Did you stop at your favorite drive-through for a breakfast sandwich on the way to work today? Maybe you’re planning to dash out for a burger and fries or pizza slice during your lunch hour? Millions of Americans grab a quick bite at fast food eateries every day. But as you probably know, “fast food” often equals “fat food.” Those calories can add up fast, and carrying extra pounds increases the risk of heart disease, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, it’s important to know that fast food isn’t necessarily the worst culprit when it comes to unhealthy eating. University of Illinois researcher Ruopeng An recently reported that eating at a fancy sit-down place can be just as bad, loading on the calories, sodium and cholesterol. His study showed that “eating at a full-service restaurant is not necessarily healthier than eating at a fast-food outlet. In fact, you may be at higher risk of overeating in a full-service restaurant than when eating fast food.”

The research team recommended that people eat home-prepared food as much as possible. But that’s not always practical. Fast food does offer the advantage that you know what you’re getting, and food offerings often come in various sizes. Here are some tips for making that drive-through trip a little healthier:

  • Order your hamburger plain instead of with cheese, bacon or fatty sauces. There are still plenty of toppings that won’t push you over your fat limit, such as ketchup, mustard, onions, pickles, and lettuce.
  • Avoid giant burgers with large patties or several layers of meat. And if you can’t resist French fries, choose the smallest size. Some chains will let adults order a child’s meal, which in many cases has more sensible portions and healthier choices. You might even score a cool prize!
  • Choose your beverage wisely. Did you know that a 32-ounce sugared soft drink has almost 500 calories? That’s almost one-fifth of the daily calorie recommendation for a moderately active middle-aged person. Stick with water, ice tea, low-fat milk or diet soda. And remember: a milkshake is a dessert, not a beverage, weighing in at 1000 calories for a large chocolate malted.
  • Avoid the breading. Chicken is healthier than red meat, right? Wrong, if the chicken is breaded and deep fried. Remove some or most of the breading before eating—or better yet, select a skinless grilled chicken sandwich instead. And the same thing goes for fish.
  • Pick a smart salad. More fast food outlets offer meal salads these days, and this can be a nutritious choice. But remember that cheese, creamy dressings, bacon topping and “crispy” chicken may add more fat than you’d get in a cheeseburger. Order your salad with no meat or with grilled chicken instead. And try the “fork dipping” method, coating your fork with a bit of dressing before taking a bite rather than dumping the entire dressing packet on the salad. Better yet, ask for fat-free dressing.
  • Do your homework. If you aren’t sure about the fat, calorie or sodium content of menu items, ask to see a nutritional value list, which can help you make your decision. Better yet, plan ahead by looking on a company’s website for nutritional information. Changing federal regulations should make this easier within the next year or so.

Bottom line: your dietary needs don’t change just because you went through a drive-through or are sitting under a pair of golden arches rather than in your own kitchen. Even if you love fast food or at least its convenience, start making wise menu choices now.

To Help You Choose…

The CalorieKing website contains nutritional information for a wide variety of fast food outlets and other chain restaurants. Or consult the website of individual chains.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners

The information in this article is not intended to take the place of your healthcare provider’s advice. If you have questions about a diet that is right for you, talk to your doctor or a registered nutritionist.

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