Depending on your food choices, eating only at fast-food restaurants could send your weight through the stratosphere, putting you at risk for several diseases -- or it could help you stay lean and fit. With the rate of obesity reaching over 35 percent of adults and 15 percent of children in the United States, fast-food restaurants now offer healthier choices for customers to help fight this epidemic, although they still have a ways to go.
According to the publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010," most adults require around 2,000 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight. A triple burger with cheese contains over 1,100 calories. Add a large fries and soda to your meal, and your calorie intake just skyrocketed to close to 2,000. If you decide to top your meal off with a large milkshake for dessert, you’ve just added almost another 1,000. Fat, cholesterol and sodium levels are also extremely high in meals such as this. Eating these types of meals every day will lead to obesity, which puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Many fast-food meals may lack nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E; fiber; potassium; magnesium and other trace minerals. These nutrients are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which can be difficult to find at some fast-food restaurants. The Yale Rudd Center at Yale University published an article in December 2012 that states, in general, fast-food restaurant menus lack whole fruits, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Researchers also found that most meals exceed sodium recommendations and thus may affect your blood pressure. Choosing a salad with the dressing on the side, a plain baked potato and whole-grain bread, if it’s available, may help prevent you from becoming deficient in these nutrients. At the same time, you'll avoid too much sodium if fast food is your only source of nutrition.
The Good News
Fast-food companies are aware of the demand for healthier options and are attempting to add more nutritious options their menus. A few restaurants have added egg white sandwiches and oatmeal to their breakfast menus. Most offer fresh salads, and some kids’ menus have fruit and low-fat milk as side options. Some offer whole-grain bread for their sandwiches, while others offer grilled meats instead of fried.
Healthy Fast-Food Meal Plans
If fast food is your only option, choose wisely to stay healthy. The American Diabetes Association suggests healthy breakfast items such as oatmeal; cold cereal with low-fat milk; an egg and a slice of whole-wheat toast or English muffin; or low-fat yogurt with fruit, topped with nuts. For lunch, try a grilled chicken salad with mixed greens and veggies. Choose light dressing and use as little as possible. Skip the croutons, bacon, cheese or other fried toppings. Add nuts or seeds and dried fruit to top it off. Dinner could include a sub sandwich on whole-wheat with lean turkey or ham and mustard or oil and vinegar -- or opt for or a small hamburger with extra lettuce and tomato, a baked potato and side salad. Drink water with all your meals to keep calories under control and help you stay hydrated. Keep portions small and ask your health care provider about an appropriate exercise program.