Making Healthy Fast Food Choices
Hitting the drive-thru doesn't necessarily have to lead to weight gain. Learn how to choose wisely.

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myoh_healthfastfood.gif Making Healthy Fast Food Choices

It's hard to beat the convenience of fast food. It's ready in minutes and you don't have to grocery shop, prep food or even enter your kitchen. In many cases, you don't even have to get out of your car to get it. But, if you aren't careful, you can eat your entire daily allowances for fat, calories and sodium in a single meal. Over the long run, this can contribute to obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other serious health issues.

So how do you make a fast food run without breaking your nutrition budget?

Savvy strategies
Remember, not all fast food meals are necessarily unhealthy. More and more restaurants now offer healthy alternatives. Check out the following tips before your next drive-thru run.

Burger basics
Order the smallest burger available, and ask for extra lettuce, onion and tomato.

  • Remember that cheese adds an extra 100 calories and 8 to 10 grams of fat.
  • Go light on the extras. Mayo, sautéed mushrooms and bacon each add an average of 90 calories and 8 grams of fat.
  • Use mustard or ketchup, which have zero grams of fat.

Chicken and fish facts
A fried chicken or fish sandwich can have as much fat and calories as an extra large burger. Instead, go for the grilled, unbreaded option.

  • Use special sauces, mayonnaise or tartar sauce sparingly. Having them served on the side will help you consume smaller quantities.
  • Skinless chicken will have less than half the fat and calories of fried chicken.

Salad smarts
Order a salad with grilled chicken (no breading).

  • Use low-calorie or fat-free dressing. Regular dressing can add over 200 calories and 15 grams of fat.
  • Avoid Chinese noodles, croutons, bacon and/or tortilla chips.

Mind your drinks
One large 32-ounce soda has as much as 425 calories and 26 teaspoons of sugar.

  • A small shake can have as many as 360 calories and 10 grams of fat.
  • Order water, unsweetened ice tea or low-fat milk instead.
  • Try this: fill your cup 3/4 full with water, and then add a splash of lemonade for a refreshing, lower calorie drink.

Fries and onion rings
A small order of fries or onion rings can have more than 200 calories and more than 10 grams of fat.

  • If you really want a taste, consider sharing with someone. Otherwise, substitute a side salad with low-fat dressing.

Keep portion sizes in mind
Larger-sized meals and sandwiches come with additional calories, fat and sodium.

Other healthy options

  • Chili or broth-based vegetable soups.
  • Baked potatoes - just don't load them with sour cream, butter or cheese. Ask for these on the side and use sparingly.
  • Fruit cups.
  • Small wraps or pitas with turkey, roast beef or ham. Add extra lettuce, tomatoes or other veggies, and skip dressings, mayo and sauces.
  • Ask for nutrition facts information. They are often found posted in the store, in a brochure or on the restaurant's website.

Finally, it's about moderation. An occasional high-fat meal from a fast food restaurant is OK. But if you find yourself eating it on a regular basis, it may be time to rethink your eating habits.

By Jane Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
Created on 01/11/2005
Updated on 02/11/2013
  • United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.
  • American Heart Association. Eating fast food.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. USDA national nutrient database for standard reference.
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