How to Make Fast Food Healthier

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Fast food restaurants are usually the quickest option for a meal, but unfortunately one of the more unhealthy options as well.  With the average fast food meal ranging upwards of 1,000 calories or more it is no surprise that the ‘convenient’ meal choice hasn’t been too convenient on American’s waistlines.  What would be a better choice to the typical burger, fries, and a soda pop combo?

The Salad:

This may be a more obvious choice at the drive through, but sometimes a salad can be just as high in calories as a cheeseburger.  Although you may think your salad is the better choice with chicken as a lean meat, when the choice is grilled chicken instead of breaded chicken the calories are lower.   Avoid the fried toppings for added crunch such as Chinese noodles, croutons, or tortilla chips also up the calories.  To exchange the carbohydrate crunch, opt for fresh vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, or cucumber slices.    Be wary of the dressing as well.  Low-fat dressings are indeed lower in fat, but higher in carbohydrates and sugars.  An oil based dressing, such as a vinaigrette that is not low fat, would be an excellent option.  The fat content of the dressing actually helps the body to better absorb the nutrients within the salad.  With all the options to not have on the salad, examine what else you can have.  Choose a salad with fruit, such as apples, mandarin oranges, and raisins thrown in.  And definitely don’t forget to look for the veggie overload to add a little more excitement to the drive through.

The Burger:

A burger is exactly as it sounds.  Meat.  When eyeing the menu, keep in mind that this protein packed lunch may tide you over for the lunch hour, but what would be the best option in terms of calories?  That triple meat patty is a lot of protein, but also loaded with a lot of calories when considering how the food was prepared.  And how often is the burger even eaten with the lettuce and slice of tomato?  The grilled chicken sandwich would suffice for a protein packed alternative.  Most menu items are listed as fried, crispy, creamy, or breaded and they contain a higher calorie and higher carbohydrate content, avoiding those is the best route.  Try a bunless burger.  Picking up a knife and fork, and throwing out the bun or the wrap would also greatly reduce the carbohydrates. Besides, is the bread really going to fill you up?

The Sides:

Fries are probably the number one food of choice purchased at a drive through window.  The fried potato undergoes a pre-process of being battered and breaded before the fast process of boiling in fat before served.  Further examination of a potato can note that potatoes contain higher amounts of carbohydrates than other root vegetable.  Opt for the lower carbohydrate side of a salad, fruit, or skip the side altogether.

The Drink:

Nothing beats a high calorie meal as much as washing it down with a high calorie soda.  Be realistic! The extra large drink adds extra calories to the ‘mid-sized meal’.  Other alternatives would be unsweetened iced tea, milk, or water.  Juice would traditionally be an option, but upon further examination of fast food juices, very few actually contain real fruit juice.  Water is the best choice, and when purchased with a meal, the cost is usually free.

Bottom line is that frequenting the fast food line leads to the fast lane of an expanding waistline.  Planning ahead of time, or taking the time to prepare an actual meal can save the hassle of going hungry while still avoiding the fast food.

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Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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Adam Yarbrough
Adam Yarbrough
April 8, 2010 6:49 am

Jocelyn –
I wonder if you have seen the new KFC Double down (see url: http://deadspin.com/5511674/this-sandwich-is-coming-to-tempt-kill-you-all#c21472840). Looks like a LOT of protein but also a lot of calories.

Your thoughts?

Jocelyn Daly, B.S., Fitness and Nutrition
Jocelyn Daly, B.S., Fitness and Nutrition
April 10, 2010 9:05 am
Reply to  Adam Yarbrough

Adam, The bunless Double Down is lower in carbs than a regular fast food sandwich, so it MUST be healthy! Right? In all reality, the purpose of this sandwich is to give KFC a lot of attention and hype. The meat is breaded and deep fried, losing its low carb status. The sodium content is outrageous and the amount is even higher when choosing the grilled option! Sided with the usual fries and an extra large Coke, this is once again, a reason the public needs to AVOID fast food joints. Just because a restaurant is offering a bunless option… Read more »

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