Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Finding healthy choices at fast food restaurants takes some examination

Recently, many fast food chains have been marketing new seemingly healthful additions to their menus. From chicken wraps and sandwiches to smoothies to new salad creations, it seems fast food restaurants are trying to increase appeal to a new audience.  Rather than targeting those looking for the thickest burger ever made or what menu item can have the most layers of bacon and fries, new marketing directs towards those individuals looking for items to slim the waistline, rather than extend it.

And while applause is needed for this movement, we as consumers must stay educated and be sure we know what we are getting when we order food at a restaurant. Just because something looks healthier, does not always mean it is (although you can pretty much guarantee most menu items are healthier than bacon thick burgers!)

Things to notice when you order a “healthier” menu item include sauce and dressing options (including guacamole), whether the chicken is grilled or fried, the amount of cheese or other add-ons it has and the type of grain it is served on or with (whole grain or refined grain).  You may be surprised many dressing packets at fast food restaurants have around 200 calories per packet…some have even more! And, a white wrap will not fill you up as well as a whole wheat wrap.  

Read nutrition information first. Some restaurants list calories on menu boards, others list it in consumer-friendly brochures or post it online.  Remember, nutrition information may list items individually.  So, if you order a salad with dressing and use the packet of seeds or crunchy add-ons, you have to tally items individually.  So, that 190 calorie salad may become 500 calories or more when you add the dressing and/or crunchy add-ons.  and, while it may be balanced by the addition of a half packet of vinaigrette and seeds, some add-ons might not be so healthful.

You can also modify some menu items to go healthier, such as asking for grilled chicken instead of fried or by asking for no mayo, butter or sauce on the bread.  Be careful with guacamole…a delicious topping made from super healthy avocados.  A little goes a long way.  Be conscientious of the portion size.  Usually two tablespoons of guacamole is an appropriate portion (that’s about the size of a ping pong ball.)

Smoothies are popular at many restaurants and may seem like healthy alternatives to milkshakes.  However, check out the nutrition information first.  Many have loads of sugar and barely any or no protein.  That’s much different from a low sugar, high protein smoothie that would keep you fuller longer and not overshoot your calorie budget.  Some restaurants get it right, while others just add ice to juice for an unneeded sugar rush.

It all comes down to staying an educated consumer. Review more than just calories.  Examine how many of those calories come from fat vs carbohydrate vs protein. The key is balance.  So, maybe then, we can all eat healthier at our favorite fast food restaurants!


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This entry was posted on October 31, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .
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