health news
November 11, 2010 posted by

The Curious Case of McRib & Men’s Health

“As much as I love ribs there is one part that I hate: the ribs,” jokes Stephen Colbert while lambasting one of the more curious eating phenomenons’s in US history. Apparently in some areas folks have lined up around the block for this odd food item that more resembles something you’d see in one of those old toy ovens that served plastic food than, well, anything that we might eat that comes from nature.

How McDonald’s gets people to buy this is a marvel, but to make it into bad behavior week you’ve got to do more than peddle a suspect product. So today’s example of people behaving badly goes to Men’s Health magazine for their article titled:

McRib’s Return: Go Ahead, Have One

I might let this slide if this were, say, Smoke Signals or Gourmet (though I’m sure their editors wouldn’t), or pretty anything down at the corner newsstand. But Men’s Health, seriously?! They—which I say because the piece has no author—even take an uppity tone with The View’s Joy Behar for panning it,

Joy Behar makes a big point about the McRib having a lot of fat. Really? The first rule of fat loss is to not overeat, and a 500-calorie sandwich isn’t a waist-expanding indulgence, no matter how many of its calories come from fat.

Um, really?! How many readers does this magazine have? This is their editorial staff‘s “first rule of fat loss”. Let me borrow a phrase from my buddy Jack LaLanne about charlatans, “these people should be in jail.”

Not overeating is not a rule of fat loss. It’s a concept that has a few hooks on it, namely that you need to make a nutrient swap. Using their example you’d be well off on a diet of gummy candies and Diet Coke just so long as you didn’t overeat. I submit that you’d be dead within a month.

Our society is fat because we eat too many calories and too few nutrients. The first rule of weight loss (fat loss is a silly term—the goal is body composition change that comes from lifestyle) is the change the nutrient ratios of the foods you eat so that you get more nutrients per calorie. Dropping calories without assessing the nutrients that you are consuming will lead to nutrient deficiencies and other assorted health problems.

With this in mind, let’s have a look at the health costs of the McRib:

First off, we don’t really know what this food is. As Colbert points out, it’s not a rib. It smells and tastes like ribs but McDonald’s artificially flavors all of their foods to taste like anything it wants, in this case an actual pork rib that’s been cooked on a BBQ. Fast food chemists could make newspaper taste like ribs, too. Unlike natural foods, the way fast food tastes has absolutely no relationship to what is in the actual food.

If you’ve read any number of books on the subject you will know that animal raising practices of the fast food companies is abysmal. Dennis Miller once had a routine where he said something like, “39 cents for a burger. That’s less than what it costs to feed my dog. What’s in that stuff?” And, sure enough, many dog food companies have better animal raising practices than McDonald’s. All you know for sure is that it’s pork of some kind, and it’s most likely along the lines of pork by-products.

Labeling practices are lobbied heavily by, well, everyone but the meat industry draws a lot of water in this area. Independent studies all show that organically raised animals have a higher nutrient ratio than those that are mass produced but labels, by law (or lobbyists) can’t reflect this. Still we see that about half the McRib calories come from fat. Given that it includes a high calorie bun and condiments, which contain very little fat, we know that the meat contains an absurdly high ratio of saturated fat to protein.

So the small amount of nutritional information that we know is already bad, which doesn’t factor in that you’re eating an animal that is basically a toxin waste bin by the time it’s slaughtered. These animals are raised on mass amounts of antibiotics to keep it living in horrendous conditions, fed basically junk foods, and injected with any number of hormones to increase the size of various body parts and speed at which it grows.

Then you must add the rest of the ingredients, most of which are “convenience” foods that are fortified (with a few lobbied-for vitamins) by-products of genetically modified soy and corn production. These processed foods are bleached, so they all of their natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, bacteria, and other phytonutrients that are essential for life to the point where, basically, you’d do better nutritionally to dumpster dive for 500 calories because it at least might have picked up some living matter.

The bottom line is that the McRib is 500 calories, with 22 grams (88 calories) of protein. The remaining 420 calories are void of anything helpful for your body. Eating foods like this is exactly why we have an obesity epidemic and, as a nutritionist, this is exactly the kind of thing that I recommend cutting out of your diet as step one. That something calling itself “Men’s Health” is recommending it should be a crime, and is certainly reason to gain entry into the people behaving badly club.


  • It's like a hotdog someone ran through a laundry press.

  • But I thought it was just proven without a doubt via The Twinkie Diet that you could lose weight & improve your lipid profiles on a junk food diet as long as there is a calorie deficit. :)-Chris

  • Sure, and it will keep improving until you die of malnution.

  • Being that he was also eating veggie, a protein shake, and taking a multivitamin it might have been a long time until he died of malnutrition.

  • Thanks for these posts, Steve. I feel the links to my social networks.On the subject of the so-called 'twinkie diet', it is poorly named by the mainstream media. Imagine that. Considering the veggies, protein shake, and multivitamin, I'd call it something else that would be much less sensational (and also attract less readers and sell less advertising).If you have a moment in your busy life, Steve, you should do a post on this bullshit 'twinkie diet'. That is, if you aren't already working on something! &^)Thanks again.

  • What kind of self-respecting food challenger cheats with veggies and supps? That's not a junk food diet!Certainly you can eat a lot of swill without negative effect–I certainly have. You could probably live a long healthy life eating a McRib a day if the rest of your lifestyle does enough to offset it. But you can do that with almost anything, so it's not much of a testament for a bad food unless you're looking for a food challenge (not that there's anything wrong with that).

  • Extruded death formed into the shape of a rack of ribs buried in sauce. I've lost 40 pounds with the help of Shakeology. When people ask me how I did it I tell them "hard work and healthy eating." Oddly, they make the same face to my response as I make to the McRib commercials — that of disgust. Weird, isn't it?

  • Steve..I love your writing style! beating around the bush!One question…do you get any calcium from the ribs? 🙂

  • Anne, do you mean ribs or McRibs? This site is pretty gross, but get down to the nitty gritty of the McRib.

  • I love twinkies. When I turned 36 I ate 36 of them.And I'll say it again: The McRib doesn't even make the list of the worst Fast Food items because it has only 500 calories. There are items with over double those calories and not much more that's good for you. Yea, the McRib is shit, but there is worse shit out there.

  • I never said it was the worst. I said it was curious that it was popular. I think Marcaroni Grill has one food item that has over 3,000 calories and nearly 10,000mg of sodium.Still, its nutrient content for 500 calories is horrific, not to mention those cals (less than a quarter of your daily cals for most moderately-active folks) have more than half the recommended sodium allowance for active people. Still not the worst statistically, but bad. And then you must consider the whole weirdness factor, that's right up there with Twinkies, Snowballs, and a Japanese snack item called Polyfish. Ah, beware the Poly fish!

  • Excuse me, Chinese:Item Name: Prepared Poly Fish Country of Origin: China Fish Based: Hell yes! Inscrutability Quotient: Quite suspicious Looks Like: Sesame fish cracker Tastes Like: Satan's wrath Fear Factor: This terrorized our minds. Research Comments: Gaze not into the abyss, lest the abyss gaze into thee. Nothing could prepare you for prepared poly fish. Stay away.

  • Awesome. Where can I find some Poly Fish? Maybe Josh can bring some back from Hong Kong. Should we have him grab 50 for you? I think your birthday is coming up soon…

  • I don't know why we haven't asked him before.

  • I don't know why we haven't asked him before.

  • Bravo! The McRib is nasty. Have no idea why it's so crazy popular. Oh, and it bugs the hell out of me that most people will buy two of them at once (with soda and fries) just 'cause they get the second one for a dollar. Really? You're really gonna eat two of those things in one sitting? Blech?By the way, have you seen the Simpsons episode about the "Ribwich"? Hilarious.

  • I hate the mcrib but the only reason joy behar is speaking out against its consumption is she is outraged at the slaughter of her kind.

  • I remember when these first came out and there was that urban legend about the McMouse. If you haven't heard of this, it's that some lady started eating a McRib and halfway through it discovered that there was a mouse inside the bun. Little did she know that what she was eating was probably healthier.

  • Oh wow! Go ahead and have one. Apparently Men's Health is now owned by the fast food industry. Can't wait to see their article on the "Taco Bell Diet".

  • If u like the taste of a McRib try a Morningstar Farms Hickory BBQ Vegan Riblet on a whole wheat bun. Blind taste test, they are identical.

  • If u like the taste of a McRib try a Morningstar Farms Hickory BBQ riblet. Tastes identical and way more protien. Vegan too for you Tony.

  • Now I really feel bad…I had one bad day of eating, while traveling on business. At one sitting, going thru a Drive through, I had a Regular HI-C Orange, 2 McRibs and a 20 Piece McNuggets.I was hungry and stressed thus jumped to the feel good food. My stress is still here, but a few days later, I'm back on the workout and healthy eating bandwagon. I told myself that falling off for one or two days is not good, but that I can make a choice to either let that become a habit or resume the choice to getting and staying fit.All and all, I decided to not beat myself up over a few bad days, and simply celebrate the success of this past year. This morning, I went on a 45 minute run in a light rain and I feel AWESOME. Now it's time for an egg-white omelet, some water, some vitamins and some morning work…followed by a lunch of Shakeology, then work, then a light snack, then work, then another workout (probably a Turbo Fire Routine with my wife) followed by a salad and a relaxing Friday night.I think the key is to accept my own grace on setback by not allowing that negative thinking to take over the positives.

  • Fast food is junk period. Nothing like making your own stuff from fresh ingredients, raw veggies MMM! Years ago I would order 3 of these things not knowing how much I was actually eating. If it needs that much sodium folks, you probably shouldn't eat it. SWIM! Put down the 4 big macs, get up off of that couch, get your fat arses in the pool and SWIM BABY!!!

  • These things make my skin crawl lol.

  • While I certainly don't mean to assert that the McMeal is "healthy" by any stretch of the imagination, I do take issue with statements such as:"The bottom line is that the McRib is 500 calories, with 22 grams (88 calories) of protein. The remaining 420 calories are void of anything helpful for your body."These sort of blanket statements are easily misinterpreted by the layman which can then lead to neglecting other vital macro/micronutrients. Last time I checked, some degree of dietary fat is a necessity to maintain endocrine system balance (between 0.3g-0.5g per lb of mass has repeatedly been shown to be necessary to maintain thyroid function and normal levels of hormone production) and overall brain functioning (myelination of neurons). Furthermore, while the body can produce necessary glucose for physical activity and brain function, carbohydrates provide the remaining portion of the equation. (In terms of brain function, most people require somewhere in the range of 100g/day of glucose to maintain normal levels of neurotransmitters, etc. Of that 100mg, generally only 80g can be produced by glucogenesis, with the balance usually coming from dietary intake, unless the individual has shifted into a ketogenic state for a significantly longer period of time and the body has adapted.)Again, I certainly don't mean to posit that we should all go out and have 4 McRibs for lunch, just be mindful of making carte-blanche edicts without taking science into consideration.

  • I've never considered myself to be a tree-hugging, granola-eating, "natural foods" hippie … but there came a time about a year ago when I realized that I was feeding my dogs better than I was feeding myself! The more I looked into food labels and ingredients, the more I started getting disgusted with processed, convenience and fast foods for all the garbage that's in it. The main thing that had me on alert was sugars! We all know that carbohydrates basically break down to sugars – but how much of the carbohydrate on the label is just straight sugar? The average person (we're talking non-marathon runners and such) should be consuming right around 45g of sugars a day. That's what our bodies typically require for "instant energy" during the active parts of our day. If we're not active enough to use the sugars we've consumed during the day, the remainder gets stored as fat. In addition to this – the less active we are, the less sugars our bodies require, and the MORE desensitized our muscles get to using these sugars. This leads to a condition becoming more and more widely recognized here in the U.S. as Metobolic Syndrome – one of the major pre-cursors to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and high blood pressure.I could go on and on, but knowing just this alone, and making a concerted effort to try and eat less sugars, more fiber, carbohydrates that come from whole grains rather than processed foods – and just making sure I stay active (mind you, definitely NOT running marathons!) … I dropped about 25 lbs within 3 months. There was no pain and suffering involved except for taking more time to look at labels, make educated decisions and get used to some foods that were previously too "naturey" for me. Now my dogs eat even BETTER because they get my leftovers, too! LOL- Heather

  • The last time I went to McDonalds was about 2 years ago and the food has absolutely no flavor. It didnt taste good or bad because it didnt have any taste. I threw 2/3 of it away and have never gone back. I'm not interested in wasting my $ on flavor-free food that's bad for you.

  • "Independent studies all show that organically raised animals have a higher nutrient ratio than those that are mass produced"This is a great article, but that statement is false. C'mon guys, you don't need to use this kind of "evidence" when you're shooting fish in a barrel.

  • Here;s how they sell it… I was away on business travel and did not have the time to find a parking space and stand in the long lines at "Subway". The only alternative was Micky D. So I sit there at the drive through barely familiar with the menu and see a fruit/walnut salad. So I ask for the salad. The woman kept asking "what is a salad?" and kept pushing McRib. Stressed out and running late, I tell her to give me the damned sandwich which shocks her. I get to the coference. Two bites out of this disgusting thing and I lost my appetite for the rest of the day.. How could I EVER eaten that stuff as a kid in the 70's. My friends and I would go 2-3 times a week for McRibs. How the hell did I stay so thin back then?

  • So, if I blend a mcrib with some shakeology, I should be good, right?

  • SteveI agree with you, it's not just that its from McD's, which people already "know" is bad but for some reason find a reason in their own minds to make it ok to eat. But, when you have someone like Men's Health, which is respected by many has providing good advice, promoting it has a good meal is just wrong! Now we have McD's knowing serving low quality, bad food. We have a health magazine promoting it as ok playing with the minds of people. Yes, it definitely shows why we have an obesity problem in this country. We need to teach and promote good, not junk or what the politicians get paid for!

  • Why didn't you ask before? Poly Fish for all. Who's in? I've got a 20 hour layover in HK tonight and tomorrow. I wonder what special Department of Ag forms I have to fill out to declare it on entry into the US.

  • the picture makes me hungry so bye bye Weight Loss program. its really nice that nowadays men are into the Men's Health stuff.

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