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Is there such a thing as "healthy" fast food?
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It’s convenient, tasty and cheap. That’s why many people eat fast food more often than is healthy. The same characteristics that make fast food tempting also contribute to some of their unsavory traits. The high fat, sodium and sugar content in fast-food restaurant menus may contribute to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and weight gain.
Find Healthy Items at Your Favorite Restaurants
In recent years, some restaurants have sought to offer healthier options, but the choices at fast-food restaurants are still loaded with fat and calorie-laden meals. Still, a discriminating dieter can find good food at nearly any restaurant.
An occasional meal high in calories and sodium won’t have a big health effect, but if you’re eating fast food more than once a week, search out more nutritious offerings on the menu.
When eating at these three types of restaurants, here’s how to find healthier fare.
Hamburger restaurant: Order a grilled chicken sandwich, and ask your server to skip the mayonnaise. Instead of fries, get salad with an oil-based dressing or apple slices.
Sub sandwich restaurant: Choose a small sandwich with grilled chicken, turkey or vegetables. Add flavor with mustard or a light dressing. Skip the cheese and mayonnaise.
Mexican restaurant: Order a burrito with vegetables and lean protein such as fish, chicken or beans. Go easy on the toppings, with a small dab of sour cream, guacamole or salsa.
Understanding Fast Food Choices
No matter what type of restaurant you favor, if you understand the options, you can make better choices. Here’s what you need to know to limit sodium, sugar, fat and calories.
Toppings and condiments: Avoid cheese, mayonnaise, special sauce and creamy dressings that are high in calories and sodium. Choose vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and peppers. Some condiments, such as pickles, are low in calories and fat, but high in sodium.
Cooking methods: Frying turns healthy foods into fatty diet-busters. Look for dishes prepared by grilling, steaming or broiling.
Side dishes: Not all fast-food sides are fried. Look for green salads, fruit and non-creamy soup.
Go easy on portions: Today’s portions are often double the size of what was considered normal in decades past. Order smaller meals or share a dish with a friend. Bypass large sodas and other sugary drinks and instead drink water, tea or milk.
It’s a challenge to eat healthy at fast-food restaurants, especially when you’re hungry and in a hurry. Get familiar with the lighter fare offered at your favorite establishments, and you’ll have an easier time finding food that fits the bill for both health and convenience.
About the Author: Dr. Broussard is a fellow in the American College of Surgeons and diplomat of the American Board of Surgery. His professional memberships include the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons, Caraway Surgical Society, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Oklahoma Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, and Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES). Dr. Broussard currently practices at WeightWise Bariatric Program, located right outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.