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Let’s face it–very little good ever comes from dining at a fast food restaurant, at least as far as your health is concerned.
You’re paying for convenience, not good nutrition. With that said, don’t let your waistline pay the price. Follow these strategies to help lessen the damage from trips to fast food joints.
STAY AWAY FROM COMBO MEALS
Combo meals are great if all you care about is getting as much food as you can for the lowest price possible.
Of course, fast food tends to be loaded with calories, sodium, and fat–when it comes to these, “more” is rarely a good thing for your health.
Instead, simply order a couple of individual small items–say, a regular burger/sandwich and a small fry. Skip the drink (we’ll explain more a bit later). You’ll still get your fast-food fix, but can easily shave hundreds of calories off your meal this way!
- An average-sized combo meal (burger & medium fries) can easily set you back 1200 calories or more–and that’s even before the drink is included!
- By comparison, a regular cheeseburger and small fries frequently come in around 600 calories (or even less).
Not only can you save hundreds of calories this way, but you’ll frequently even save a couple bucks compared to buying a full meal!
- An average combo meal from a burger joint frequently exceeds $5 or more.
- By contrast, a regular burger and small fry usually comes in under $2.50 (or less!).
SKIP THE SODA
The soda you get with a combo meal doesn’t just drive the price of the meal up–it can also be a huge source of hidden calories in your diet.
- A medium drink can provide 200 calories or more–and that’s assuming you don’t go back for refills.
- A large soda can easily top 300 calories!
- A medium “juice” beverage (like Hi-C or Powerade) is a better alternative, at around 100 calories or so.
If you must have a soda, make it a diet–diet soda isn’t exactly healthy, but at least it has no calories. Better yet, don’t get soda at all. If you’re following our advice, and avoiding combo meals, then this means that any drinks you buy will be extra.
Consider this: most restaurants offer free water to patrons. Water offers zero calories, so you can drink as much as you want without endangering your diet.
In fact, drinking a lot of water can be a great way to fill you up, preventing you from going back up to the counter for “seconds”.
Also consider that a small drink can cost over $1.50 or more at many locations–in fact, I was at a Burger King recently that was charging $1.89 for a small drink! Do you want to spend almost $2 extra on a soda?
It’s customary for many restaurants to offer fries as a side dish. But, a lot of restaurants have alternative options to fries.
For example, McDonald’s offers alternatives such as apple slices, side salads, and the Fruit & Yogurt Parfait.
KFC offers kernel corn & green beans. Not all of these sides are low-calorie (the Fruit & Yogurt Parfait from McDonald’s, for example, has 160 calories), but almost all of them are a healthier alternative to french fries.
- If you’re buying a combo meal, many restaurants will let you substitute fries for a side of your choice, although you may have to pay the difference in cost.
- If you’re buying individual items (good for you!), then it’s even easier to pick healthy sides you enjoy.
BEWARE OF CHICKEN
Don’t think of chicken as being an automatic easy win for your diet. When prepared correctly, chicken can be a great, healthier alternative to red meat like beef.
Of course, most fast food restaurants don’t serve healthy chicken–it’s processed, battered, and fried, and topped with calorie-rich sauces; by the time it’s done, it’s no better for you than beef (sometimes worse).
If you want to have fast-food chicken that’s as healthy as possible, look for grilled alternatives. Most restaurants will have at least one or two grilled chicken items on the menu, but that’s usually it.
Other chains offer up many more options, such as:
- El Pollo Loco offers lots of chicken items that are reasonably low in calories and fat–but beware, as many items are still somewhat high in sodium.
- KFC also offers grilled items that are significantly healthier than the fried alternatives. Just be careful when you pick a side dish.
- Chipotle offers all natural chicken, beef, and carnitas (quick tip – ask for half of two kinds of meat to get a bit extra serving).
French fries are, not surprisingly, fairly high in sodium–but, there are a number of menu items that are much higher in sodium, and oftentimes they’re items that you wouldn’t expect to be!
- USDA recommendation for sodium intake is less than 2000 mg per day–preferably closer to 1500 per day.
- For example, a large french fry order from McDonald’s has 350 mg of sodium–a surprisingly low amount.
- By contrast, an Angus Chipotle BBQ Bacon Snack Wrap has 1060 mg of sodium–half to two-thirds your recommended daily amount!
Processed meats tend to be suprisingly high in sodium–not just to add flavor, but also as a result of the processing methods used to prepare and preserve the meat.
Try to limit how much processed meat you get in one meal. Of course, don’t take that as permission to go nuts with the french fries–they’re still high in calories and fat!
It’s actually becoming more and more common for fast food chains to post calorie content information on their in-store menus.
This alone can sometimes be a great deterrent against ordering something needlessly big–it’s hard not to feel guilty about ordering a giant cheeseburger when you can plainly see that it will cost you over half your calories for the day.
More complete nutrition information is sometimes posted near the ordering area; or, you can ask the cashier if they can give out pamphlets offering this information.
Not all chains will do this, but many of them will upon request.
Additionally, virtually every chain also makes complete nutrition information available on their websites–information such as fat content, sodium, and more.
Don’t be afraid to spend a few minutes doing research on the best options to select from your favorite restaurant before you place your order–it will save you a lot of time in the future trying to work off the extra pounds you’d build up by making poor decisions at the counter!
It’s common knowledge that protein is one of the more essential nutrients you need.
It’s used by the body to create and/or repair almost all kinds of tissue. It’s especially valuable for people who are attempting to build muscle.
But how much do you really need?
RECOMMENDED DAILY INTAKE
Let’s say you’re not an unusually active person.
Maybe you exercise periodically; maybe you don’t. How much protein does the average adult need? Well, as a general guideline, the USDA and CDC recommend the average adult woman consumes 46 grams of protein per day, and the average adult male consumes 56 grams of protein each day.
However, this is just a conservative guideline. More specifically, they recommend about 0.4 grams of protein for every pound of body weight–so, if you weigh 175 pounds, you’ll need about 70 grams of protein.
Luckily, consuming your daily allotment of protein is pretty easy, if you eat the right foods once or twice a day.
PROTEIN CONTENT IN COMMON FOODS
Here’s how much protein you can get from some common high-protein food items. Note that all values are an approximate range, and can vary depending on portion size and preparation method.
- Beans (Pinto, Navy, Kidney): 15 grams
- Beans (Soy): 15 – 20 grams
- Beans (White): 20 grams
- Beef Patty (Hamburger): 22 – 28 grams
- Beef Steak (Sirloin): 25 – 40 grams
- Chicken (breast): 25 – 30 grams
- Chicken (other): 12 – 20 grams
- Fish (fillet): 15 – 30 grams
- Mushrooms: 3 grams
- Nuts (Pistachio): 6 grams
- Nuts (Cashews): 4 – 5 grams
- Nuts (Peanuts): 8 – 10 grams
- Protein Supplement (Whey): 20 – 25 grams
- Pork (loin): 25 – 30 grams
- Pork (ham): 19 – 25 grams
As you can see, getting all the protein you need each day can require only 2 servings of food, if you choose correctly. You don’t even need to eat lots of meat!
Even vegetarians and vegans can get large amounts of protein from eating the right kinds of beans and nuts!
DO YOU NEED MORE?
Now, let’s say that you ARE an active person. Maybe you run a lot. Maybe you lift weights constantly. Should you be consuming more protein than the USDA recommends? Yes, you should, but how much depends on your lifestyle and situation.
Generally speaking, conventional wisdom from athletes and bodybuilders is that you should eat about 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight–so, if you weigh 175 pounds, eat 175 grams of protein each day.
You’ll probably need to eat more meals (maybe 4 to 6 a day) to hit this goal, or use supplements in between meals. However, this generally assumes that you train with high intensity, and that you’re specifically looking to build lots of muscle.
For the most part, the average physically-active person won’t see much benefit (if any) from eating more than 30 grams of protein per meal, or more than about 100 – 150 grams per day.
Any more than this is probably wasteful (not to mention potentially expensive), but isn’t likely to harm you.
Supplements (like powders, shakes, and bars) are a good way to help meet your protein requirements, as they tend to be more protein-dense than other food sources, meaning that you don’t need to consume as much of them to get large amounts of protein.
Also, they tend to be convenient–a bar or a shake is much easier to prepare or transport than many “regular” types of food. However, not all supplements are well-rounded sources of nutrition, so be wary if you’re looking for something to use as a meal-replacement product–replacing the occasional meal with a bar or shake is OK, but you can’t live off supplements alone without consequences.
If you want to know what’s better, a protein bar or a protein shake, then read our comparison article here.
And, again, if you aren’t physically active, you don’t need to eat as much protein! Stick with the USDA’s recommendations.
WHAT IF YOU EAT TOO MUCH?
Opinions on “too much protein” are highly varied.
Not everyone can agree on whether you CAN eat too much protein or not, let alone agree on how much “too much” actually IS. Generally speaking, lots of protein alone won’t harm you, even if your body doesn’t really need it.
Still, high-protein diets can sometimes result in side effects–not from the protein itself, but from ignoring other dietary or lifestyle factors that can lead to ill health.
- Lots of high-protein sources are also high in calories and fat. Eating too much without working it off can result in weight gain. (Too much protein by itself will usually just pass through your digestive system, though, and won’t result in extra weight gain).
- People who eat nothing but protein sometimes neglect other vital nutrients, like fiber. Don’t ignore the other food groups!
- Too much protein is speculated to lead to kidney issues or loss of bone density, due to the fact that the body spends calcium when protein is broken down and absorbed. There’s a lot of conflict of opinion on this, though. Consider increasing your calcium intake a bit to counteract this.
- If you aren’t especially active, consume around 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.
- If you’re highly active, consume up to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily.
- Don’t neglect a well-balanced diet just to increase your protein intake!