It’s Tuesday at 6 p.m. you just got off work, you are hungry, tired and don’t feel like cooking and you are looking for healthy fast food. On your way home you see a McDonald’s. You’re trying to eat healthy. Instead of going home and eating you tell yourself you will order the grilled chicken sandwich, which is healthier, right? Are restaurants that claim to serve healthy and nutritious food actually good for you?
What do the experts say
“Yes, many fast food restaurants offer grilled meat items, fruits, salads and other healthier food choices,” said Dr. Onikia Brown, Extension specialist and assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics. “Variety and moderation are important when making food choices on the go.”
Fast food can be healthy for you. It is not about where you get your food, or how fast you get it, it is about the ingredients in the food. One fast food restaurant is not better or worse for you, it all depends on what you order.
“The worst thing for you to eat are the foods that contain high fats, sugar and salts,” says Dr. Michael Greene, director of Auburn University’s metabolic phenotyping laboratory. “A combination of all of these things is unhealthy. Try to avoid them and foods with refined ingredients.”
When it comes to fast food, people don’t usually consider it to be healthy at all. There are ways to eat a nutritious, well-balanced meal at a fast food restaurant but the unhealthy options are usually more appealing and desirable to eat.
It’s all about the ingredients
Eating a nutritious meal is all about the ingredients and are well-balance between protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. Most fast food restaurants don’t serve many vegetable options. The most common vegetable served at fast food restaurants is a potato served as french fries. There is no problem with eating fast food. The issue is they don’t offer many vegetable options.
“Salads are one of the healthiest options for you,” said Greene. “ You should eat not only lettuce but more leafy greens such as spinach or kale.”
The healthier options at fast food restaurants are soups, wraps, salads and grilled meat. These food items generally contain more nutrients and lower calories. All foods contain nutrients, however, eating food in moderation is they key to a well-balanced diet. Consuming too much of certain foods can be unhealthy. Moderation and variation are essential to a balanced diet.
“Eating lower calories helps, but over all, lower calorie foods might not give the proper nutrition,” said Greene. “Given the choice between which food item to choose, fewer calories is better, but it’s all about the ingredients.”
Not all fast food is bad for you. Today, more fast food restaurants are creating healthier options. You don’t have to feel mislead by a healthy option because it’s offered at a fast food restaurant. There is always a way to customize your order and choose a specific item that is healthy for you.
“Claims of healthy foods are based on caloric specifications. Fast food restaurants may offer a low-calorie salad or wrap, but what the consumer does to it once purchased may change the caloric content,” said Brown. “ If you frequently eat at fast food restaurants, drink water instead of sodas and teas.”
“When eating at a fast food restaurant, try to consume more fruits and vegetables,” said Greene. “Consuming more fruits and vegetables is the best way to eat. You don’t necessarily need to avoid a certain types of food but, by eating fruits and vegetables you will essentially eat less of other foods.”
Eating healthy on a budget
If the primary reason for eating fast foods is because of a low budget, there are many more ways to eat healthy than limiting yourself to fast food restaurants.
“For your source of protein, stay away from meats. Instead, eat more grains, beans and lentils,” said Greene. “ Don’t waste money on sodas and high sugary drinks, instead, buy fruit.”
Eating healthy on a budget requires more thought. Stay away from high processed foods with a lot of fat and sodium.
Moderation and variation are essential to a balanced diet. Wherever you eat, you can find a healthy option. Stick to fruits, vegetables and foods with high protein. Next time you order at a fast food restaurant, read the nutritional information carefully, skip the salty, fatty foods and avoid sugary drinks.