The term "fast food" generally refers to the type of restaurants that sell quick, inexpensive take-out food, but even supermarkets now offer quick and easy food choices. Fast food is often laden with extra calories, saturated fat and sodium. It is possible, however, for quick meals to be nutritious. With the growing interest in a healthy diet, vendors of fast food are starting to provide more healthful choices.
Good choices about the amount and type of food eaten provide the basis for a balanced diet.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services have issued "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." These seven points apply to all healthy people age 2 and older:
- Eat a variety of foods.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grain products.
- Use sugars only in moderation.
- Use salt and sodium only in moderation.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Even individuals who eat fast food regularly can meet these guidelines. However, it may take some extra effort to get enough of the fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products recommended.
Many fast-food restaurants now offer salads. Baked potatoes with vegetable toppings are also a good choice when eating at a fast-food restaurant.
Another challenge when eating fast food is to limit the amount of trans fat and saturated fat. Choose broiled or grilled food over fried or deep-fat-fried food.
When eating burgers and other sandwiches, skip the heavy sauces and extra trimmings. These often contain more fat than the meat itself.
Finally, added salt is usually unnecessary, especially for individuals watching their blood pressures.
Most restaurants have printed nutrition information available outlining the calorie, fat or sodium content of specific food items.
The following tips are helpful in making healthy fast food choices:
- Choose salads whenever possible, but beware of creamy dressings and toppings.
- Emphasize fresh vegetables topped with a vinaigrette or reduced-calorie dressing.
- Choose baked potatoes instead of fries.
- Stay away from fried fish sandwiches. They are usually the highest-fat option. Try a grilled chicken sandwich instead. Choose mustard dressing in place of mayonnaise.
- Choose fat-free (skim) milk or 100% fruit juice in place of shakes or sodas.
- Split large or high-fat items with a friend.
- Ask for pizza with a thin crust, less cheese, and choose vegetable toppings rather than pepperoni and sausage.
- Choose sandwiches on whole-grain bread instead of croissants and biscuits.
- Have low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt, fruit ice, or sorbet for dessert.
There are a wide variety of healthful fast-food options. By making wise choices based on a wide selection of foods, it's possible for an individual to achieve a balanced diet even when in a hurry.