Impressed by the demise of Supersize? Take a closer look

So McDonald's is ditching its Supersize servings of french fries and sodas in a move designed to help customers -- cough, cough -- "support a balanced lifestyle."

Nutritionists and food-industry experts far and wide are heaping praise upon the fast-food giant, which made the announcement last week. Headline writers breathlessly proclaim that McDonald's is "slimming down its menu."

"With obesity on the rise and looking for methods of prevention and treatment, I think it's a great statement," one food expert said in an interview with New York TV station WSTN.

"I think it's bold, it's progressive," another told the Baltimore Sun. "They're an industry leader acting like an industry leader, acting responsibly." Wow.

Sounds like McDonald's is going to be the next Saladworks, doesn't it?


Now for a little perspective.

I did my own little test on Friday and found there's barely a difference in either calories or fat between the Supersize and the "large" servings.

First, the drink. A Supersize Coke comes in a 42-ounce cup and, according to McDonald's, is supposed to contain 410 calories. Its large comes in a 32-ounce cup and is supposed to have 310 calories.

The Supersize costs $1.79, and the large costs $1.55 -- a difference of 24 cents. I bought one of each last week, and guess what?

Both contained the same amount of soda - 24 ounces. The only difference was in the amount of ice in each cup; the Supersize drink contained 35 ice cubes and the large only 17.

(The McDonald's I went to was not one of the many that offer self-serve fountain sodas.)

So in my case, whether I paid more or less, I got the same amount of soda and calories.

Now for the french fries.

The Supersize serving, according to McDonald's' own guidelines, is supposed to be 7 ounces and contain 610 calories and 29 grams of fat -- or about half of your daily recommended fat intake. The "large" is less than 1 ounce smaller -- 6.2 ounces -- and contains 540 calories and 26 grams of fat.

I bought one of each. The Supersize fries cost me $1.95, and the "large" cost me $1.70, 25 cents less.

The difference?

The Supersize had only two -- yes, two -- more fries. That's 12 1/ 2 cents for each additional fry.

The nutritional difference between the two red envelopes of fries? About 8 calories and less than 1/2 gram of fat.

Now, what's all this about "slimming down the menu" and helping customers "support a balanced lifestyle?"

Besides the negligible difference between the controversial Supersize and the plain old "large" servings, there's another little problem with McDonald's' new "healthy" image -- the rest of its menu.

What about the Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, which contains 770 calories and 47 grams of fat? Or the Spanish Omelette Bagel, which has 710 calories and 40 grams of fat?

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against fast food. I love McDonald's french fries just as much as the next person. And as far as I'm concerned, they can keep the Double Quarter Pounder on the menu.

But let's not give the impression that fast food is good for you. Did anybody really believe KFC last year when its ads proclaimed its food to be healthy? The chicken restaurant chain has since yanked the commercials, and rightly so.

Here's some good advice about maintaining a "balanced lifestyle:" The next time a fast-food joint offers you advice on staying fit, take it with a grain of salt.

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