Dangerous Dining with Alex #5

Snickers Bar

Overview: Small . . . but deadly?

Label: Short, and sweet. 250 calories. 12 g of total fat, including 4.5 g of saturated fat and 0.2 g of trans fat. 120 mg of sodium. Merciful heavens.

Review: I’m not allergic to peanuts. Very few people are. In the U.S. 0.6 % of the population has a peanut allergy. Nevertheless, peanutphobia is a big deal, and has probably had some impact on the sale of candy bars like Snickers. Even a Mars bar now has a “no peanuts” logo on the wrapper, despite the fact that I don’t think anyone thinks Mars bars have peanuts in them. Some people have seen in all this evidence of “mass psychogenic illness,” or a hysterical reaction out of all proportion to the actual danger. On the other side of such a debate, I remember the mother of a friend of mine once saying that people who really do have such allergies should “just be allowed to die,” as their bodies were obviously too weak to survive in a natural environment. She was a hard case.

The numbers here shocked me. This isn’t a big chocoloate bar. Only the length of my index finger (and I have small hands). And yet what a punch it has! That’s 1/4 of your daily recommended saturated fat in three or four bites. Or put another way, it’s 1/3 of the fat contained in an entire Dr. Oetker’s frozen pizza. And 250 calories! When I go to the gym, on some of the machines there’s a computer display that tells you how many calories you’re burning while you’re working out. 250 calories is half an hour of hard exercise — easily the hardest work I’ll do all day. And it’s all made up in one snack.

I love chocolate bars, and I like Snickers. These little guys are delicious. How could they not be? All they are is sugar and fat. Or, technically, they are 52 g in total, 12 of which are fat and 27 of which are sugar. They’re so tasty, I often have two. But as I get older I’m really wondering if this is a habit I can maintain. I also worry about my teeth. Snickers bars are quite sticky, and I often have to spend some time after finishing one scraping the residue from around my gums. That can’t be good.

Price: $0.89 on sale.

Score: 6 / 10

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Dangerous Dining with Alex #4

Dr. Oetker Ristorante Pizza Vegetale

Overview: A vegetarian pizza with a doctor’s name on it? How good/bad can it be?

Label: “Experience passion on your palate with Ristorante.” It’s hard to take that seriously. Anyway, the nutrition facts here aren’t as grim as you’d expect from a frozen pizza. Again, I’ve calculated a total for eating the entire pizza, which is only reasonable since they’re not that big. 800 calories, 36 g of fat (12 g of saturated fat; 0.8 g of trans fat). 1,600 mg of sodium (68% of my daily dose).

Healthy? Everything’s relative. Those numbers are literally half what you’d expect from a generic frozen pizza. So if you’re going to go frozen, this isn’t a bad bet.

Review: It’s pretty good, if bland. They do the thin crust right: it’s light and crispy, albeit totally tasteless. It also leaves a feel of grit in your mouth afterwards which is unfortunate. The chili peppers give it some zip, and the bell peppers maintain their texture well. It looks colourful, even appetizing, out of the oven. I don’t know if it’s the lack of meat, but there’s less slimy grease pooling on top and smeared on your plate for later clean up. It gets a bit runny, but that may be from the tomato slices. When you factor in the below-average toxicity, this is a pretty decent meal.

By the way, there really was a Dr. Oetker. He was a food scientist in late nineteenth-century Germany who developed a kind of baking powder. Apparently his descendants still run the company.

Price: $2.99 on sale.

Score: 6.5 / 10

Dangerous Dining with Alex #3

Subway Foot-long Cold Cut Sub

Overview: A few years back Subway was touting itself as fast food’s answer to healthy eating, with “Subway Guy” Jared Fogle being their poster boy for how you could lose weight eating their sandwiches. And they were indeed ahead of the curve on this point, being very proactive about listing the nutritional value of their meals before this was all that common. The branding worked. Even today my neighbour thinks of their subs as a “salad on a bun” for all the garden goodies they stuff in them.

Label: You can get quite a detailed nutrition guide at your local Subway, though it does take a bit of reckoning with a pen and calculator to figure out just what your meal finally adds up to. Basic sandwich values are for a six-inch sub on 9-grain wheat bread and limited garnishings. I only get foot-long subs on an Italian herbs & cheese bun, with the works and mayo. (As an aside, Jared lost weight by not including mayo on any of his subs.) So that’s 860 calories for the sub, plus an extra 220 for the mayo (damn, that stuff is killer!), plus an extra 80 for the bread, plus an extra 80 for the cheese. For a grand total of 1,240 calories. Which isn’t too bad. Sodium worked out to 2,720 mg though, which is well over the upper limit recommended by Health Canada. Finally, there was 71 g of fat, a number that took me by surprise. All of a sudden this doesn’t seem that healthy a dinner.

Review: As I said, I always get it on Italian herbs & cheese. Because it sounds more expensive? Because it sounds like you’re getting more “stuff” (herbs and cheese!) at no extra cost? Because the herbs make it sound sorta, kinda, healthy? I don’t know. I do know that I can’t stand whole wheat bread, so that’s off the table.

I eat at Subway a lot. Maybe not as much as Jared did, but a lot. It’s close and convenient. I like how quick the clean up is, the way you just stuff everything back into the sandwich bag and toss it. And I really like the taste too. I wouldn’t keep going back if I didn’t.

But I don’t think this is healthy eating. I could cut the mayo but I wouldn’t like it half as much. I could go with the six-inch sub but I wouldn’t feel full. This is the no-win logic of fast food. Or at least no win for me.

Price: $6.80.

Score: 6.5 / 10

Dangerous Dining with Alex #2

Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamers — Sweet Sesame Chicken

Overview: I like it when people ask what I had for dinner and I can tell them “sweet sesame chicken with rice, vegetables, and sweet and spicy sesame sauce.” Of course, if they know me they immediately say “that sounds like a prepared meal.”

Label: A healthy choice indeed! And for once the label gives you the all the nutritional facts up front with no need to do complicated calculations. Because really: it’s all in the bowl. You aren’t eating half of one of these. So here goes: 330 calories, 5 g of fat (no trans fat), and 330 g of sodium (only 14% of my daily recommended intake!). I could eat five or six of these things and still be coming in at numbers lower than a frozen pizza. Cancel my doctor’s appointment!

Review: Actually, it’s not hard for one of these individual meal packages to come in at a less-than-deadly nutritional rating. That’s because there’s really not very much to them.

The Gourmet Steamers give you slightly larger servings than the usual run of TV dinner, but just one of them isn’t going to fill you up. Even so, I very rarely eat more than one at a time so I get to feel healthy for a whole day.

This particular edition of the GS line is tasty and, as long as you’re not too hungry, satisfying. Though there’s no denying the unfortunate effect microwaving has on the texture of your food, and especially ingedients that are supposed to be a bit crispy, like the snow peas and carrots here. Once you mix it all together it’s just mush. The chicken pieces have the exact same mouth feel as everything else. But the spicy sesame sauce is nice and the different ingredients go well together.

Price: $2.99 on sale. A very good deal.

Score: 7.5 / 10

Dangerous Dining with Alex #1

McCain Thin Crust Canadian Pizza

Overview: What makes a “Canadian” pizza Canadian? The bacon? It’s an industry-wide label so it must have an origin story somewhere. The box here says “Canadian cheddar” so maybe that’s it.

Label: “Made with simple and wholesome ingredients, our pizzas are so delicious they come back with a money-back taste guarantee.” I went online and checked this out. Seems legit, but you have to have kept your original receipt.

The nutrition label gives information for 1/5 of a pizza. What use is that? Who cuts a pizza into five slices? Is it possible to cut a pizza into five slices? Anyway, when I eat a frozen pizza I eat the whole thing. What this added up to then is 1,250 calories. I got 120% of my daily fat (55 g), including 22.5 g of saturated fat and 1.5 g of trans fat. Trans fat is not illegal in Canada. Perhaps this is what makes it a Canadian pizza. I also got 135% of my daily sodium (3,200 mg). They don’t call frozen pizza a heart attack in a box for nothing.

Review: I only eat thin crust pizza, whether it’s home or delivery. Otherwise I just end up throwing away half the crust. And don’t get me started on that “stuffed-crust” business. That looks disgusting, and I have a pretty high threshold when it comes to eating disgusting food.

But a thin crust is supposed to be light and crispy. The crust here is heavy, dry and hard. It isn’t crispy at all but has the texture of baked cardboard. And despite all the sodium and other badness I found the whole thing to be almost tasteless. In particular there’s no zip to the “Canadian” cheddar. Maybe it’s the blandness that makes it Canadian!

The Italian sausage pellets don’t even look appetizing in the picture they have on the front of the box. What they look like is shiny rabbit turds. In my mouth they felt like little pencil erasers.

Price: $3.99. I picked it up on sale. That’s a cheap meal.

Score: 4.5 / 10