Can you eat healthily in a fast food restaurant? That’s what the big name chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell want you to believe. All of these restaurants offer some sort of “healthy” option on the menu to lure those who are watching their weight or simply want better options. But how healthy are these options? Of course it depends on what you order.
Aside from some options that can be very healthy, like salads, other options that seem like wise choices may not be as good as they seem. Also, avoid ordering anything in a large size, as this will quickly add extra calories and fat. Many foods also contain added sugars, which quickly add calories.
Salads and salad dressings at McDonalds are quite low in calories and fat. A salad with dressing can contain up to 500 or more calories, but that’s a lot fewer than other alternatives. However, salads do not necessarily mean that the nutritional value is high. Many salads are made with iceberg lettuce, which is mostly water. However, if you’re trying to manage your weight and have no other options, a salad can be a good choice. It probably won’t fill you up, so snacking ahead of time to avoid other temptations while you’re there can be a good option.
Other options that seem like healthy alternatives can be deceiving. Whether a food is fried or grilled also has a major impact. But simply choosing between beef and chicken, for example, may not be enough. The Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich has 680 calories compared to the Big Mac’s 560. The key is to look for grilled alternatives and avoid the tempting side dishes like fries or dessert.
When choosing a salad, choose wisely. Just because a menu item contains the word “salad” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Wendy’s Taco Salad, for example, comes in at almost 400 calories just by looking at the basic salad ingredients; Add in the extras that come with it, and the total is nearly 700 calories. This is about a third of the total for a day on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Even a seemingly healthy baked potato with broccoli and cheese has 340 calories.
When you are hungry it can be very difficult to avoid the temptations of the fast food restaurant. This can be dangerous because of the extra fat and calorie content. If you give in to the temptation of ordering “big” fries at Wendy’s, you’re consuming an extra 590 calories and 28 grams of fat.
What about alternatives like the low-fat strawberry flavored yogurt? The yogurt itself has 200 calories, and the granola topping that comes with it has an additional 110 calories. In comparison, an average cup of low-fat yogurt from the grocery store has about 100 calories.
Burger King offers a range of eating options through its website for those on a carb, fat, or calorie mind. Many of the salads listed have between 10 and 13 grams of fat, or 90 to 117 calories from fat. Salads fall in the 400 calorie range overall. The dressings add another 70 to 270 calories, for a total of up to almost 700 calories. Again, this is almost a third of the total calorie intake for a day. The original Whopper sandwich with everything on it has about the same amount of calories. Depending on the salad and dressing you choose, the salad option may actually have more total fat than the whopper. In other words, eating a “healthy” salad instead of a sandwich might not give you the benefits you’re looking for.
Taco Bell offers “Fresco Style” options that contain less than 10 grams of fat per serving. This results in cheese and sauces being removed from the item. This style can reduce overall fat and calorie intake. Many dishes on the Fresco Style menu are under 400 calories. The key to ordering through this method is knowing which fresco style items are available and which are not. Most items have this option, but many don’t. Ask before ordering.
A final word of caution when it comes to fast food: Even when the options are low-fat and low-calorie, many are still very high in sodium and low in fiber. Total nutritional value is an issue. Cooking methods such as deep frying or prolonged exposure to hot lamps can drastically reduce a food’s nutritional value. So what’s the bottom line? While the occasional visit to a fast food restaurant can be pleasurable and not produce too many negative side effects, the notion that “healthy” alternatives at fast food chains are actually “healthy” is questionable.
Thanks to Mike Singh