Healthy Fast Food: How to Salvage a Bad Eating Situation
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Healthy Fast Food: How to Salvage a Bad Eating Situation

How do you keep a diet if you end up patronizing a fast food joint? Avoid the value burger.

When we need quick food, we often rely upon our local fast food restaurant to fill the gap. Unfortunately, the vast majority of fast food choices are quick sources of fat and sugar, which are two things none of us need any more of in our diets. However, we don't always have the luxury to plan our meals to fit perfectly into our diets, and sometimes a quick meal is necessary. It's worth pointing out that even merely smelling french fries can be hazardous to your health if you succumb to temptation, because the few healthy eating choices available at restaurants are limited in number for a reason: not enough people want to buy them. If Americans randomly decided to stop buying foods with poisonous levels of fat, cholesterol, and sugar tonight, fast food companies would be drafting new business plans tomorrow. But, the demand for these food items continues, so the consumer has limited options when perusing the fast food menu.

It's easy to pick out health food items on fast food menus: they typically flaunt their vegetables and appear in friendly and healthy-looking secluded sections of the menu. Let's start with the salads. Each fast-food chain offers nutrition links on their web sites to compare the nutritional value of their various foods. Each restaurant also offers salad choices in approximately the same portion sizes, namely between 300 and 500 calories. Wendy's salads are a bit closer to the neighborhood of 500 calories, because they have larger portion sizes, whereas McDonald's has salads from 140-430 calories. Even a salad can easily be made unhealthy, however. Take for example Burger King's Tendergrill Chicken Salad. With 270 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 900mg of sodium, this is not a bad meal. Add dressing, and you have added another 190 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 550mg of sodium. Not unhealthy enough yet? Go big and get a Tendercrisp Chicken Salad. Without dressing, this menu choice starts off with 480 calories, 25 grams of fat, and 1180mg of sodium. A brief consult of the typical daily nutritional values indicates that WITHOUT DRESSING, the Tendercrisp Salad has achieved 38 percent daily value of fat, 24 percent of calories, and a whopping 49 percent of sodium dv. So, if you must have a salad, avoid the dressing or get the low-fat option and only use a small portion of the packet. And, above all, avoid the crispy fried chicken option. This can turn any salad into a senseless and decadent enterprise. For variety, you could try a broccoli and cheese potato from Wendy's, which is a little low in vegetables, but contains 340 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and 490mg of sodium.

Some restaurants offer fruit cups, but be careful with these as well; sometimes sugar is snuck into there, and if it's a fruit yogurt cup, another round of calories and fat is coming your way. If you want to stay within your diet, a fast food restaurant is not going to help you do this. If you find yourself without options, however, choose a restaurant that does have a couple healthy options (not all do!). It can always be worse. If you finish any fast food restaurant's value meal (burger, fries, and a drink), then you are leaving with at least 1200 and as many as 2000 calories in your belly, and more fat than you really want to know about.

So, if you must indulge, pick a salad, avoid dressing like the plague, and try to take some of it home (if you had a choice, the chicken). While typically over salted, like all fast food, grilled chicken salads make a much healthier choice than anything with the word sandwich or burger in it. Additionally, a number of restaurants offer orange juice or another juice blend type, which can be high in sugar, but avoids caffeine.


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Comments (6)

I prefer salads when I have to eat outside. Everything else is full of sugar. Nice, informative article!

Burger and fried chicken joints are bad news. You've done people a favor by showing calorie counts and other numbers. I like Subway and RolyPoly Sandwiches. I can have my salad on fresh bread or in a wrap with a little bit of meat.

My favorite two food groups: fat and sodium! And you didn't even get to the BACON, which has both!

Very good advice!


Cheryl Petersen

Great advice. I sometimes just pull into a grocery store and pick up fresh fruit. They also often have a salad bar.