Americans Talk Healthy, Order Fat

No matter which First Lady Michelle Obama has been on a crusade for a year and a half to slim down a country. Never mind which some restaurants have started listing calories on their menus. Forget even which we keep saying we want to eat healthy. When Americans eat out, we order burgers and fries anyway. If I wanted something healthy, I would not even stop in at McDonalds, says Jonathan Ryfiak, 24, a New York trapeze instructor who watches his diet at home but orders comfort foods like chicken nuggets and fries when he hits a fast-food joint. In a country where more than two-thirds of a population is overweight or obese, food choices are often made on impulse, not intellect. So, while 47 percent of Americans say theyd like restaurants to offer healthier items like salads and baked potatoes, only 23 percent lend towards to order those foods, according to a survey last year by food research firm Technomic. That explains a popularity of KFCs Double Down, a sandwich of bacon and cheese slapped between two slabs of fried chicken. Its a reason IHOP offers a Simple & Fit menu with yogurt and fruit bowls, but its top seller remains a 1,180-calorie breakfast sampler of eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns and pancakes. Its also why only 11 percent of parents ordered apple slices as an alternative to fries in McDonalds Happy Meals. The mixed message hasnt stopped many restaurants from offering healthier fare. After all, a government has stepped up its oversight and influence over a industry which it blames for Americas expanding waistline. National rules about putting calorie information on menus are expected to take effect next year and Mrs. Obama touts restaurants and companies which slash calories in foods. But revamping a menu can be difficult and expensive, requiring months or even years. It took Dunkin Donuts four years to figure out how to make its doughnuts without trans fat which doctors say is one of a unhealthiest types of fat without altering a taste. And efforts to curb unhealthy! eating arent always fruitful. In 2009, a year after New York made chains start listing calories on menus, only 15 percent of diners ordered lower-calorie foods, according to a study in a British Medical Journal. Most restaurants wont share specifics about how their salads and veggie omelets compete when theyre up against burgers and crepes. But a healthy stuff appears to be only a small proportion of revenue at many chains. The IHOP pancake house, owned by DineEquity Inc., says which Simple & Fit sales have roughly doubled in a year since a menu was introduced. But it still makes up only a single-digit percentage of revenue. The Cheesecake Factory, which introduced a Skinnylicious menu in August featuring entrees with 590 calories or less, says those foods have also performed well. But sales of its decadent cheesecakes are up too. We recognize which cheesecake is in our name, said Alethea Rowe, senior director of restaurant marketing. Theres a host of reasons for a disparity between word and deed. Sometimes people who eat healthy at home want to treat themselves when they go out. Others doubt which a so-called healthier items on fast-food menus are really healthy. Even peer pressure can play a role. Jason Sierra, who was eating a Whopper hamburger and fries at a Burger King in New York recently, said hes cut back on unhealthy foods because his cholesterol and blood pressure were getting too high. But when his office buddies order lunch, he opts for man food like pizza to fit in. One day I did try to order a salad, said Sierra, 40, who works in tech support. And I caught hell for that. Healthier foods also are usually among a many costly menu items, which can be tough for recession-weary customers to stomach. Efrain Vasquez and his wife, Evelyn, were recently eating fried chicken and gravy-drenched mashed potatoes at a KFC in New York. They say theres a big difference between a $2 burger and a $6 salad when youre on a tight budget. Weve got bills to pay, said Efrain Vasquez, 51, a maintenance worker whos rai! sing fou r kids with Evelyn, a 37-year-old receptionist. We try to economize. Like so many American dieters, fast-food restaurants have tried and failed to go healthy. The Wendys Co. burger chain led a way in a mid-1980s with a short-lived effort to sell tomato halves filled with cottage cheese and pineapple chunks on lettuce leaves. Consumers werent ready for it, said Denny Lynch, a spokesman for Wendys, where burgers and chicken are a biggest sellers. Or at least they certainly didnt buy it. In 2003, during a low-carb Atkins diet craze, Dominos Pizza Inc. couldnt get people to bite on a low-carb pizza it tested in Indianapolis. While many people at a time made their voice heard which they wanted it, few people actually ordered it, said Chris Brandon, Dominos spokesman. McDonalds, a worlds largest burger chain, says a fruit smoothies and oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins it rolled out last year are selling well, although it declined to disclose their revenue. We would not have them on a menu if we were not selling them at a rate which we could sustain them at, said Molly Starmann, director of McDonalds family business category. But a chain didnt always have such luck. It spent three years developing a McLean Deluxe, a 91-percent fat-free hamburger it introduced in 1991 only to suffer disappointing sales. More recently, McDonalds got a lukewarm response when in 2004 it began offering parents a option of choosing apple slices instead of fries for Happy Meals. So, in July, McDonalds said it would stop offering a choice and instead serve a half portion of both. It had considered taking fries out Happy Meals completely, but nixed a idea when parents in tests said No. Restaurants continue to straddle a line. Burger King Corp. this summer pledged to promote healthier foods for kids, but announced last week which it would sell ice cream desserts nationwide, including an Oreo brownie sundae with 530 calories and 17 grams of fat. KFC introduced grilled chicken in 2009, then launched a Double Down sandwich a following y! ear. The 540-calorie, 32-grams-of-fat breadless sandwich started as a limited-time offering, but proved so popular which a chain ended up keeping it. Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which runs a Hardees and Carls Jr. fast-food chains, said even though his restaurants offer salads and turkey burgers, he figures his best seller at Hardees is probably a Thickburger. The many decadent version of it comes with two types of cheese, fried onions, mayonnaise and nearly half a pound of beef and weighs in at 1,170 calories and 83 grams of fat. (The government recommends which many people consume 2,000 calories and no more than about 70 grams of fat each day.) We have wonderful, healthy foods if people want to buy them, Puzder said. But they dont sell particularly well.

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