Crisps better than salad?

By Dagmar
In Complementing
Aug 2nd, 2014

The nutrition fallacy does not seem to have an end in the current time of widely available information for free. Some people also seem to lack a basic logic and common sense when writing their articles, making people confused. Because I have read the content, which I am going to dispute below, for three times in the past three days, I could not resist to share my opinion about it and to put it in a wider context, where it actually belongs.

So, is a bag of crisps a healthier option than a salad made of lettuce, herbs, vegetables, meat and dressing? Or is Mac burger a better option than Mac salad?

Look what published recently:

Should have had the burger: Study of 650 top retailers’ salad dishes reveals astonishing levels of salt.

While the article contains generally a good information and within the context, this title does a bad service to people as this is what will stick with their minds the most. Moreover, the article was illustrated with this picture:


Did the figures convince you? Are you missing something? I am. What size is that hamburger? These two items are of McDonald menu. While I do not go to Mac, I remember from being there a couple of times in my life, how small the hamburgers were. The one on the picture is just a simple hamburger, probably the smallest they make. If you go to Mac, do you normally have only this item and leave? I doubt so. WHERE ARE THE FRIES? I do not know anyone who would prefer the fries without salt added on them. What is more, even the smallest option, which is the kids portion of fries, contains additional 101 kcal. How about the small portion for adults? Beautiful 231 kcal. Medium portion has whopping 380 kcal just as that salad on its own on the right side of the picture. These fries figures are for the U.S.; in the UK they are slightly lower: 230 and 330kcal, respectively. No figures for kids portion (if they have any).  The content of sodium listed on the U.S. website is low, because this is before the salt was added, which most of the Mac customers normally do. The UK McDonald website lists the content of salt to be 0.4 g, 0.6 g, and 0.8 g for the small, medium and large portion of fries, respectively. Yet some people still tend to add a little more, don’t they? Even without that added salt, a small portion of fries accompanying that little burger would give you a total 1.6g of salt, hence more than the salad. Now, can anyone tell me whether the salad consumers also add the fries to their menu with extra salt on top? And, are the sizes of the two portions above realistic? I doubt so. The calorie content is not the only guide of satiety. In fact, people respond better to a volume of food and the time it took them to eat a particular portion than to the energy content of the particular meal. This means that if a burger has half volume of the salad, people are likely eating two burgers while still eating that one portion of salad. Do the math and you will see what I am saying.

If I was a customer of McDonald, instead of that small burger I would consider the Big Mac as a whole meal, similarly as I would consider that salad as a whole meal (not needed to add fries or anything on top or to the side). For the information about Big Mac click on Beef in a drop-down menu and in another menu pick the Big Mac, click on ‘Add to nutrition calculator’ tab. Its energy content is 490 kcal, with 2.1g of salt, and most people probably do not have it alone anyway. BTW, the cheeseburger, which is of the same size of the basic hamburger, has 295 kcal and 1.5g of salt, hence more salt than the salad, and still without the fries. And we do not need to discuss the satisfying effect of these two, because anyone who really listens to their stomach will confirm that the lettuce and vegetables in the salad bring a sort of uplifting feeling inside the tummy, instead of a heavy feeling after the burger, fries and a cola. Even visually the burger does not look right next to the salad, does it?

Let’s continue.

Express website also published a similar article over a week ago:

Secret stash: Does your salad have more salt than a packet of crisps? DANGEROUS amounts of salt continue to be added to many restaurant, cafe and supermarket salads, according to a new survey.

They meant the same survey as the previous article referred to a ‘study’. While I agree, that salt is being added to the processed foods, partly to help avoiding bacterial growth and also to enhance the taste, there is no excuse for such distorted comparisons as has been presented to you:

If you’re out and about you might think a salad is the healthiest option, but a recent survey proves a bowl of leafy greens could be worse for you than a hamburger or a packet of crisps.

Now, tell me: would you eat the salad as a snack and have another main meal soon after, as it is often with the crisps? Or would you eat those crisps instead of a burger to fill your stomach a bit? They refer to the medium sized 32.5 g bags of crisps not the proper big bag to be shared on parties. Who would eat this small bag of crisps as a full lunch menu? Even the Lites Ready Salted Walkers crisps have the energy content of 132 kcal per 28g bag, according to What is the satiating effect of the bag of crisps and what is of the salad? A silly question, is it not? A sodium content is definitely lower in the crisps, but are we comparing comparable? Not at all.

Another thing is, which I have realized when exploring the McDonald website for nutrition information was, that there were choices for the salad, with having the chicken grilled or crispy (breaded and fried), or with and without bacon. Why did the media choose to compare the worst version of the salad with the ‘best’ version of hamburger? I leave the answer on you. But to make you see the fallacy of such media articles, I provide you with the comparison between these two salad options and you tell me how bad this is:

salad comparison

You see, that the portion is comparable, the menu should be available in each McDonald restaurant (if not, beat them up! … joking) and a health conscious customer should make the right choice if they want to.

Now I make a comparison between the comparable – the ‘best’ hamburger and the best salad of McDonald menu (the burger still without the fries):


Does it need any comment? Add the fries to the burger and remember the content of vitamins, minerals, enzymes in fresh salad and vegetables – totally lacking in the burger, aka processed, option. Even if you, for some reason, added the fries to the salad (child portion), it still might come out better than the burger alone.

Now, back to the ‘bag of crisps being better than the salad’. A few seconds of searching has revealed that those crisps are having even higher energy content than the salad above, exactly total of 170 kcal for the non-light bag of regular salted Walkers crisps (32g) to which the Metro article referred initially. Compare the volume, satiating effect and the energy content of the healthier salad and these crisps and you see where the articles writers went wrong. It is apparent that the writers have mismatched the terms snack and meal. But the titles of their articles look shocking, do they not? Exactly as is shocking their incompetence to present relevant facts.

The Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) has conducted this survey to reveal the amount of salt in foods to point at dangers for population in case they have not been aware about the amount of salt in such food items. I am fine with that. Excess of everything is likely to be harmful. However, I doubt that CASH would suggest to swap the salad for a burger or a bag of crisps. These were just the sensational claims of the authors writing the articles to attract people’s attention and to make them reading their media and comment on them online, which means profits to the media. But I consider the claims like these to be dangerous, because general people may not see through their manipulative tactics and believe that the crisps or a burger is really better, because they contain less salt per portion, hence protecting their cardiovascular system. And now you know that the small portion of crisps or the tiny burger is not equal to the portion of the salad, aimed to be a whole meal. Even if I have chosen the worse version of salad, I believe that I would be better off than either eating the whole McDonald menu (not just the burger itself) or eating the burger and soon looking for something else to fill me up.

To end this article, I would like to make you aware, that although the official bodies warn the public against the high levels of salt in foods, only about half of the population is salt sensitive, which means that they react with increased blood pressure on the high salt intake. Although the excess of salt on a regular basis can have other negative effects on our health, I do not think that choosing a salad on an occasional visit of the fast food outlet would do us much harm, even if it was that nasty Pizza Express grand chicken Caesar salad containing 5.3g of salt, mentioned in the Metro article. There are many other factors that contribute to the blood pressure and many of these lay on our food rich in sugars, fats, lacking raw plant substances such as salads and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Being overweight, stressed, having a family history of hypertension, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and other factors contribute to the cardiovascular diseases in addition to our diet and a few grams of salt within. So, if there is so much salt all around us and we want some snack, why not having an apple instead of crisps?

My message to you is: watch the salt intake, but do not get fooled by articles like those I have probed here. Keep your common sense switched on. Good luck.

And here is a bonus to cheer you up :) Have a nice day.

About "" Has 48 Posts

Graduated at London Metropolitan University: BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition in 2014. Working as a research assistant at the MRC, The University of Cambridge.

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