If you absolutely have to stop at a fast-food joint, here’s what to eat
Believe it or not, you can make healthy fast-food choices. However, without a little planning, it’s easy to eat an entire day’s worth of fat, salt and calories in just one fast-food meal.
Sample lunch meal from McDonald’s
Southwest grilled chicken salad — 350 calories, 27 g carbs
Fruit and yogurt parfait — 150 calories, 30 g carbs
Medium unsweet iced tea — 0 calories
Total = 500 calories, 57 g carbs
Sample lunch meal from Taco Bell
2 Fresco shredded chicken soft tacos — 300 calories, 32 g carbs
Black beans and rice — 190 calories, 35 g carbs
Water — 0 calories
Total = 490 calories, 67 g carbs
The first step is to get familiar with the fast-food restaurant’s nutritional information either online or posted inside the restaurant. Don’t be fooled by healthier-sounding menu items: Fat-free muffins still may have plenty of sugar. Skinless fried chicken can have almost as much fat as the regular kind. Chinese food may seem like a healthy choice, but many dishes are deep fried or high in fat and sodium.
Be aware that an average fast-food meal can run as high as 1,000 calories or more and raise your blood sugar above your target range. Although there are some good choices, most fast-food items are high in fat and calories.
Tips to help you choose fast food well
- First, if you are having fast food for one meal, make sure other meals that day contain healthier foods, like fruits and vegetables.
- If breakfast is your fast-food meal, choose a plain bagel, toast or English muffin. Other muffins may be loaded with sugar and fat. Add fruit juice or low-fat or fat-free milk. Order cold cereal with fat-free milk, pancakes without butter or plain scrambled eggs.
- Limit bacon and sausage — they are high in fat.
- Think about how your food will be cooked. Chicken and fish can be good choices, but not if they are breaded and deep-fried. Choose grilled or broiled sandwiches with lean roast beef, turkey or chicken breast, or lean ham.
- Stay away from jumbo, giant, deluxe, biggie-sized or super-sized meals. Order a regular or junior-sized sandwich instead, and there’s no shame in ordering a kids’ meal. You might be surprised by how much it fills you up.
- Order items without toppings, rich sauces or mayonnaise. Add flavor with mustard and crunch with lettuce, tomato and onion. And hold the cheese — it carries an extra 100 calories per ounce, as well as added fat and sodium.
- Go for a salad or the salad bar, but watch out for high-fat toppings like dressings, bacon bits, cheeses and croutons. Even too much low-calorie dressing can add up. Limit salad bar items that are dressed with a lot of mayonnaise, such as potato or macaroni salad.
- Order bean burritos, soft tacos, fajitas and other nonfried items when eating Mexican fast foods. Choose chicken over beef. Limit refried beans. Pile on extra lettuce, tomatoes and salsa. Go easy on cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Say no to deep-fried taco salad shells — a taco salad can have more than 1,000 calories!
- Pizza can be a good fast-food choice. Go for one or two slices of thin-crust pizza with vegetable toppings. Meat and extra cheese add calories, fat and sodium.
- Don’t forget to check calories and sodium on condiment packets. They can add up quickly.
- Finally, stay away from regular sodas. Choose unsweetened tea, diet soda or, best of all, water.