Although "healthy" and "fast food" might seem like two terms that don't necessarily go together, it is possible to find fast food that is good for you. You need a basic understanding of what makes food healthy vs. unhealthy, and you need to know how to spot healthy choices on fast food menus. This includes knowing how to make an unhealthy item healthier by making smart choices about how it is made and served.
Why is fast food typically unhealthy?
Fast food, although convenient and tasty, is typically not healthy because of the ingredients used and the quantities provided per serving, the way it is prepared and the accompanying "extras" fast foods are often prepared and served with.
For example, we know that red meat, when eaten in large quantities, is unhealthy due to the amount of saturated fat it contains. Yet red meat is one of the most common proteins found on fast food menus---it's found in burgers, tacos, roast beef and more.
The way fast food is prepared also leads to its unhealthiness. Fried food are much more fat and calorie-laden than grilled or steamed foods, yet frying is the most common method of fast food preparation.
Another main reason fast foods are unhealthy is because they often are served with fattening extras, such as high-calorie sauces and dressings.
Below are some ways to make fast food healthier.
Know the nutritional content
These days, it's easy to find out the nutritional information for most fast foods, so there's no excuse for not knowing. Many fast food establishments offer this information in their stores (ask if you don't see it) and/or post it on their websites. There are also a variety of books and online sources of nutrition tables for fast food restaurants.
If you must have red meat, make sure your order has no more than 3 to 4 oz. of beef, which is the USDA recommended daily amount. Better yet, order chicken or a vegetarian selection such as a salad or bean burrito. Consult the nutrition information for the restaurant you're ordering from so you know the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates, etc., BEFORE you order.
Modify your favorites to make them healthier
You can alter the preparation and additions to your favorite fast food items to make them healthier. For example, always order sandwiches with no mayo or any other sauce---these saucy add-ons can nearly double the calorie and fat count! Order them plain instead and add your own lower-calorie sauce or regular yellow mustard, which adds almost no fat or calories but plenty of taste. Hot sauces and salsas (be sure to read the label) can also be great low-cal flavor boosters.
For salads, eliminate any cheese, croutons and other fried or crunchy toppings, except for nuts, which although calorie-dense offer good nutrition---just go easy on them. And always get your dressing on the side so you can control the amount you consume. Most fast food places offer low- and no-calorie options, so pick them or bring your own. Red wine vinegar is a great no-calorie splash for salads.
What are the most healthy fast foods?
The healthiest fast food choices include:
Small burgers (no cheese)
Grilled & roasted chicken selections
Salads (vegetarian and grilled chicken versions with little or no cheese)
Baked potatoes (plain or w/low-fat sour cream/butter)
Soups (except cream-based soups)
Wraps (grilled chicken & lean deli-meat varieties)
Beans and any vegetable option (corn, carrots, greens, tomatoes, etc.) as long as it is not fried
What are the least healthy fast foods?
The worst fast food choices are:
Large burgers & roast beef sandwiches (especially with cheese, bacon & mayo/sauce)
Fried chicken (including wings, tenders, nuggets and sandwich patties)
Fried fish & other fried seafood selections
Biscuits, muffins and cornbread
Macaroni and cheese
All fast food shakes and desserts
In fact, some fast food items and combo meals have an entire day's worth of calories and fat!