Healthier Fast Food Choices

These days it’s hard to go anywhere without spotting a fast food restaurant nearby. Fast food restaurants offer simple and inexpensive meal options when we can’t cook or eat at home. But there are some drawbacks to this convenience. Studies show that the more often we eat out and choose fast foods, the more likely we are to gain weight or become obese. This can lead to increased health risks over time. Does this mean we have to give up eating fast food? No. But we do need to start making healthier fast food choices. This includes choosing more nutrition-packed fast foods and eating smaller portion sizes.

 

Glass of milk half full.
Remember, adults need calcium as well as kids. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk rather than soda.

Fast Food Trade-Offs

To begin with, don’t get into a rut when you order. Substitute less healthy foods with healthier choices. Try the following trade-offs.

 

 

Instead of ordering a:

Try a:

Hamburger

Grilled chicken or turkey sandwich

Side of fries

Baked potato, cup of soup, or side salad with fat-free or low-fat dressing

Soda or a milkshake

Carton of fat-free or low-fat milk, water, unsweetened tea, or other drinks with no added sugars

Burrito or taco

A lean-meat or all-vegetable sandwich wrap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Healthier Eating at Fast Food Restaurants

Take-out foods don’t have to be limited to what’s on the menu. When you place an order, don’t hesitate to make special requests. Most places will be glad to work with you.

Woman eating a green salad from a plastic containter.

  • Choose the medium- or small-sized options when you order main dishes, sides, and beverages. If an “adult” meal is too large for you, try a “kids” meal. Or, split a meal with a friend.

  • Order your burger on whole-wheat buns or your sandwich on whole-wheat bread, if possible.

  • Don’t add salt to your meal. Fast foods tend to be higher in salt in general. Too much salt raises the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

  • Avoid mayonnaise, sour cream, or “special sauce.” Ask for ketchup and mustard on the side.

  • Avoid high-fat sides. If you don’t want the fries or chips that come with your meal, ask that they not be included. If you’re allowed to substitute, ask for extra lettuce and tomato instead.

  • Choose fresh fruit or yogurt for dessert. Avoid ice cream, pies, and pastries. These are more likely to be high in fat and sugar.

  • Don’t overeat. If you’re full, ask for a “doggy bag” to save the leftovers for later. Be sure to put the food in the refrigerator as soon as you can. Otherwise, you’ll have to toss out any food left at room temperature for over 2 hours.

Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, RD, CD
Last Review Date: 12/20/2012
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