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Is it possible to make healthy fast food choices? While it may seem like you'd see pigs fly first, there are ways to work the drive-thru to your benefit.
Americans are in the midst of a move towards better self-care through diet and exercise. Experts say too much fast food can lead to long-term problems such as obesity and hypertension. Consumers who make good choices about the fast food they eat have learned how to enjoy without breaking the (caloric) bank.
What are these healthy choices?
Where do you find them?
We've gathered some quick tips to help you learn how to look for the healthiest options. This article will give you information about healthy fast food choices and how to avoid pitfalls. Drive forward, please!
Is There Any Healthy Fast Food?
The short answer is yes!
However, you need to be mindful of a few key things; we've listed the biggest contributing factors down below.
What is the recommended intake limit for a meal? A goal of between 300 to 500 calories in a meal is usually considered a healthy choice. Some meals in fast food restaurants can be 1,000 calories and upwards. When you add all the sides, condiments, fries, and drink on top of the entree, it adds up fast. A healthy fast food meal will be high in protein, lower in fat and sodium. Remember, it’s a quick meal on the go. For example, in the morning you might eat an egg white McMuffin from McDonalds with tea, coffee or water. 2% low fat milk can work as well. Healthy fast food should not be high in calories, fat, sugar, sodium or carbohydrates.
Sometimes a regular cheeseburger could be the better choice over a grilled chicken sandwich. Some regular cheeseburgers have less fat, carbohydrates and calories. If you're really torn, keep in mind that this is one meal. As long as don't make it a regular habit, it won’t make much of a difference to your overall health.
Ditch the bun and ask for a lettuce wrap. Some fast food restaurants offer wraps as an alternative to the traditional bun.Most buns contain enriched flour and aren't the best if you're looking to avoid carbs. A chicken wrap on the other hand is a great alternative to a carb-heavy white bread bun.
Think you can’t go wrong with salad? Just wait until you add the dressing or other ingredients. The calories and fat can sometimes soar above the juiciest cheeseburger!
The core ingredients in salad is vegetables. Most, if not all fast food restaurants offer salad on the menu. Salads in fast food restaurants have become pretty competitive and more are offering high protein and low fat. The dressing still can be a huge issue. Rich, creamy dressings are usually the undoing of a healthy salad. Although they might taste delicious, they’re usually not the best choice, as they can add tons of fat, sugar, and sodium. Try a lighter dressing, such as a vinaigrette.
Choose fresh salads with a visible time stamp on the carton. There is nothing worse than soggy lettuce and dried tomatoes. Don't be afraid to ask for a fresh one if yours looks wilted. Fresh, crispy salad will definitely be more satisfying.
What’s a fast food meal without fries? It almost goes without saying, fries are always included in your order wherever you go. Even if you don’t order fries, fast food places urge you to order a combo or upsell a larger size. Order the smallest size as an infrequent treat. Or, see what else you could swap the fries for.
We know it's no fun, but the best option is to stick with water. You could also buy drinks that are sugar free, such as like tea. Sugary juices and sodas alone can increase your calorie and overall sugar intake beyond your daily recommended levels.
What is the Healthiest Fast Food Item?
The healthiest fast food item has to be a toss-up between what you choose and the restaurant where you eat. To be fair to readers and objective, the best answer to this question has to lie with the consumer. There are people who will tell you hands down the healthiest fast food restaurant item is salad. However, we've already covered the various issues that can come with your salad.
Our best advice would be to look for a lean protein, such as a grilled chicken wrap. Go light dressings and sauces and swap the fries for a side salad. You can also scan the menu for an all-veggie option, like a stir fry or taco dish.
Health Fast Food Eating Tips
When eating out, remember to enjoy in moderation. Keep your fast food trips to a minimum and prepare most of your own food. This will ensure you treat your body to the nutrients it deserves.
Drink lots of beverages that are either sugar free or low sugar by volume. Many fast food products derive their unique flavor by using loads of sugar, syrups, and artificial sweeteners. When you add sugary drinks, you increase your overall intake of sugar.
Keep the portions small and within your designated caloric intake for a meal. Some meals can quickly exceed 500 calories before you realize it. Most places try to upsell your order at every stage. Resist temptation and keep fast to the size you want. The difference is the percentage of fat, sugar and carbohydrates can quickly double or triple as you go up.
Condiments and dressings
Condiments and dressings contain additives to increase shelf life. You can order a healthy fast food breakfast item and add a dressing that has more sugar than the item you ordered. Avoid adding condiments that have a high sugar content or use additives such as partially hydrogenated oils.
Limit your trips. It doesn’t take long before you begin to add unwanted weight or worse yet, your overall health begins to change. Once in a while is better than once or twice a week.
Best Fast Food Restaurants
Go to restaurants rated as the top or best.
There are numerous listings of the best and the worst fast food restaurants. Go to a restaurant that is among the best. When you go to a top rated restaurant, you can expect better and healthier food.
Consumer Reports Top 5 Fast Food Restaurants
- Rubio's – Good food quality for the money, good taste
- Chipolte – Good taste, fresh ingredients
- Chic-Fil-A – Quality food, fast service, friendly staff
- InNOut Burger – Fresh burgers, never frozen, simple menu
- Habit Burger – Fresh food, clean restaurants
Remember it’s fast food-
It is easy to get caught up in the everyday stress of life. That makes it easy to forget that healthy fast food is convenience food. Healthy fast food is a temporary or occasional alternative to your daily routine of personalized healthy food choices. Fast food restaurant are in the business of making it easy for you to get a meal. They are not in the business of catering to your personal choices. They will offer healthy choices as long as there is a demand. It is not possible for fast food restaurant to cater to everybody’s individual needs. With more people becoming health-conscious, places are increasingly offering more choices. However, it's still up to us to make the best choices for ourselves.
Restaurants offer food that does meet the criteria as healthy fast food, but cannot provide the specific meals in a way that you want. You settle for what is available and cannot get exactly what you want. When you use healthy fast food restaurants as a back up or incorporate eating there on some type of frequency you have a better chance to maintain a healthy diet.
The Top 10 Worst Fast Food Chains in America
Some food for thought. According to Consumer Reports, these are the worst Fast Food Chains in America.
- Carl’s Jr. – High caloric count
- Jimmy John’s – Poor quality food
- Hardee’s – Poor food quality
- Long John Silver’s – Poor food quality
- McDonald’s – Poor food quality and freshness
- Little Caesars – Poor quality ingredients
- Panda Express – Relatively expensive and mediocre quality of dishes
- Taco Bell – Poor food quality and freshness
- KFC – Poor food quality, dirty restaurants
- Domino’s – Dirty restaurants, poor food quality, slow service
For the morning when you just need a quick bite without derailing the rest of your day or the night you can't face cooking, we hope these tips come in handy. Remember, even if you decide to go all out and splurge on a meal, one day won't tank your whole diet. Enjoy in moderation and you'll be just fine.
Do you have any great fast food tips for staying healthy? Share your best drive-thru hacks down below!