Fast food chains have become a dominant force in American culture. They are the largest purchasers of beef, chicken, potatoes, and many other food products. They are found at every highway exit, in every city and town, in many school cafeterias, and in every major airport. In short, fast food places are everywhere.
Although typical fast food fare is high in calories, fat, saturated fat, preservatives, sodium, and added sugars and low in vital nutrients, many establishments are beginning to offer a variety of more nutritious options. It pays to do your homework when it comes to making these healthier options work for your new lifestyle. Most chains offer detailed nutrition information on all products on their websites—look up your usual picks and see whether equally tasty, but more nutritious, items are available. Use the following guidelines to make the best of fast food fare:
- Portion sizes are one of the main culprits of fast food-related weight gain. Order smaller sandwiches and skip the mega-sized value meals—those “great deals” don’t do anything for your waistline or your health. Better still, order a sandwich and water or iced tea and bring a piece of fruit from home.
- Choose grilled over crispy or fried sandwiches; the difference could mean 200 calories and 20 grams of fat!
- Skip the mayo, cheese, “special sauce,” and regular salad dressings—they add anywhere from 50 to 200 extra calories to your meal. Choose fat-free or reduced-calorie dressings, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, pickles, salsa, and light mayo or sour cream instead.
- Soft drinks and shakes are some of the worst offenders when it comes to excess calories and added sugars. One extra large cola may contain more than 400 calories, and a medium shake can pack more than 700 calories! Choose water, diet colas, unsweetened iced tea, skim milk, or black coffee instead.
- Balance high-fat items with low-fat items. Order a garden salad and reduced- calorie dressing with your sandwich instead of fries.
- Choose English muffins or toast over biscuits, croissants, and hash browns.
- Avoid ordering double, jumbo, or super anything!
- Beware of marketing ploys—menu items marketed to “adult tastes” may still come with hefty amounts of calories and fat.
- Specialty salads are offered at many restaurants, but check out the nutrition facts before you order them in the name of health! Some of these salads have as many calories and as much fat and sodium as the value meals, especially if you add the packets of dressing and “crunchies” that are included. They’re a decent way to get your veggies, but don’t expect too much from them.