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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!