Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why does eating bad taste so good?

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Staff Writer | 9/4/2013

Betty Moss isn’t opposed to driving to another county for a roast beef sandwich.

But the Ottawa resident, in lobbying for an Arby’s restaurant, said she would prefer to dine locally.

“I’m tired of driving to Lawrence or Gardner for a roast beef fix,” Moss wrote on The Herald’s Facebook page in the wake of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise’s abrupt and still-mysterious decision to shut its doors in late July at 2121 S. Princeton St., Ottawa.

Moss was not alone in voicing her opinion about the state of the fast food industry in Ottawa — nor in clamoring for an Arby’s restaurant. The outpouring that followed The Herald’s Facebook question — What fast food restaurants do you think the city needs next? — was nothing short of a whopper.

The question generated 300 responses — the most feedback to any Herald query in recent memory.

Arguments for Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Starbucks, Church’s Chicken, Go Chicken Go, Red Robin and Five Guys Burgers and Fries were as impassioned as the number of exclamation points used to punctuate each new idea — including a plea by Jeff Hodgson and others to bring back “Long John Silvers!”

The cries for more fast food options were loud enough to shiver Brenda Pfizenmaier’s timbers.


“Our country seems to be in fast food mode,” Pfizenmaier, a clinical dietician and diabetes educator with Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, said. “It’s sad, but I’m seeing much, much younger people — I’m talking in their 20s — who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health conditions that you shouldn’t find in someone in their 20s.

“We are seeing more people who are exhibiting the warning signs of stroke in their 30s, instead of in their 60s,” Pfizenmaier, a registered clinical dietician since 1986, said.

Pfizenmaier attributed some of those health declines to the proliferation of fast food options and America’s obsession with eating on the go.

“Fast food generally means more fat, more sodium and more sugar, which equals more calories, which equals weight gain,” Pfizenmaier said. “Most people need no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium all day long — you can get more than that in one fast food meal.”

Yet Pfizenmaier said she was not surprised to hear a 2013 nationwide survey that tracks food service by counties showed 52 percent of all dining options in Franklin County were classified as fast food restaurants — 4 percent higher than the state average of 48 percent and nearly double the national average of 27 percent, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which conducted the joint study titled, “County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.”

“It’s not really that surprising, when you look at the number of fast food options [in Ottawa, the largest city in Franklin County],” Pfizenmaier said.

Six of the top 10 national fast food chains by sales — McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut — blanket Ottawa’s landscape, with five of the six stacked liked a double quarter pounder near the I-35 interchange at the south end of Main Street.

The top 15 fast food chains in the nation raked in a combined $115 billion in sales in 2011 at their 105,000 total stores, according to the website site

Ottawa’s other outlet on that top 15 list, coming in at No. 11, is the popular 1950s-style diner Sonic. (KFC is No. 9 on the list.)


The community’s smorgasbord of fast food choices is, in part, thanks to the community’s location, as well as its demographics, Jeff Seymour, Franklin County Development Council executive director, said.

“When you look at the Ottawa restaurants’ proximity to I-35, and the distance between the next available fast food options in either direction [on I-35] in Gardner and really Emporia, there’s enough distance between those cities that we are going to generate our share of traffic flow,” Seymour said.

Another fast food chain currently is savoring its prospects for an Ottawa outlet, though Seymour declined to name the restaurant.

“I think it’s a positive sign that they are considering the community,” Seymour said. “In general, I think the commercial and retail market in Franklin County is pretty stable, if not on an uptick. We think there is opportunity for fast food restaurants to be successful here.”

Seymour did not disagree with Pfizenmaier about the importance of eating in moderation.

“Overall, fast food restaurants are an important part of our economic mix — both in the sales tax they generate and the fact that their footprints are located on some prime commercial corridors,” Seymour said. “While these restaurants are good for our economy, it’s also important to make good lifestyle choices and eat in moderation. I think that’s true with any food.”

That moderation comes down to choosing correct portion sizes, Pfizenmaier said.

“I don’t think most people think about proper portion sizes, and we tend to overeat because we eat until it’s gone,” Pfizenmaier said. “That’s because we eat too fast, and it takes 20 minutes for the brain to tell the gut that it’s full. So, by the time we realize we’re full, we’ve already overeaten.”

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps study gave health professionals more fat to chew on. Franklin County’s obesity rate was 34 percent, compared to the state average of 30 percent and national average of 25 percent, the study showed.

People should consume 64 ounces of water per day, Pfizenmaier said, which will help wash away the hunger pains.

“People who drink the right amount of water each day do not get as hungry,” Pfizenmaier said.

Pfizenmaier recommended people get to-go boxes at sit-down restaurants and only eat half the meal in one setting, or share the meal with someone. At fast food restaurants, the dietician recommended ordering off the children’s menu, because those items are actually closer to the proper portion sizes for adults.

“I’m not going to tell people, ‘Don’t eat at a fast food restaurant,’ because every now and then I eat at them, too,” Pfizenmaier said. “We all do. But you can make wise choices, like ordering a grilled chicken or a salad without dumping a lot of dressing or cheese on it. There are some good options at Subway. I like the Greek yogurt and apples.

“I went through Sonic today, and I got an egg burrito without anything else on it — no cheese, no sausage. We have four kids, and I’ll order one large order of fries to split between the six of us.”


But every now and then a person just needs to sink their teeth into a giant Whataburger, Herald reader Vid St. Pierre wrote on Facebook.

“Y’all need a Whataburger there,” St. Pierre said. “McDonald’s and Sonic would be forced to shut down! No Joke!”

Whoa, partner, most food industry analysts would argue.

McDonald’s still has gold in those arches.

The restaurant chain’s 2011 U.S. sales at its 14,098 outlets totaled $34.2 billion — easily outpacing the second largest fast food chain Subway’s 2011 U.S. sales of $11.4 billion at 24,722 restaurants, according to

Starbucks, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut, KFC and Chick-fil-A rounded out the top 10 fast food — or limited-service — restaurants.

Pfizenmaier and other dieticians likely would be more inclined to side with reader Tyler Jenkins’ thoughts on the fast food craze: “The last thing Ottawa needs is another fast food establishment,” Jenkins said.

“I think people probably eat out more than they would care to admit, and I think there’s a misconception that it’s cheaper, but that’s not true,” Pfizenmaier said. “Eating healthy, emphasizing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, does not have to be expensive, with proper planning. Another thing I think families miss out on when they eat out a lot is not teaching their children how to cook and having that family time together around the table.”

Pfizenmaier urged people to count calories. She suggested two websites that can help people monitor their calorie intake: and

“I had a patient who told me they discovered a taco has fewer calories than a taco salad at Taco Bell,” Pfizenmaier said. “It’s OK to eat at a fast food restaurant once and a while, just make smart choices and limit portion sizes. I tell my patients, ‘If you eat junk, you’re going to feel like junk.’ It’s about moderation and making smart choices.”

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