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Healthy-Dining Site Blows Its Credibility With McDonald's Endorsement

When you're a Web site with a mission of helping overweight diners find healthy dishes to eat in restaurants, endorsing McDonald's (MCD) Egg McMuffin as a good breakfast item gives you a major credibility problem. That's what the nutrition site did this week, with the addition of 15 McDonald's items to its recommended list, including the ubiquitous English-muffin sandwich and its bacon-laden Premium Ranch Grilled Chicken BLT Sandwich.

A little research reveals a possible reason the site is so friendly to fatty chain food. Since 2005, the site has had the National Restaurant Association as a key partner. It appears the Healthy Dining Program -- the site's owner, which got its start nearly 20 years ago helping dietitians -- has morphed into a restaurant industry booster rather than a reliable independent resource for calorie-conscious consumers.

McDonald's, lambasted in the documentary Super Size Me for its unhealthy food, qualifies for the site because HealthyDining doesn't look at the restaurant as a whole, but at individual dishes. Their stated goal is to help diners with pressing health concerns find something low-cal to eat, no matter where diet-sabotaging friends drag them out for a meal.

Great idea, at least in principle. Unfortunately, standards are embarrassingly low for qualifying as a healthy item on HealthyDining. The Egg McMuffin makes the cut even though the 300-calorie white-bread sandwich is stacked with three fatty kinds of protein and delivers 87 percent of the cholesterol you should eat in a day -- not to mention more than a third of the salt. For something that's eaten in about four bites, that's just not a healthy choice. The Premium Ranch Grilled Chicken BLT Sandwich delivers 60 percent of daily recommended sodium. And fiber? Don't even ask.

While there are a few items on McDonald's menu that are less fattening than the standard fare, it's flat-out bad advice to steer obese diners to the Golden Arches in hopes they'll have a Fruit n' Yogurt Parfait instead of a Big Mac with supersized fries. The HealthyDining site should be up-front about its industry ties (you've got to dig through the site to find the NRA connection now), or sever them. Then it could raise the bar for what constitutes a healthy meal out and become a truly useful source for diners.

Photo via Flickr user Vacacion

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