Is it possible to eat healthy in a fast food restaurant? Big name chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell want you to think that. All of these restaurants offer some type of “healthy” alternative on the menu to appeal to those who are watching their weight or just want better options. But how healthy are these options? It depends on what you order, of course.
Aside from some options that can be quite healthy, such as salads, other options that may seem right may not be as good as they seem. Also avoid ordering anything in a large size, as this quickly adds additional calories and fat. Many foods also include additional sugars that add calories quickly.
The salads and salad dressings at McDonalds are quite low in calories and fat. A salad with dressing can go up to 500 or more calories, but this is much lower than other options. 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 are trying to control your weight and have no other options, a salad may be a good option. You probably won’t feel full, so snacking ahead of time can be a good option to avoid other temptations while you’re there.
Other options that seem like healthy alternatives can be misleading. Whether a food is fried or broiled will also have a great effect. But simply choosing between beef and chicken, for example, may not be enough. The Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich has 680 calories compared to Big Mac’s 560. The key is to look for grilled alternatives and avoid tempting sides, like fries or desserts.
If you are opting for a salad, choose wisely. Just because a menu item includes the word “salad” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Wendy’s taco salad, for example, has almost 400 calories if you just look at the basic salad ingredients; Throw in the extras that come with it, and the total is nearly 700 calories. This is about a third of a day’s total on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Even a seemingly healthy baked potato with broccoli and cheese has 340 calories.
If you’re hungry, it can be very difficult to avoid the temptations of the fast food restaurant. This can be dangerous because of the feeling of added fat and calories. If you are tempted at Wendy’s and order some “large” fries, you will consume an additional 590 calories and 28 grams of fat.
What about alternatives like low-fat strawberry flavored yogurt? The yogurt itself has 200 calories, and the granola topping that comes with it has an additional 110 calories. By comparison, an average cup of store-bought low-fat yogurt will have around 100 calories.
Burger King offers a variety of dining options through its website for those looking for carbs, fat, or calories. Many listed salads have between 10 and 13 grams of fat, or between 90 and 117 calories from fat. Salads fall in the 400 total calorie range. The toppings will add another 70 to 270 calories, for a total of up to nearly 700 calories. Again, this is almost a third of a day’s total caloric intake. The original Whopper sandwich with everything in it has about the same number of calories. Depending on the salad and dressing chosen, the salad option may have more total fat than the Whopper. In other words, eating a “healthy” salad instead of a sandwich may not provide the benefits you are looking for.
Taco Bell offers “Fresco Style” options that have less than ten grams of fat per serving. This results in the removal of cheeses and sauces from the product. This style can reduce your total fat and calorie intake. Many items on the Fresco Style menu have less than 400 calories. The key to ordering via this method is knowing which Fresco Style items are available and which are not. Most articles offer this option, but many do not. Ask before ordering.
One last word of caution when it comes to fast food: Even when the options are low in fat and calories, many are very high in sodium and low in fiber. Total nutritional value is an issue. Cooking methods, such as frying or leaving food under hot lamps for long periods, can dramatically reduce the nutritional value of a food. So what is the end result? While the occasional visit to a fast food restaurant can be enjoyable and won’t create too many negative side effects, the idea that “healthy” alternatives at fast food chains are actually “healthy” is questionable.