One out of four Americans consume fast food every day
One out of four Americans consume fast food every day1. Busy lifestyles, a lack of time, and convenience lead many to the drive-thru. While fast food may be the most inexpensive way to eat out, it is often not the healthiest or the most nutritious option. For the most part, fast food meals are higher in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium than home prepared meals, and they are missing key nutrients as well. Not to mention portion sizes are way out of control. So, if fast food dining is part of your lifestyle, how can you make the most of your meals? There are things to look out for to help make your convenience meal a healthier option. Many fast food chains have made attempts to add some healthy items to their menus, so it is possible to eat a fairly balanced meal on the go. Here are some tips to make healthy fast food choices:
Double the size equals double the fat and calories. Most restaurants serve much more than an average person should typically eat for one meal. Also, avoid the “extras” such as sauces, bacon or cheese to save on calories and fat. If having a burger is a must, stick with lettuce tomato and onion (hold the mayo!). Portion control is key in controlling calorie intake, and especially true when eating out. When at the drive-thru go with a kid’s meal – you can satisfy your craving for fast food and still make it part of your daily calorie intake instead of the whole day’s worth of calories. This also applies to your beverage. While most serve colas which can add on extra empty calories that provide zero nutrition, restaurants now offer bottled water and low-calorie juice drinks on their menu. Another good beverage choice: low-fat milk in place of soda.
No fries, please?
Have you had your greens lately? Swapping your fries for a healthy garden or side salad is a healthier option, but beware of the dressing. Choose a low fat dressing and use sparingly, or go with non-fat. Look for salads with lots of greens and other veggies like carrots, broccoli and tomatoes, or, try a fresh fruit cup.
Pass the buffet line.
Many restaurant favorites offer an “all-you-can-eat” option. Avoid the temptation. Best bet: Order ala carte and save your waistline. All-you-can eat buffets promote overeating. If the temptation isn’t in front of you, overindulgence is less likely.
Go for grilled or broiled
….instead of deep-fried. Many fast food restaurants offer grilled chicken either as a sandwich or on a salad. Grilled or broiled chicken is a tasty and leaner alternative to burgers. Don’t ruin a good thing by adding cheese or creamy sauces.
Ask for the Nutrition Facts information from the restaurant. Many fast food chains have made them available for consumers and some states require this information to be readily available to you. You may find them posted in the restaurant or they may have a brochure. Another option is checking the restaurant’s website if you are a frequent diner or check out FastFoodNutrition.org2.
Some healthier fast food choices:
Whole wheat buns (you may have to ask)
Fresh fruit or fruit cup
Yogurt with fruit
Baked potato (with vegetables instead of butter, cheese or sour cream)
Salad with dressing (low fat or non-fat) on the side
Lean turkey sandwich on wheat bread or pita
Low fat or fat free milk or bottled water
Following these tips can help fast-food dining be part of a healthy diet. Moderation is the key. It’s ok to indulge in your cravings, but just don’t make it a habit. Keep in mind a fast food diet can be lacking in key nutrients for good health such as calcium, vitamin D and antioxidants. Therefore, it is important to prepare healthy, well-balanced meals at home on most days of the week. Also, consider a daily multivitamin supplement to help meet your nutritional needs and fill in the nutrient gaps that exist in your diet.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.