Nutrition Articles

Fast Food: Convenient and Healthy

This Doesn't Have to be an Oxymoron


When you are on the go, you need to get things done and get them done now. Unfortunately, for some people, this means everything is done “on the go.” However, just because you live your life in the fast lane doesn’t mean that your eating habits have to stay there, too.

Today more than ever, fast food restaurants are trying to jump on the bandwagon of society’s push to live a healthier lifestyles by advertising low-fat and healthier options on their menus. Take advantage of this! Obviously, the best and most effective ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle are by exercising and maintaining a nutritious diet, but everybody knows there are those times when you are forced to grab your grub from the drive-thru. So the question is, how can you eat fast and healthy?

The first of two ways you can cut down on your fat and calorie intake is by ordering salads or grilled, not fried, sandwiches. Fast food chains McDonalds and Wendy’s both offer a variety of healthy and tasty salads on their menus, all under $4. If you are not in the mood for crisp veggies, then try McDonalds’ grilled chicken sandwich with only 10 grams of fat and 230 calories or the Jr. Hamburger from Wendy’s with only 9 grams of fat and 270 calories, both under $2.

There is always the fresh and fast option of Subway, which has 6 sub sandwiches under 6 grams of fat, all under $5. Even though we are all familiar with Jared and his love for Subway, his ability to have the discipline to limit the type of fast food he put into his body helped his weight loss more than anything. So come on! It’s simple and you can do it! Eat to fill your nutritional needs, not just to curb your hunger. You can eat healthy while still getting the treat of eating out if you practice these simple ideas:

  • Ask or look for the nutritional information available for restaurants. Be mindful of what you are eating.
  • Go easy on the condiments and extras, i.e. cheese, sauces, super-sizing.
  • Eat in moderation.
  • Eating fast food here and there won’t hurt, but don’t make it habitual.
  • Substitute grilled for fried.
  • Drink ice water or milk instead of soda.
  • Beware of fat filled salad dressing.
  • Chicken is often less fatty than beef.
  • If you splurge on fast food for lunch, make extra sure that your dinner is healthy and nutritious.

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Member Comments

  • The junior menu is where I order nearly every time we eat out.
  • Moderation and know your products. Most restaurant and fast food "healthy" options are way to high in sodium, so eat it if you have to, but really try to limit how often. I will take a Subway Veggie Delight salad, no pickles or pickled peppers, with oil and vinegar as my first choice, if I don't need a protein boost. I'll add oven roasted chicken if I need the protein. It's about 450 mg of sodium compared to the 1070-1640 mg for the Wendy's salads.
  • I love to eat out, this information will help me to make better choices when I eat out.
    What I got out of this was that moderation and small changes are truly the keys when it comes to eating healthier. I believe you can still enjoy fast food or restaurants now and then, as long as you don't go to an extreme and overdo it. Great article!
  • I really don't eat out like that. So I don't have to think about that.
  • Someone mentioned going to the health food store and getting pre-made sandwiches or lentil wraps instead of fast food. What a great idea! Because of my lifestyle I do have to eat out frequently but I chose with care. Unfortunately I don't have the luxury of a health food store where I can just drop in and get something, but I do try to plan my meals accordingly so that I am okay on the sodium and such when I do eat out.
  • I agree with the author's statement that grilled chicken sandwiches are amazing, BUT I was very surprised to see the statement end there. Grilled chicken sandwiches tend to come with 2+ tablespoons of mayo, which destroys a lot of the gain for swapping to grilled chicken. Most fast food chicken is moist enough you don't need the mayo, especially if you add juicy tomatoes. It adds the moisture to the bun without the calories and fat!
    As with many SP articles, the focus is on fat and/or calories. What you fail to mention is the high sodium content of most fast-food chains and restaurants. Even if you pick a "healthier" alternative, you will be amazed at the amount of sodium.

    For example, McDonalds has a Premium Caesar Salad with grilled chicken - without any salad dressing, it has 580 mg sodium. BUT, add on any of the Newman's Own low-fat dressings, and your "healthy" salad is nearly 1,000 mg sodium.

    400 mg of sodium comes from the grilled chicken alone. That's more than 2x the amount of sodium in a chicken breast you cook at home (unless it's prepackaged/froze
    n & injected with broth).

    The RDA for sodium is 2300 mg per day for a healthy person. But, if you have health issues, like high blood pressure, or heart problems, the RDA is reduced to 1500 mg per day. So, the above salad is either between 50% - 75% of your daily sodium recommendation.
  • This is SO true. I lost over 50 pounds eating quite a bit of fast food. One just needs to choose wisely. That said, some of the statistics in the article are out of date. McDonald's new grilled chicken sandwich (fall 2012) is delicious, but it's closer to 300 calories without mayo.
  • I just tried the new Cantina Salad at Taco bell and it is 560 calories, but it was fantastic.
  • The REALLY FRUSTRATING Thing is that NONE of the healthy choices are EVER on the dollar menu - and eating healthy foods costs so much more even when you do it yourself. I SO OFTEN have to choose between one good meal a day (fairly good) or enough food to eat - but the cheaper stuff. If anyone REALLY cared about lowering medical care costs in the long run, they would see that healthy food is available for the most financially desperate people. Maybe life would feel worth living again. I'm so tired of distressed (broken) packages and one day from the deadline food.
  • It is really hard to stick to your calories when going out to eat. That "healthy-sounding
    " item on the menu can have more calories than what you need all day long. I've been browsing through the "Eat this, not that!" books and I'm just amazed at how bad most restaurant food is (high in calories, sodium and fat). One of the book in the "series" is actually all about restaurant food and how you can make better swaps and choices. Very interesting and certainly eye-opening!
    Fast food restaurants are evil! Having read "Fast Food Nation," I will never step into one ever again. I don't care how many so-called "healthy" options they offer.

    I often stop off at a local supermarket to pick up something from the deli, which still requires choosing with care, but at least you're supporting your local economy, not trampling it. Also, as others have suggested, health food stores often sell much better take-out food. I also love sushi restaurants, which seem to be springing up all over, and which serve fast, nutritious, and delicious food.

    Better yet, plan ahead and pack something to take along.

    For emergencies, I like to carry along some trail mix made with raw almonds, sunflower seeds, and raisins. I pack this in measured bags, and try to save them for when I'm in a real pinch. I also like to have Rebar nutrition bars on hand, which aren't very tasty, but which are high in fibre and have no added sugar (only natural sugars from dried fruit). The Seeds 'n' Greens bar isn't too awful.

    A nutritionist I work with suggested that I stash some tins of tuna, a can opener, and a fork in my car, but I haven't done this yet.

    No fast food for me!

About The Author

Jennifer Putnam Jennifer Putnam
Jennifer earned a master's degree in nutrition from the University of Cincinnati.

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