Fast Food: Is it worth It?
I’ve been there people. Work is crazy, stress level is high and I failed to eat lunch. I get in my car to find some food and there they are: the Golden Arches! And while the ease and convenience, and lets face it the preferable taste over a protein bar, have had me rationalizing a stop, I simply have to keep driving. Unfortunately many, and this tends to go doubly for those with small children in the car, have a hard time passing up a fast food joint when we decide we are hungry. We have been conditioned to want instant satisfaction, and a fast food restaurant’s sole purpose is to provide this for us with little to no resistance or effort. Unfortunately we also fail to realize that this is a terrible habit and can seriously derail us from our goals and teach future generation poor eating habits as well.
Now in defense of fast food restaurants (shocked that I just said that huh?) they don’t force us to eat what they serve, and they certainly don’t force us to choose poorer options from their menu. Most chain restaurants freely offer nutritional facts about their menu items, but they know we are not a society that will take the time to really read through it. And therein lies the pitfall. While there are other factors that can be referred to when discussing the negative effects of fast food on our health, such as pesticides on the lettuce and veggies or the use of artificial sweeteners and fried foods, I will focus mainly on the extreme calorie levels of the more popular choices on the menu, and try to impress the importance of trying to be healthy no matter where you stop.
One of the most interesting books put out annually is one entitled Eat This Not That by MensHealth magazine in which they take a look at each major restaurant chain and point out the worst and the best (although still debatable as nothing would technically be best) choices from the menu. The goal is to try and make us understand that even in a pinch we shouldn’t just succumb to the notion that we must just accept that we will be eating badly because we had no alternative. We DID! Below are some examples of healthier and not so healthy options from different fast food joints. Lets start with the worst choices:
UNHEALTHY OPTIONS (AVOID AT ALL COSTS):
Large Quiznos Tuna Melt with Chips
1,620 Calories, 111 g of fat (25 saturated), 2,070 mg of sodium
Burger King Triple Whopper with Cheese Value Meal
2,110 Calories, 104 g of fat (35.5 saturated), 2,270 mg of sodium
Wendy’s Dave’s Hot ‘n Juicy ¾ lb Triple with Bacon Value Meal
1540 Calories, 83 g of fat (33 saturated), 2,370 mg of sodium
Dairy Queen Chicken Strip Basket (6 piece with Gravy)
1370 Calories, 57 g of fat (8 saturated), 3,650 mg
Ok so lets take a second to look at these 4 choices. While we can all agree that the calories are pretty high, what really stands out is the fat content of these choices! Lets say that you were supposed to eat a 2,000-calorie diet and the only real meal you ate was the tuna melt listed above. That would mean that if you didn’t go over your 2,000-calorie limit, 49.95% of your daily calorie intake was from fat!! Even on a 3,000-calorie diet it would be 33.33%! The other number to pay attention to is the sodium content. In a past article I detailed out that we really only need 500 mg of sodium to survive, and the American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2400 mg daily. See the issue? You would be hard pressed to not skyrocket past that number even with the lowest level, which is in the tuna melt. Also we should point out that the 4th choice, the chicken strips, has the lowest calories, lowest fat content, but by far the highest sodium content-so it is still just as bad a choice as the others!
So what if you are simply too pinched for time and unprepared to avoid fast food? Well first I would say “tisk, tisk” but then I would recommend some of the following entrees as they serve as much better alternatives:
HEALTHIER CHOICES (STILL VERY SUBJECTIVE AND ONLY IN A PINCH)
Wendy’s Ultimate Grill Sandwich (sandwich only)
320 calories, 7 g of fat (1.5 saturated), 950 mg of sodium
Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Cool Wrap
410 calories, 12 g of fat (3.5 saturated), 1,310 mg of sodium
McDonald’s Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken
320 calories, 9 g of fat (3 saturated), 970 mg of sodium
Taco Bell Fresco Style Bean Burrito
330 Calories, 7 g of fat (2.5 saturated), 1,200 mg of sodium.
Ok so now let’s compare these options to the previous selections:
Lower calorie options that can fit into a daily diet without consuming entire daily allotment-CHECK.
Lower fat options that can help to ensure proper daily intake levels-CHECK
Lower sodium choices that can help maintain proper levels throughout the day-HALF CHECK.
While these choices do contain less sodium than the unhealthy choices the sodium content is still rather high for one item. But if the rest of your daily intake comes from fresh food sources and unprocessed items you should be ok to stay under 2400 mg of sodium for the day. However if your day consisted of more than one of these choices in a single day you will mostly likely pass this level.
One thing to note that is that none of these better options are part of a value meal. That means it is the item alone-no fries-no soda. Again just because you are going through a drive-thru doesn’t mean you HAVE to splurge. Ask for ice water and avoid add-ons that will simply up your calorie and most likely sodium content for the meal. Keeping it light when you go fast food will help you not to derail what you are working for in the gym. Remember that you cannot out-exercise bad nutrition, and a diet laden with fast food trips will NOT get you where you want to be. Be an example to your family and make healthier eating a priority, even in the instances where fast food is the choice you’ve made!