America has been called a “fast food nation,” and rightfully so. Fast food restaurants are ubiquitous in the United States, and at least one in four adults reports eating fast food. It’s very common for people to choose convenience over health when deciding what to eat. Many of us lead busy lives with hectic schedules, and sometimes, a fast-food lunch is unavoidable.
The problem is that excessive consumption of fast food can lead to weight gain and other health complications. The documentary film, Super Size Me, and Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation both reveal the perils of consuming fast food regularly. Fast food is often high in calories, fat and sodium, and lacking in essential micronutrients, healthy fats and fiber. Some of these meals contribute a third to one half of the total calories you need for the day, and far more sodium and saturated fat than is considered necessary.
Is it possible to find healthy options at a fast food restaurant? Yes, and no, there are some healthier options. Nevertheless, trips through the drive-thru should be few and far between. The existence of lower calorie options doesn’t mean it’s okay to consume McDonalds regularly: you’re still feasting on highly processed junk food. Don’t be fooled by Jared’s 245 lb weight loss success on the “Subway Diet,” or the Taco Bell Drive-Thru diet; these diets are sorely lacking in essential nutrients, and chock-full of sodium. These are not healthy, reasonable, or sustainable weight loss plans. (Plus, do you really want to eat Subway sandwiches for the rest of your life?)
Also beware of seemingly healthier options. Salads are often regarded as having a healthy-halo, but a Fiesta Taco Salad at Taco Bell has an astonishing 770 calories and 41 grams of fat. You’re better off with some tacos.
McDonalds has nutrition facts readily available and most fast food restaurants have that information available on their website. If you don’t have the luxury of having the information right in front of you, here are your best options at some popular fast food restaurants.
Here’s a quick tip: save yourself a few hundred calories each meal by ordering water to drink.
- Chili (small 200 calories, 5 g fat, *780 mg sodium; large 300 calories, 7 g fat, *1170 mg sodium)
- Sour cream chives potato (340 calories, 6 g fat, 55 mg sodium)
- Mandarin chicken salad (190 calories, 3 g fat, 520 mg sodium)
- Hamburger (250 calories, 9 g fat, 520 mg sodium, 12 g protein)
- Small fries (230 calories, 11 g fat, 160 mg sodium 3 g protein)
- 4 piece Chicken McNugget (190 calories, 12 g fat, 400 mg sodium, 10 g protein) Get the honey mustard, sweet and sour or BBQ sauce
- Chipotle BBQ snack wrap (260 calories, 9 g fat, 690 mg sodium, 14 g protein)
- Whopper Junior with mayonnaise (260 calories, 11 g fat, 460 mg sodium)
- 4 piece chicken tenders (180 calories, 11 g fat, 310 mg sodium) With sweet and sour dipping sauce, (40 calories, 2 g fat)
- Onion rings (150 calories, 8 g fat, 230 mg sodium)
- Because you have the luxury to customize your own sandwich here, be sure to opt for a whole grain bread, use oil and vinegar or mustard instead of mayonnaise, and load up on the veggies. Go for a lean meat, or even a veggie sub. Subway makes it easy for you to decide what’s better by indicating which sandwiches are less than six grams of fat. Just be sure to stick to a 6” sub.
- Santa Fe Salad with Grilled Chicken (305 calories, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 621 mg sodium)
- Market Fresh Mini Ham & Cheese Sandwich (228 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, *916 mg sodium)
- Spicy chicken soft taco (170 calories, 6 g fat, 360 mg sodium)
- Fresco Ranchero chicken soft taco (170 calories, 4 g fat, 580 mg sodium)
- Fresco crunchy taco (150 calories, 8 g fat, 370 mg sodium)
*Items marked with a star have a tremendous amount of sodium; some almost half of what you need in a day. Due to limited “healthy options”, we had to cut some slack somewhere. Just be sure to avoid anything that contains a lot of sodium for the rest of the day (or week).
Nutrition facts obtained from caloriecount.com