Saturday, May 22, 2004

Clean living, step by step

Like it? 
Riddle me this. When is a salad not quite a salad?

Answer: When it contains more cholesterol than you'll find in a Slim Jim.

I'll return to that in a moment. But let me share a movie recommendation with you first.

The other day, my wife and I saw a hilarious and scary documentary playing in some theaters now called "Super Size Me."

The director, Morgan Spurlock a hillbilly-looking gent with a Fu Manchu mustache, decided he would call attention to the nation's obesity epidemic by eating nothing but McDonald's food for a month, for every meal of the day. Yes, that includes both high tea and midfast, the meal I invented between the midnight snack and breakfast.

"Super Size Me" is a record of Spurlock's experience cramming fries and McMystery Meat down his gullet. During the experiment, Spurlock traveled the country eating McGriddles and Quarter Pounders, sucking down milkshakes and 42-ounce Cokes, and exposing exactly how unwholesome and nutritionless McDonald's food is.

The guy started out pretty svelte, and ended up gaining 30 pounds. He saw his cholesterol levels skyrocket, ate something like 17 pounds of fat, and came this close to contracting a hilarious case of liver failure.

Spurlock, by the way, is the man you can thank (or punch in the face, if you're so inclined) for single-handedly convincing McDonald's to discontinue the colossally unhealthy Super Sizes.

Not long after that, the fast-food company also started releasing the Go Active! Happy Meal for adults. It's supposed to be a healthy choice. It contains a salad, a bottled water (which you can substitute for a Coke, I found out) and a pedometer--or a "Stepometer," they call it, for people who're unsure how long a ped is.

Also included in the standard options package is a wagging finger ordering you to get the hell off the couch and walk someplace.

The movie and its after effects got me thinking, which is nice for a change. I always knew that eating Mickey D's was bad for you--which is why I usually prefer to nuggetize my own chickens, thank you very much. But after the movie I was wondering if those Go Active! meals are actually healthy.

I'm not a health nut by any means, but I'm trying to do better. More importantly, when I eat a salad, I expect it to be reasonably nutritious--the same way that when I drink a beer, I expect it to be fattening and full of alcohol.

"I don't know--it's McDonald's, and nothing's healthy in that place," I told my wife after we staggered out of the movie theater. We were still exhausted from watching a stomach stapling surgery that Spurlock edited into the movie in gloriously icky color. "Then again, it's a salad, so it must be."

"Salad, schmalad," my wife said. "I want a Stepometer."

So we did our own little experiment. I patronized a McDonald's and bought two Go Active! Happy Meals, one for me and one for my wife. Behind me in line, somebody told a friend she wanted to buy a salad with Chicken McNuggets on the side.

When I brought home the salads, my wife was disappointed. The salads were in a bag.

"No box?" she asked.

"I, too, was led to believe they would be in a box," I said. " I also assumed the box would have games and areas for coloring."

Like any good Happy Meal eaters, we went straight for the toys, tearing into our Stepometers with our teeth. You clip it to your belt and it counts how many steps you take. "If you have a large stomach," the guide notes with a wink, "try placing the Stepometer on the side of your hip." The helpful guide estimates about 2,000 steps as a mile.

After we finished off our salads, my wife clipped the Stepometer to the dog, Sable, and ran her around the house for a while. Then she came back and checked the Stepometer.

"Three," she said.

"Those are in dog steps," I said.

We walked Sable around Robeson Street for a while, both wearing our Stepometers and trying our best to digest the salads. It was at this time that I revealed how much the salads cost. She kicked me in the groin.

"Twelve bucks?" she said. "For two salads and water?"

"Aw, come on," I said, pinching her rear end.

"You're throwing off my Stepometer," she said.

Back at home, we compared our results. She took almost 5,180 steps. I took 4,113, and we're about the same height. Something seemed odd, so I put one Stepometer on one leg and one on the other. I walked through the house, from the TV to the fridge, and discovered that my right leg took 23 steps while my left leg took 11.

Later, we were in for more disillusionment. We checked the McDonald's Web site for nutrition information on their salads. I had a Crispy Bacon Ranch salad with croutons and ranch dressing. All told, it was 590 calories, about as much as a Big 'N Tasty. I ate 58 percent of my daily recommended allowance of fat, which is more than a Big Mac contains. And I ate a whopping 71 percent of my suggested daily intake of salt, which is the equivalent of eating five boxes of large fries.

As I wrote earlier, you're better off eating a Slim Jim. The salad has 10.5 times as much cholesterol.

So the salads were unhealthy--oh, and the bottled water was lukewarm. Anybody hoping that Ronald McDonald had turned over a new leaf with the Go Active! Happy Meal salads will be disappointed. Make your own--it's cheaper and more nutritious.

On the other hand, the Stepometer is a fun toy. For instance, it takes me between 22 and 46 steps to walk from the TV to the fridge to grab a beer and walk back. If I do that between 43 and 91 times, I'll have walked a mile. And after all that exercise, I'll sleep like a baby.

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