It’s Not All Bad – Healthy Decisions in Fast Food

While I write a lot about obesity problems in the United States, I’m like most people in that I love to eat. I love steaks, pizza, pasta, burgers, fries, quesadillas, and of course my all time favorite…fried chicken. In all honesty, I can’t remember ever choosing to order a salad at a restaurant. Hey, I’m a college student on a budget with a massive appetite, what do you expect? It’s hard to justify a $15 meal from Wholefoods when I can get twice as much food for half the price at one of the numerous fast food chains located within walking distance from my house. Luckily for me, I’m young and have time to exercise and play sports, which helps to counterbalance my sometimes less than stellar diet. However, I also keep in mind some simple dietary tips when ordering my food.

The truth is that fast food is cheap, delicious, filling, and has managed to creep into every aspect of our lives. I can grab a burger at my local gas station, a Domino’s pizza pie at my school’s legendary Cameron Indoor, some sesame chicken as I walk to class, and even a corndog at the local Costco after I finish shopping. Fast food is everywhere. It’s hard to avoid, especially as you walk by a fast food restaurant and are greeted with such a delicious smell that your mouth actually begins to water. Don’t forget the numerous patrons inside as they munch on juicy cheeseburgers with grins so wide they can barely chew their food.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of us indulge our taste buds every once in awhile with our favorite fast food meals. Some of us probably indulge more than we would like to admit. However, sometimes we’re left with no choice. The lack of food options often forces us to grab a bite at a fast food restaurant. Luckily, it is possible to eat at one of these restaurants without having to one-up your pants size post-grubbing. Many fast food chains have added healthy options to their menus, and some companies even pride themselves on their incorporation of healthy ingredients in all their menu items. Subway, one fast food chain that tends to serve healthier options than your typical burger joint, has even surpassed McDonald’s as the top fast food chain in terms of number of stores.

However, chances are you’ll most likely find yourself inside a fast food restaurant other than Subway in the near future. Therefore, let’s take a look at some ways to eat “healthy” at a typical fast food chain. The easiest way to cut down the fat and calories is to refrain from – as hard as it might be –the fries and soft drinks. A large soda and a large order of fries at McDonald’s totals 810 calories and 25g of fat. Substituting these options with bottled water and a side salad will save you 790 calories and all 25g of fat. That was easy. Now, let’s take a look at our main meal. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Yes, I know I should order one of the numerous boring and tasteless salads right?” Not necessarily. While the salads are obvious healthy options, you can treat yourself to a bit of a tastier meal. Keeping with McDonald’s menu, you can order a “Premium Grilled Chicken Club” with no mayo and only consume 410 calories and 11g of fat. Don’t worry about taste, that sandwich still has bacon and cheese on it. So now your entire meal is 430 calories and only 11g of fat, and I promise you’ll be satisfied.

In this example, I decided to take a look at McDonald’s menu because McDonald’s is a very generic and typical fast food restaurant that most people are familiar with. But, most fast food chains have similar options that will allow you to customize your meal to meet your own health standards. Some common menu items to remember to avoid are fries, soft drinks, “special sauces”, fried foods, and sugary deserts. You don’t need to be a dietician to make health conscious choices at fast food restaurants.

I am not advocating for the consumption of fast food, and I am a strong opponent of food deserts. However, I do understand that many times people are almost forced to eat at one of theses restaurants. Therefore, it is important to understand ways in which you can make your fast food experience a relatively healthy one. When looking for food options, the word cheap is often synonymous with unhealthy. Fortunately, with a little knowledge this doesn’t have to be the case. I am not arguing that fast food restaurants can be healthy alternatives to more expensive food establishments, but I do believe remembering to take advantage of certain options can help to make the most of an unavoidable situation.

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2 comments

    • Luke on 22 March, 2012 at 4:02 pm
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    Thanks for the feedback! I thought this might be some helpful advice for those trying to keep a healthy diet on a budget with limited food options.

    • Areeba on 22 March, 2012 at 1:20 am
    • Reply

    This is a great post. I like how you offered a few healthy alternatives to consume at pretty popular fast food joints. You’re absolutely right, as college students we tend to gravitate towards food that gives more for the price, and those items are not particularly healthy. Thanks for the food swap ideas!

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