ubiquitous thirst quencher for contributing to expanding waistlines and chronic diseases. Studies by the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Heart Association show that soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened drinks are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension.
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Packed with calories, salt, saturated fat, added sugars, and white flour, a typical McDonald's meal of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Coke, and fries was another no-brainer for this rundown of nefarious noshes. A diet packed with high-calorie, high-fat meals like these can increase the risks of obesity, hypertension, and other diet-related disease.
Alongside these bad-for-you foods the Terrible 10 spotlights political groups and food producers that harm the American food scene with unsafe or environmentally unfriendly practices—such as Jack DeCoster's egg farms, which caused the salmonella outbreaks in 2010.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom on the American food-scape. CSPI pinpoints some bright spots in our diet with its Terrific 10.
Good old-fashioned water provides an antidote to the Terrible 10’s Coca-Cola. Studies show that replacing sugary drinks with H2O can be a simple and effective way to reduce excess calories in our diets and reverse nationwide problems such as childhood obesity.
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Likewise, traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets contrast with the malicious McDonald's medley. The fare is typically heavy on fruits and vegetables, but light on high-calorie, high-fat foods like meat and cheese. Following one of these meal plans is a first step to improved health.
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The Terrific 10 also honors organizations and initiatives that support food reform, such as federal food programs that fight hunger and the New York City Health Department’s efforts to introduce menu labeling and push for healthier foods in chain restaurants.
Here, in no particular order, are the worst and best aspects of the American food scene as identified by the CSPI. For more information on Food Day and these lists, visit foodday.org.
McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a Coke, and fries
Kellogg's Froot Loops
Jack DeCoster's egg farms
Powerful lobbying groups
Subsidies to companies that blend corn ethanol into gasoline
Vending machines dispensing soft drinks and candy
Traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets
New York City Health Department
Sustainably and organically grown foods
Federal food programs
First Lady Michelle Obama
Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Dietary Guidelines for Americans