Image source: Marc Nozell | Flickr
Donald Trump will have fries with that.
The president is hooked on McDonald’s food.
He also has a 12 Diet Cokes-a-day habit.
Recent news headlines have had as much to say about what goes in Trump’s mouth as what comes out.
While pundits may debate whether the mainstream media has an oral fixation when it comes to Trump, the president’s food choices undoubtedly have an effect on his health.
The big question, though, is how much?
I tried to ask, but Trump didn’t respond to a tweet from me asking about his dietary habits.
And there’s no “Trump: The Art of the Meal” detailing what he eats every day.
That means much of what we know about the president’s diet has been cobbled together from various news reports, along with his own tweets.
The New York Times ran an article last year in the middle of the election with an overview of what Trump likes to eat.
Trump admits to loving fast food: McDonald’s Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, or “fish delights.” And the occasional bucket of KFC.
He’s also been known to eat burgers without the buns and pizza without the toppings or dough.
For non-fast food, he likes well-cooked steaks, burgers, meatloaf, Caesar salad, and spaghetti.
And he washes it all down with Diet Coke — a dozen a day, as the New York Times recently reported.
Fast food and Diet Cokes
But do these news stories tell the whole picture?
If you really want to know how Trump’s diet affects his health, you need more than just one photo of him eating a bucket of KFC chicken while reading the Wall Street Journal.
“My concern is that we only see a picture, and that represents a snapshot in time. You and I have eaten at KFC once. It doesn’t mean we do it all the time,” Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in San Diego and San Francisco, told Healthline.
When working with clients, dietitians often use something like a 24-hour dietary recall to understand what a person eats during a typical day.
However, that’s not the only factor that dietitians consider.
“What Trump’s eating is just one half of the coin. I’d like to know what sort of levels of activity he has,” said Ferraro. “If you’re an elite athlete eating fast food on a regular basis, that’s not as deleterious as if you’re sitting on your butt all day long as an executive.”
Of course, we don’t really know what kind of exercise Trump does, either.
The president’s Diet Coke intake is probably the habit that raised the most eyebrows this month.
But it might not be far off from what many people get in other ways.
A Super Big Gulp at 7-Eleven is larger than three cans of soda. You’d only need three or four of those to catch up with Trump.
Twelve cans of Diet Coke a day also exceeds the Mayo Clinic’s “safe amount” of daily caffeine intake for adults — by two cans.
Excess caffeine can lead to sleep problems, irritability, and even an abnormal heart rhythm.
Of course, you can also get that much caffeine from drinking five cups of coffee a day.
More research is needed to know exactly how strong the health risks of diet soda are.
But some experts don’t see drinking diet sodas as the worst thing for your health, especially compared to sugar-sweetened beverages.
“If you are drinking 10 diet sodas a day, that’s better than having 10 regular sodas,” said Ferraro. “However, what other healthful foods are diet sodas displacing in the diet? That might be a concern if you’re always filling up on diet soda.”
She added that it’d be “better if Trump drank 12 cups of water, but it’s not the end of the world if he’s drinking 12 diet sodas.”
Leading a fast-food nation
It’s hard to know what impact fast food is having on Trump’s health without knowing how often he eats it.
The New York Times reported that the president eats fast food several times a week while on the road.
A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University suggests that this isn’t that much different from many Americans.
Researchers surveyed 8,000 people in their 40s and 50s. Of those, 79 percent ate fast food at least once a week, while 23 percent ate it three or more times in a week.
Even at these levels, though, it’s hard to tell what effect fast food will have on a person.
“I’m not saying these are harmless habits,” said Ferraro, “but if they are ‘sometimes’ habits, they could have absolutely no effect on his health. You don’t really know unless you see the metabolic effects.”
Metabolic effects include things like changes in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and body mass index.
But like Trump’s tax returns, the public will probably never know what his levels are.
There are several clear downsides to eating too much fast food. These include extra calories, saturated fat, and sodium, which can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
This is even more of a concern for someone Trump’s age — 71 years — because the risk of those conditions increases with age.
However, there are ways to offset the negative effects of fast food. These include exercising more, taking medications for high blood pressure, and being more careful about what you eat the rest of the time.
If you’re in a high-stress job, doing yoga, meditation, or stress management can lower your risk of heart disease.
But we don’t really know if Trump is doing any of these, so it’s hard to know if the fast food is harming his health.
The bottom line is that there are no universal rules when it comes to nutrition.
“If you don’t know someone’s full picture, you can’t say definitively eat this way or eat that way,” said Ferraro.
If you really want to know whether you should ditch the fast food or diet sodas, ask your doctor to check your cholesterol levels and other health measures.
A registered dietitian or nutritionist can also help you identify dietary and other changes that are right for your body.
Some health insurance companies or employers may even offer these preventive services for free.
If they don’t, just tell them they could save lots of money later on by helping you control your weight and reduce your risk of chronic diseases now.
As for Trump, he has a pretty good employer, so his health insurance should cover most of this.