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The fast food diet: Are Jared and Christine losing it?

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Dougherty at a Taco Bell drive-thru in NY. (AP Photo/Taco Bell, Dianne Bondareff)

Everyone knows Subway's Jared. He is the guy who, while in college, decided to try to lose weight with exercise and eating Subway sandwiches.

Jared Fogle's plan has come with success, having dropped his weight from 425 pounds to a current 190 pounds. Because of this, advertising executives snatched Fogle from his Bloomington, IN, roots and inserted him as the primary pusher of Subway's sandwiches for the better part of the last 9 years. But in the world of fast food diets, Jared now has competition.

Enter Taco Bell's Christine Dougherty. Christine's story is very similar to Jared's: she lost weight while eating fast food and exercising. In fact, she claims to have lost over 45 pounds in a two-year period; all while eating from Taco Bell's 'Fresco' menu (up to 8 times per week). Her commercial points out that she reduced her daily caloric intake to a diminutive 1250 per day. Anything under 1200 calories per day signals malnutrition. Can we have our burrito and eat it, too?

Abby Ellin from The New York Times recently interviewed Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo (Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at UC, San Francisco) to weigh in on this fast food phenomena:

“When we take these other things out of food we often add back salt, and the salt is so far in excess of what would be considered a healthy quantity that it definitely counteracts any healthy benefits.”

Order the Fresco Burrito Supreme Chicken from Taco Bell, and you are staring at 1410 milligrams of sodium. The American Heart Association advises a person should only have 1500 milligrams of daily sodium intake. Eat the burrito and you will ingest 94% of the AHA's daily recommendation in just one sitting! This leaves just enough wiggle room for a Tic-Tac and bottled water.

Understand that diets high in sodium have been linked to hypertension. The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk for heart disease and stroke. Mississippians should take note, considering cardiovascular disease (or CVD) is the leading killer in the state. Age, gender, and race, also play important roles in this sodium-based equation.

David Zinczenko, the Editor-in-Chief of the popular Men's Health magazine was recently interviewed on NBC's Today Show regarding the fast food diet. He suggests "healthier options" from fast food chains could help in weight loss; " You have to go in there with a strategy, with a gameplan. If you do that, make the smart choices, you absolutely can lose weight".

OK, so a person could conceivably lose weight by choosing wisely in the drive-thru. But with these "smart choices", sometimes comes a price: high sodium content to replace the loss of fat (the stuff that makes fast food delicious). Regardless of the diet a person chooses to lose weight, the old adage still stands, 'No pain, no gain'. Routine exercise is key.

Although Jared and Christine are lightweight superstars in their own right, remember to always read the fine print: results not typical.

(As of January 2009, the Federal Trade Commission proposed revisions to the "results not typical" disclaimer. It is duly noted. I should have used "best-case scenario", though the effect would not have been the same.)

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