November 19, 2018
Believe it or not, it is actually possible to enjoy a healthy meal when dining at a fast food joint. While a cheeseburger and fries might not be your best bet if you’re trying to slim down or monitor your caloric intake, most fast food chains do offer a few healthy menu options to satisfy your hunger and taste buds.
A hallmark of fast food is its tendency to be high in fat, sugar, and salt. For example, a double cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake adds up to almost 2,000 calories, which is roughly the number of calories you should consume in a given day. A meal of this magnitude also packs in a full day’s worth of saturated fat and sodium. So, although that double cheeseburger may satisfy your palate in the short term, it can have lasting negative effects on your health in the long term.
One of the keys to eating healthy at a chain or fast food restaurant is to consider the whole meal, and that includes “add-ons” like condiments, dressings, sauces, and extra toppings. Skipping the cheese on your next burger, for example, could save you up to 60 calories. While this may not sound like a lot, consider this: you’d have to walk for nearly half an hour at a moderate pace in order to burn the calories in one slice of American cheese.
Sugary drinks like fountain sodas and milkshakes — a common staple of fast food cuisine — can wreak serious havoc on your diet. A single 20-ounce soda contains 65 grams of sugar, which clocks in at over 15 teaspoons of sugar per drink. Limiting these liquids is a surefire way equals about 15 teaspoons of sugar to shave unnecessary calories off your next fast food feast.
Staying away from fried foods can be difficult when eating at fast food establishments, but it’s not impossible. When dining at a fast-casual Asian or Mexican restaurant, opt for grilled or steamed entrée items. Chips, French fries, and crispy burrito shells or wraps add unnecessary fat and carbs, and should be avoided.
Simply eating slower has been proven to reduce the number of calories consumed, regardless of what type of food is on your plate. Several studies show that when people chew more slowly and engage in “ mindful eating,” they feel fuller and enjoy better digestion. In fact, one such study presented at an American Heart Association conference found that fast eaters are 11 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome — a cluster of heart disease, diabetes and stroke risk factors — including obesity, high levels of bad fats, high HDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar.
When striving for a better diet, it’s important to select fast food restaurants with a variety of options. Many fast food chains offer several low-fat, high-protein menu options that are sure to hit the spot the next time you find yourself craving your favorite fast food meal.
Whether you only indulge in fast food on occasion or routinely hit up the drive-thru for lunch, being aware of what you’re eating (and how much) can go a long way toward preventing unhealthy eating habits. Want to learn how to make all your meals healthier? Talk to a registered dietitian, who can help transform your diet.