Are There Healthy Fast Food Options?

Here are five quick ideas for reasonable fast-food choices that will help alleviate some of the guilt of occasional drive-through dining (and yes, we name names here…so be ready to see if your favorite option is good or bad news!)…

Your shift ended late and you have a ton of things that need to be done. Or maybe you’re on your way to work and realize that you’ve not yet eaten. And guess what? You’re hungry. You only have time for one thing…(insert evil music)…fast food!

Can you really pick up a meal from a fast-food restaurant and still maintain your goal of making healthy food choices? Here are five quick ideas for reasonable fast-food choices that will help alleviate some of the guilt of occasional drive-through dining.

1. Use portion control.
You’re hungry, so you need enough to fill your hunger. If you have too small a meal, you may be tempted to buy something else to stamp out that unsatisfied feeling. But be careful that your hunger pangs don’t have you super-sizing all your food portions. What you want is a just-right-for-you size. Order the smallest portion possible that you know will satisfy you. For some adults, the child-size meal is just perfect.

Know your limits:

    • Cholesterol: The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that your daily consumption of cholesterol not exceed 200 mg a day.
    • Sodium: Looking at sodium, the national guidelines recommend that healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. For those who are at higher risk of developing hypertension, the limit is only 1,500 milligrams per day.
    • Fiber: Fiber is also something to take into account. Men and women who are 50 years old or younger should have 38 and 25 grams daily, respectively. Older men and women should have 30 and 21 grams daily, respectively. Protein requirements come in at 40 to 70 grams daily. Carbohydrates, a bad word for some people, are also needed, and it’s recommended that half your (healthy!) intake be made up of carbohydrates.

Best portion control option: Try Arby’s Junior Roast Beef, which has 340 calories and 16 grams of fat. Avoid the fries and opt for water or milk as a beverage, and you can drive away feeling like you made some smart choices.

Avoid: Burger King’s king-size fries, which have 540 calories and an excessive 1,080 milligrams of sodium. If you absolutely must have French fries, opt for the medium size, which has 370 calories.

2. Avoid coatings.
Love a good chicken burger? You’ll lower your cholesterol and salt intake if you choose a grilled fillet of chicken instead of a fried chicken patty. As nurses, we know what the accumulative effect of eating too much “bad” food can do. It not only can lead to obesity, but it adds to increased risk of hypertension, diabetes and other nasty diseases. If someone has a high-stress job (such as nursing) and eats poorly, she’s just asking for trouble.

Many fast-food restaurants now offer grilled meats in addition to fried meats. This is what you should be looking for. Not only are the meats (which include chicken) not fried, but they’re not coated with some sort of breadcrumb covering that adds significantly to the caloric, cholesterol and sodium intake.

Best chicken burger option: Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich, baked potato with broccoli and cheese, and a glass of water equals 610 calories, 70 of which are from fat. There are 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 755 milligrams of sodium and 9 grams of fiber (7 from the potato alone). Finally, you have 31 grams of protein.

Alternate no-coating grilled chicken option: Taco Bell’s Grilled Chicken Soft Taco. It has 200 calories, 7 grams of fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol and 540 milligrams of sodium.

Avoid: Wendy’s Big Bacon Classic Hamburger and Biggie French Fries. This super-caloric belly bomb equals 1,050 calories (480 of which are from fat), 95 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1,650 milligrams of sodium.

3. Beware of the pizza trap.
Pizza can be surprisingly healthy if you choose the right pizza and the right restaurant. Not all pizzas are created equal, though, and you also need to watch what you decide to add to them. Let’s compare a typical small pizza with sauce, pepperoni and cheese. Although the sizes of the pizzas differ a bit, the ratio gives you an idea of what’s what:

Best fast-food pizza option: Pizza Hut Hand Tossed Pepperoni, 116-gram serving size, has 280 calories, 117 of which are from fat. There are 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 790 milligrams of sodium and 13 grams of protein. Add vegetables, such as green peppers and mushrooms. Or, even better, go for the vegetarian pizza. This will significantly drop the fat, cholesterol and sodium count.

Avoid: A similar pizza from Domino’s, but larger at 215 grams, comes in at 697 calories, 254 of which are from fat. There are 397 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,341 milligrams of sodium and 23 grams of protein. The Domino’s pizza is not double the size of the Pizza Hut one, yet it has more than double the calories, cholesterol and sodium. If you wanted to add extra cheese to your Domino’s pizza, you’re looking at an extra 36 calories and 163 milligrams of cholesterol.

4. Skimp on the condiments.
Make conscientious decisions with the “extras.” For instance, ask yourself these questions: Do you need all the mayonnaise the preparer glopped onto your burger? Do you really need two slices of their version of cheese? You may also be surprised that using one ketchup pack and a salt pack adds 10 calories (and who uses just one?) and 370 milligrams of sodium.

Best option for condiments: Ask for no condiments and add your own healthier versions of ketchup and mayo, like Vegenaise, that you have stored at home or in your break room.

Avoid: Bulk, no-nutrition condiments available at fast-food restaurants.

5. Watch that dessert.
What’s a fast-food meal without a treat to finish it off? After all, nurses have a very physical job, and you know you worked hard. Here again, choose wisely. No two treats are the same amount of “sweet” for your health.

Best dessert options: McDonald’s Apple Dippers: 35 calories, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugars. Or try the Fruit and Yogurt Parfait: 160 calories (20 from fat), 5 mg cholesterol, 85 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 21 g sugars.

Avoid: McFlurry with M&M candies: 620 calories (180 from fat), 55 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 96 g carbohydrates, 14 g sugars.


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