A report quickly went viral which claims to explain what happens to our bodies when we eat a McDonald’s Big Mac:
As a biology major and skeptic I was immediately intrigued by this, so I began reading through the post — and holy hell… I quickly found myself reading an article that was nothing more than a mashup of fear-mongering claims from misinformation. A lot of the scientific claims the authors made were just blatantly wrong; whether it was about biological processes or chemistry or something else. It’s especially disconcerting because these people are either completely unaware of what they’re talking about and are spreading grossly misleading information through their ignorance, or they are straight up just lying and purposefully creating fear amongst the public against McDonalds. Now don’t get me wrong, they do get a lot of stuff right but I really want to take the time to deconstruct and refute all the bullshit assertions the authors try to maintain in this article.
Before we move on, I want to reiterate that I am only going to be referencing specific claims they made, but you are absolutely free to read their full report here.
1. “Our brains evolved during a time when food was scarce, so we became adept at choosing high-calorie foods.”
Wow, I didn’t even get past the first sentence. This is absolutely misleading.
They’re making a claim of fact here that has not actually been confirmed. There is evidence to suggest that eating insects when food was scarce possibly helped our brains grow, but the evidence is not as concrete as they’re making it seem. They are also switching the arrows of cause and effect: it’s not that our brains evolved and grew so we started eating high calorie foods to compensate, it’s that we developed our cognitive function from foraging for food [insects] that was high in fat and protein thus causing our brains to grow and develop. There are other hypotheses that look for links between our diet and the development of our brains, like the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in an article for the New Yorker, “According to what’s known as the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, early humans compensated for the energy used in their heads by cutting back on the energy used in their guts; as man’s cranium grew, his digestive tract shrank. This forced him to obtain more energy-dense foods than his fellow-primates were subsisting on, which put a premium on adding further brain power.”
2. “Junk food triggers your brain’s reward system by releasing a surge of ‘feel-good’ chemicals – such as the neurotransmitter dopamine – which induce feelings of pleasure. This process works in a similar way to that of drugs such as cocaine and contributes to the likelihood of compulsive eating.”
Wow, you know what else releases dopamine? Literally fucking anything you find pleasurable, like fucking. This is just another misleading declaration that really means nothing. It’s a substanceless argument.
3. “Did you know that the Big Mac bun has high levels of high fructose corn syrup […]”
No, I didn’t. Because it fucking doesn’t. “Made with” is not the same as “has high levels of”. Most of the sugars are needed for the yeast to rise the bread. The three buns have 7g of sugars. For comparison, a typical “fat free” yogurt packs around 25-35 g of sugars. Scary, huh?
4. “A Big Mac contains 970 milligrams of sodium. This huge amount of salt can result in dehydration.”
JFC, this is total hyperbole. A gram of sodium is not a huge amount. Never mind that “sodium” and “salt” aren’t even the same fucking thing, but the daily amount you can safely consume, according to the FDA, is 2,300 mg of sodium… So yea, 970 mg is really not as huge an amount as they’re making it seem. You get WAY more on the rim of a fucking margarita, and sports drinks contain salts precisely because the salt helps retain fluids. You can eat two and a half Big Macs without exceeding the daily recommended dose of sodium and an occasional splurge won’t kill you.
5. “[…] it takes approximately 51 days to digest trans fat.”
Okay, even snakes don’t have that slow of digestion. It takes us about a day to digest food. I mean, it takes a bit longer to go through the full metabolic cycle and eventually be converted into energy, but that still doesn’t even come near to taking 51 days. Seriously, where did they pull that arbitrary number from? I couldn’t find any source that backs this claim up.
I will add, though, that trans fat should absolutely be completely removed from the diet if possible, but that is a different topic.
6. “Bun Ingredients: Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Sesame Seeds, Leavening (Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate), May Contain One or More Dough Conditioners (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Calcium Propionate (Preservative).”
And what is this supposed to prove? But okay, I’ll humor them. I’ll play this game. Just naming off a bunch of chemicals to scare people? Okay. Let me list all the “scary chemicals” that are found in Tea: Butanol, Iso amyl alcohol, Hexanol, Phenyl Ethanol, Tannin, Benzyl alcohol, Caffeine, Geraniol, Guercetin, 3-Galloyl Epicatchin, 3-Galloyl Epigallocatchin and Inorganic Salts.
Sounds terrifying when I say it like that, right? So really, shut the fuck up. Your chemical illiteracy is not impressive to me.
7. They do the above chemical scare with the cheese, beef patty, sauce, and pickles in the burger. I think you guys get the point I was making, so I’m just going to leave that shit alone.
8. “Calories can be scary to think about. When you think about them in the context of a Big Mac, they’re terrifying.”
Is this the good calorie vs bad calorie argument? C’mon, there’s no such thing as a good or bad calorie. And even if that wasn’t their argument, calories are really not that scary.
But I mainly want to take this time to talk about diets, because the authors reference diets in this section to help build their case of “there are too many calories in a Big Mac”.
I don’t think it’s any secret that many, if not most, mainstream “weight-loss” diets are actually complete bullshit. In fact, biology shows that those that a lot of those diets are actually worse for you.
When you eat, your body takes the lipids (fat), carbohydrates (sugars), proteins, and nucleic acids from the foods and stores/uses these molecules for energy and other processes.
Now, the first thing your body uses for energy are the carbohydrates (sugar). There are monosaccharides (simple sugars like glucose), disaccharides, trisaccharides, etc, all the way up to polysaccharides, which is stored as glycogen in our muscles. Many monosaccharides actually build up and store in polysaccharides. These sugars don’t provide a ton of energy, but carbohydrates are easy to break down so they are our body’s primary source of energy.
Lipids (fat), on the other hand, are a rich source of energy, providing about 10x more energy than carbohydrates. So our bodies store these molecules and save them for the times when we most need energy, like in times of starvation. Wouldn’t you want to save high-energy batteries for emergencies and just use the low-energy batteries during your normal, every-day life? This is what our bodies do and it’s very efficient.
So when people put themselves on one of these ‘eat-less’ diets, they’re essentially just putting their bodies into what I like to call “starvation mode.” They’re eating very little amounts of food which is essentially starving the body of nutrition. But what does that actually do biologically? Well, every time they finally allow themselves eat, their bodies begin storing more and more lipids because the brain and body are panicking from lack of food and so the body stores more of the long-lasting energy, aka fat. So really all they’re doing is taking in more fatty molecules for storage in order to get themselves through their
starvation diet. And then they go to the gym and walk on the treadmill or do their cardio for about an hour a few days a week. The problem with that is they’re really only burning the dreaded “carbs” and are not doing enough to burn the lipids. They’re burning the stuff that doesn’t even make them fat.
So they store more lipids, which is what actually makes them fat, and they burn all the carbs. This is exactly why the “miracle weight-loss” diets don’t work. They’re trendy fads and nutritionists are usually not biologists. If you want good nutritional advice or have any questions about your diet, speak to a dietician. I would not recommend going to a nutritionist. Many of them just have no idea what they’re talking about, and it’s easy to tell just from the ridiculous amount of failed or failing diet plans. What tends to happen to many, many people who go on these diets is that when they reach their desired weight, they get off the diet and begin eating normally again. They think their work is done. The problem is, what were they storing through that entire process of basically starving themselves? That’s right, the fat. So what ends up happening is that after they get off these diets they actually end up gaining even more weight than they started out with and now they have to work extra hard to either maintain that weight or lose it again through a new weight-loss diet (which may inevitably end up making them even fatter).
So how the hell are you supposed to lose weight? Well, if you really want to burn the *actual* fat, you have to do cardio 4-5 times a week for about an hour and a half each time. Because other than that, you’re just burning sugar, not fat.
But there’s an even more important aspect to losing weight that not a lot of people really understand. The secret is that you actually have to eat more often, but smaller meals. Yup. It sounds counter-intuitive, but your body doesn’t lie. The best way to lose weight is to eat 5 small meals a day and work out 4-5 times a week for about an hour and half. That way you’re not storing too many lipids, and the ones that you do store you simply burn some of them off, effectively maintaining a healthy weight and body fat index. Just remember that you have to actually work out because you will absolutely get fat this way. This method is what’s known as the calorie in/calorie out system. If you want to lose weight, you essentially have to burn more calories than you consume. Pretty simple logic and it actually has some kind of basis in thermodynamics.
BUT. And that’s a big but (teehee). Always keep in mind that fat is absolutely necessary in your body. You need lipids to live. You don’t want to completely get rid of your fat. You see those runners with like 1% body fat? They’re actually not that healthy. Why? Because they have no energy stored to keep their bodies functioning properly. I mean, unless they’re eating just enough carbs that they could use as energy, they have absolutely no reserve energy; and I doubt that’s happening anyways. I mean really, how often do you see an ex-marathon runner in good health in their old age? Or even see an older ex-marathon runner, period? They have ran their bodies into the ground and used them up in their early years. Their joints are shot, their muscles have deteriorated, it’s not good.
So yea, it’s a balance, guys. Do not starve yourselves. Eating more often with smaller portions and exercising using the calorie in/calorie out system is one of the healthiest and most effective ways to lose weight.
And finally, in defense of weight-loss diets, Weight Watchers is actually pretty good. It’s probably the only diet that’s actually based on biological science. They don’t give you pre-packaged meals (you essentially eat what you want), they put you on the 5 meal a day plan, and they have seminars that sort of teach you the same concepts that I talked about in this post. So if you really need the structure of a diet program to help you lose weight, I would absolutely recommend Weight Watchers.
9. “can cause obese” (on the actual infograph)
No fucking comment.
10. The final thing I really want everyone to focus on, because it’s very important with any report, is to read through the sources they cite. In this case, they cite sources such as: Fox News (twice), TheHealthyTrucker (???), and a few sites that I’ve either never heard of or sound horribly biased (like healthyeating and foodmatters).
These sources are obviously a huge red flag, so always remember to read the sources on any report you read. They can be extremely telling, even before you begin reading the actual report.
In conclusion, eating burgers every day is obviously not inherently healthy. Saturated fats like butter are a huge problem in the American diet. I understand the sentiment they were trying to make and I advocate for healthier eating as much as the next guy, but using hyperboles, grossly misleading statements, or downright lying does not support the cause whatsoever. Real, objective science will always prevail.
-The Hectic Skeptic