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McDonald's Is Getting In The Kale Game

Earlier this year, McDonald's released an ad featuring the words "Will Never Be Kale" printed in bold across a close-up of a Big Mac. The message was easy to comprehend: Fads come and go, but something as perfect and ideal as our American Big Mac will never go out of style.

That was in January.

Last week, McDonald's announced that it is testing a number of kale-infused dishes in nine Southern California restaurants. That, folks, is what you call a change of heart.

 

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What changed for the Golden Arches? Two big things.

The first is that McDonald's is hemorrhaging money. After reporting an 11% decrease in revenue, as well as a 30% drop in profits, they've made the move to close hundreds of restaurants.

The second is that kale demand continues to rise. Perhaps the most telling indication of this is that the amount of kale grown in the country rose by 57% between 2007 and 2012.

If you want to get the cash flowing again, it makes sense to find a way to add the hottest superfood to your menu.

Currently, the kale only inhabits a small portion of the menu, such as an item in some of their breakfast bowls, meaning you'll have to show up before 10:30 a.m. if you want your morning kale fix. (Which also means that the sanctity of your precious Big Mac is safe and sound.) While the strategy is, no doubt, a wise one in terms of publicity and attempting to change McDonald's public perception, it remains to be seen if these new changes are actually, you know, healthy.

"Kale served raw has the most nutrients," said Koya Webb, a "holistic health and wellness coach." "The more it's cooked, the more nutrients are lost."

And, well, it doesn't seem like the kale's being served raw, with taste test reports featuring phrases like "wilted greens" and "(purposefully) soggy greens." The taste test also hints of another issue of the healthy-seeming breakfast bowls:

One potential downside--and this was evident in the taste--is the 810 milligrams of sodium, which accounts for more than a third of your daily recommended intake.

This hints at the potential problem of these breakfast bowls. See, while they do contain a small helping of kale, it's being served in a way that doesn't exactly make the meal itself healthy.

"The addition of a vegetable to a meal that is high in saturated fat and salt does not necessarily make the meal 'healthy,'" said LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles. "I have noticed some quick-service restaurants with kale salads on their menus that simply have a handful of kale tossed into an iceberg salad."

This seems to be the case with the McDonald's offerings. At least, in this first barrage of kale-infused items in Southern California -- there are rumors that some McDonald's in Canada will soon introduce a line of kale salads, which would presumably be in an entirely different class from the small bits of wilted kale being tossed into a pile of sodium.

"In these cases I believe that it is more about the perception of healthfulness than improving the overall nutritional value of the menu," said Weintraub. However, she also points out that this may be a case where "do no harm" is actually a positive. "It would be great if these menu changes do lead to Americans eating more vegetables."

So, where does this leave us? Still, don't eat at McDonald's if you can avoid it. If you have to, these kale bowls are on the upper tier of items at McDonald's. However, if these bowls end up becoming a huge seller for the company, it's not unlikely that another round of options will be introduced.

And, maybe, the next version will even be good for you.

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