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Fast food without the fat

By Evelyn Tribole

It’s no secret that fast-food places are not the bastion of healthy eating. But you can eat at a fast-food place and fare relatively well. Almost every fast-food establishment has at least one healthy (or healthier) choice. But first, let’s look at the potential problems if you enter the arena of fast food mindlessly.

When you are in the “gulp-and-go” cycle, you may not give a second thought to what you put into your body. I find that even my health-conscious clients tend to fall into the all-or-none trap the moment they enter a fast-food restaurant. They rationalize, “Since I’m eating fast food, I might as well blow it.” This mind-set combined with the ease of ordering combo meals and their inexpensive supersizing can quickly spell trouble. Even if you are not supersizing, some foods by themselves exceed a day’s worth of fat and sodium if you eat the whole thing.

If you want to see how your favorite fast-food order stacks up nutritionally, check out appendix A, “Fast-Food Nutritional Charts.” You’ll find nutrition information on 22 fast-food companies, including pizza places, sandwich shops, and take-out places.

Now let’s focus on the positive, that is, how to make the best out of a fast-food situation. Keep in mind that in a pinch, fast food can be better than going too long without eating, which can lead to overeating.

Here are some guidelines to help make the best of your fast-food order.

  • Don’t assume that because a menu item sounds healthy, it is. While a chicken sandwich sounds healthy (and it can be), if it’s fried or loaded with bacon and cheese, it can be much higher in fat than a hamburger, which is particularly sad if that’s what you wanted all along! For example, Arby’s Market Fresh Roast Chicken Sandwich has 820 calories and 2,160 milligrams of sodium, more than one day’s maximum recommended sodium.
  • Forget supersizing. While it’s tempting to get more food for mere pennies, in the long run you may pay a bigger price with your health.
  • Opt for charbroiled or roasted sandwiches, especially chicken.
  • Hold the mayo. Try using mustard or ketchup instead, or request light mayo, available at many places.
  • Consider quenching your thirst with low-fat milk, orange juice, or iced tea.
  • Have a sweet tooth? Take advantage of the frozen yogurt offered at many fast-food places.
  • Opt for entree salads or side salads, but go easy on the dressing. Better yet, request the light salad dressing.
  • Gotta have the fries? Then choose the smallest size.
  • Hold the cheese. Although cheese is rich in calcium, it is loaded with saturated fat. Until the fast-food industry offers lower-fat cheeses, save your cheese eating for home or grazing times when low-fat varieties are available.
  • Limit anything fried. This includes the healthy-sounding alternatives chicken and fish. Once these items are fried, they are not healthier choices.

What if you are in the mood for a burger? A basic small burger is really not so bad, and it can be a good source of iron, a mineral that most women and children do not get enough of. The problem is getting a basic burger, which in most fast-food places has been relegated to the children’s menu, giving you the impression that it could not be enough food for an adult. Your best bet is to request a small hamburger and round it out with a side salad (most places have them) with light dressing. If you are also in the mood for fries, order the kid’s meal; you’ll get a small burger and small fries.

This is an excerpt from Eating on the Run.

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