Fast Food Fright

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KFC's Double DownLast week, the chicken chain KFC launched a new product called the Double Down. The company boasts that this “sandwich,” which consists of bacon, cheese, and a special sauce nestled between two pieces of chicken, is “so meaty, there’s no room for a bun!” There is room, however, for 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium, according to the product Web site. These nutrition statistics, combined with the product’s unusual nature, have led to wide-ranging media coverage of the Double Down. CNN was prompted to ask, “Is fat fare at fast foods going too far?” while Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report called the concoction “the warped creation of a syphilitic brain.”

But setting aside the novelty of having no bun, how outrageous is the Double Down nutritionally? To start with the obvious, 1,380 milligrams is indeed a lot of sodium — 58% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily allowance (RDA). And perhaps more worrisome than total fat is the Double Down’s saturated fat content of 10 grams. According to the American Diabetes Association, saturated fat should be limited to 7% of calories consumed, which is 15 grams daily for a 2,000-calorie diet. In the Double Down, saturated fat accounts for about 17% of the calories. Total fat is, of course, important to many people, and in that area the Double Down gets a whopping 54% of its calories from fat. (Click here for complete KFC nutrition information.)

Comparing it with other basic fast-food items, though, somewhat destroys the Double Down’s bad-boy image. A Big Mac, for example, has the same number of calories (540) and grams of saturated fat, with only slightly less total fat (29 grams). And it only delivers 25 grams of protein, compared with the Double Down’s 53 grams. While some people look to limit protein in their diet — particularly people with kidney disease — others find that protein helps them feel full and thus consume fewer calories. (While it doesn’t mention calories, the television ad for the Double Down alludes to its supposedly superior hunger satiation.) And, as might be expected of a bunless meat-and-cheese entrée, the Double Down has far less carbohydrate than the Big Mac: 11 grams versus 45. Compared with other chicken fast-food offerings, the Double Down looks almost angelic: A Tendercrisp sandwich from Burger King, for example, has 800 calories, 1,640 milligrams of sodium, and 68 grams of carbohydrate. And the grilled version of the Double Down has only 3 grams of carbohydrate, with less fat (23 grams) and fewer calories (460) as well.

What do you think — would you order a Double Down? Does media coverage of the Double Down give worse fast-food offerings (say, Burger King’s Tripple Whopper) a free pass? Should fast-food chains be blamed for the health effects of their offerings, or should customers be considered primarily responsible? Should any government regulation — beyond the labeling requirements included in the recent health care reform legislation — be pursued to curb fast-food excess? Leave a comment below!

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