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McDonald’s: “cheapest, most nutritious” food ever

There might be nothing better than a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s – if you’re down to your last couple of dollars, that is.

The authors of Freakonomics, a 2005 non-fiction book that purports to meld economics into popular culture, have sparked a debate over claims that the McDonald’s double cheeseburger could be “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed”.

The allegation, made by a reader and published on the Freakonomics website, has divided nutritionists and economists in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

At 390 calories, The Times reports that the typical double cheeseburger in the United States contains 23 grams of protein – half a daily serving – as well as 7% of daily fibre, 20% of daily calcium and 19 grams of fat.

Priced at between $1 and $2 ($1.25-2.50 NZ – although the burgers actually cost $3 here), proponents of the theory argue that this represents the best nutritional value for money.

It comes after a 2007 University Washington survey found that the price of junk food in the US was as little as $1.76 ($2.21 NZ) per 1,000 calories; the price of healthier foods such as vegetables was more than 10 times higher.

New York Post columnist Kyle Smith wrote: “Where else but McDonald's can poor people obtain so many calories per dollar?”

“The outraged replies to the notion of McDouble supremacy – if it’s not the cheapest, most nutritious and most bountiful food in human history, it has to be pretty close – comes from the usual coalition of class snobs, locavore foodies and militant anti-corporate types.”

However, as Mother Jones food columnist and organic farmer Tom Philpott pointed out on the Freakonomics Radio podcast: “In order to present to us all that $2 burger, you’re talking about a vast army of working poor people. And that doesn’t even get to the farmer who grew the corn and soy.”

He added: “You can get a pound of brown rice, organic, and a pound of red lentils for about two bucks each – and a serving size, say a cup of each of those things, would be about 75 cents.”

Whether or not the double cheeseburger really does represent nutritional value for money, it’s certainly got people talking. What do you think?

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