McDonald’s just caught me again, as these fast-food restaurants do on occasion. I was running around between locations for work, needed a quick drive-thru lunch, McDonald’s was on my path and the drive-thru was available.
I intended on grabbing an Egg McMuffin (seemingly healthier) but made the terrible decision to go for the McPick 2 because I realized I could get two McChicken sandwiches for $2. Great! It’d be a cheap lunch, should fill me enough, and I’ll make it healthier by tossing the bun from one and making a double-lettuce-chicken sandwich (hold the mayo).
Within 20 minutes my tongue was burning – yes, that familiar sodium burn I’m feeling more often from these fast-food places. I don’t eat much junk food anymore so I must have an increased sodium sensitivity.
About an hour later, my throat is getting warm, like when a cold is setting in, but I think this was also the sodium and the who-knows-what-else in that sandwich. I also had this weird taste in my mouth which my then-hyperbolic-mind likened the taste to that of sucking on industrial waste.
But, I don’t get any of these effects from my go-to fast-food lunch: Starbucks’ Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap. Why not, how do they compare?
|$3.75 Starbucks Spinach & Feta Wrap
||$2 McDonald’s McChicken (No mayo, 2x lettuce & chicken because I trashed 1 bun)
|Saturated Fat: 3.5g
||Saturated Fat: 4.5g
Clearly, the Starbucks wrap is healthier – but the sodium is about the same! So why is it that I can eat two Spinach & Feta wraps (2x sodium over the McChicken) and not feel the same horrible effects I get from the McChicken?
Let’s look at only the ingredients that you can’t buy in a supermarket…
Ingredients – Starbucks Spinach & Feta Wrap:
Monoglycerides, dextroxse (I assume a typo on their site, should be dextrose), calcium sulfate, calcium propionate, fumaric acid, l-cysteine, fungal amylase, medium chain triglycerides, sulfur dioxide (preservative), potassium sorbate (preservative), sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, enzymes.
Ingredients – McDonald’s McChicken (excluding mayo):
Sodium Phosphates, Potassium Chloride, Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Ammonium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, THBQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone), Dimethylpolysiloxane, Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), May Contain One or More Dough Conditioners (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Mono and Diglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide).
McDonald’s certainly wins the creative chemistry contest. Since they both have a bunch of chemicals (I thought Starbucks would be much cleaner than it is), the next step in isolating the mouth burn culprit is to work my way through the chemicals that McChicken uses but Spinach & Feta Wrap doesn’t.
- Sodium Phosphates: No – lots of side effects, but not tongue-burning.
- Potassium Chloride: No – But in high quantities can be used to: de-ice your sidewalk, induce heart attack, or extinguish fires and is part of the “three drug cocktail” for executions by lethal injection.
- Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate: Probably not – Can’t find a good list of side-effects, but Livestrong says it can help you develop osteoporosis and Wikipedia says it helps remove hair, feathers, and skin cells left over from slaughtering pigs and chickens.
- Ammonium Bicarbonate: Probably not – Seems safe to eat (but not inhale), no mention of mouth burning, but interesting that it used to be made from reindeer antlers.
- Monocalcium Phosphate: No – Common baking ingredient.
- THBQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone): No, but this is not healthy and it’s hard to find a website that doesn’t tell you to avoid it.
- Dimethylpolysiloxane: No – But with a couple other additives, it can bounce and lift the comics out of newspaper.
- Ammonium Sulfate: I don’t know, hard to find info on this one.
- And then “Dough Conditioners” that McChicken may contain one or more of – No.
So I really don’t know why the McChicken made me feel like chemical garbage. Maybe it was a combination of the ingredients or the way they are applied to the food. It may still be sodium, but it’s better mixed into the wrap’s ingredients so less comes in direct contact with my tongue. Either way, I’ve learned that the Starbucks wrap is not nearly as healthy as I had assumed while McDonald’s uses a bunch of chemicals that experts recommend you don’t eat.
Bottom line: Put in the effort to grocery shop and pack a lunch.
Update: January 29, 2016
I think I see what’s happening. On the McChicken, the chicken patty has salt mixed with the reformed meat and is coated in that salted breading. On the Starbucks wrap, most of the salt is contained in the spinach/feta mixture, which is wrapped by the egg white wrapped by the bread. I normally eat it pretty quickly so the salt pocked remains contained.
To test this theory, I ordered 2 wraps (doubling the sodium of the McChicken) and thoroughly chewed each. I noticed how much saltier it tasted, validating the salt in the center theory. Sure enough, I had that same mouth burn from the sodium as I received from the McChicken (and Jack in the Box tacos, Taco Bell Crunch Wraps, etc).
I have my answer. By improving the quality of my diet, I’ve become more sensitive to the effects of junk food. Even though a Starbucks Spinach & Feta Wrap appears to be a smart choice for a fast-food lunch, it isn’t.