Choosing Healthy Fast Food Options

Due to our increasingly busy schedules, it becomes a challenge to incorporate home-cooked meals into our daily routines. According to the CDC, 36% of Americans choose fast food on a given day.1 The most common reasons Americans choose fast foods are due to limited time to grocery shop, prepare, and cook meals, price, and availability. In the past few decades, fast food chains have received negative attention regarding high calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar amounts along with low fiber, healthy fats, whole grains, and vitamin and mineral content. In recent years, fast food chains have altered their menus to reflect healthier options.

When choosing fast food meals, look at the nutrition label to choose a healthy option. Focus on calories, total fat, saturated fat, protein, carbohydrate, sodium, sugar, and fiber.

For each individual, calories, total fat, carbohydrate, and protein amounts should be individualized and based on each person’s nutrition goals (maintain, lose, or gain weight), current weight, activity amount, and any health-related conditions or diseases. The following chart gives a general idea on the recommended amounts of each important nutrient.

Nutrient:

Recommended Amount:

Calories

Will vary based on needs

Carbohydrate

45-60% of daily calories

Protein

10-35% of daily calories

Total Fat

20-35% of daily calories

Saturated Fat

<10% of daily calories

Sodium

Aim for less than 2,300 mg

Added Sugar

<10% of daily calories

Fiber

Ages 19-50: 28g for males; 25 g for females.

Ages 51+: 30g for males; 21 g for females

Each restaurant offers a variety of choices that would be appropriate to meet each person’s individualized needs. Today’s Dietitian has created a convenient chart to compare healthy options available at different restaurants, which is shown below. Other tips to consider when planning your meals include:

  • Choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
  • Consider the portion size
  • Choose low-calorie, low-sugar beverages

Though cooking meals at home is considered the better choice for various reasons, fast food restaurants are now offering delicious, healthy options for busy Americans.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db322.htm

https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/JJ20p10.shtml