Health Devolution: McDonald’s Israel No Longer Lets You Swap Fries for Salad

The fast food chain likes to declare having undergone a “total health revolution” – but in practice, it steers diners to items with high sugar, fat, and calories contents. The chain says it ended the salad option because of low demand and will reconsider ‘should there be renewed demand’

Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder
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McDonald's restaurant  in Wilkinsburg, Pa.
McDonald's restaurant in Wilkinsburg, Pa.Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP
Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder

Has McDonald’s finally given up on the pretense of offering a “healthy revolution” through its golden arches? Recently, Israeli patrons of the fast food chain have noticed that the option of choosing a green salad as a substitute for French fries in combo meals has been removed.

Now they can only choose between two types of fries – regular or “potato wedges.” Those who want a green salad alongside their burger have to buy each separately, at slightly greater total cost. The default option in the chain’s meals is thus the one with higher sugar and fat content, and not the healthier one.

McDonald’s Israel says that the option of choosing a salad as a side in a combo meal existed until recently, but was “terminated due to lack of demand.” The chain says it will reconsider “should there be renewed demand, and notes that the option still exists for children’s meals.

Preferring fries to salad is hardly unique to Israel: Two weeks ago, McDonald’s U.S. announced that it would stop offering items that are have low demand and take longer to make – its salads, grilled chicken breast sandwiches, the yoghurt parfait. You might say that the veneer of health has been stripped away in favor of profits, leaving McDonald’s with its core business: Burgers, fries, soft drinks and desserts.

Until recently, things sounded completely different: McDonald’s Israel’s main marketing message in recent years had to do with the “total health revolution” the chain had undergone, including reducing the amount of fat in its beef, removing trans fat from the fries, reducing the amount of saturated fat in the fried items, and reducing sugar and sodium in all items.

The chain previously went on the offensive against former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who declared “McDonald’s, out” and tried to turn the chain into a symbol of harmful food.

The company was quick to respond: “If the Health Ministry were to speak of the science of nutrition and take an interest in it, it would have realized that McDonald’s Israel, after the enormous health revolution it has initiated, is the solution – not the problem.” In other words, the company was suggesting that eating at McDonald’s was actually a healthy choice.

Mcdonald's in Be’er Sheva.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

But a quick glance at its branches in Israel shows that as of today, health and McDonald’s bear but the slimmest of connections. The chain may have improved the quality of its products slightly, but it herds its patrons to the less healthy choices.

Besides than removing the salad from the value meals, the new items on the chain’s menu carry a hefty increase in calories compared to the old staples. One example the Onion Rings McRoyale – a hamburger with deep-fried onion rings inside the bun. As a meal, this comes with a supersized fries and drink by default.

Those choosing Coke as their beverage will consume 1,400 calories in that single meal. Those forgoing the sugary beverages for water will consume “only” 930 calories. Incidentally, the rival chain, Burger King, doesn’t even have a salad option in its kids’ meals. But it never claimed to lead a health revolution, either.

Credit: Hadas Parush

The trend of renouncing healthy aspirations is sadly at odds with the trend of obesity among children, adolescents, and the overall population. Over the past few decades, Israel has seen a four-fold increase in the rate of adolescents defined as slightly overweight, and a 20-fold increase in those classified as obese. Adolescent obesity is linked to a long list of chronic diseases, chief among them Type 2 diabetes, increases the chance of premature death, and adversely affects longevity in general.

True, nobody forced you to go to McDonald’s, or take your kids there, and certainly not frequently. But today, it’s clearer than ever that the general obesity trend cannot be attributed only to individual behavior, but also to the environment in which we live and the temptations surrounding us, and that legislation and regulation have a critical role in stemming the tide – just as they did with smoking.

McDonald’s said in response to a request for comment: “From 2004 to this day, McDonald’s Israel has been leading the health revolution. Among the chain’s prominent steps: Use of 100 percent unprocessed lean beef, with no additives, including only 9 percent fat, use of canola oil of equal quality to olive oil, reducing sodium levels to recommended healthy levels, serving water with Happy Meals, reducing the fat quotient in sauces, increasing the amount of vegetables in the offerings, and more.”

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