This is from Savorfull intern Megan Kober, RD, LD. Savorfull is based in Detroit and is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies. For more information on Savorfull, please visit Savorfull.com.
Fast food. There’s such a stigma attached to those words. I hear many people say, “I NEVER eat fast food,” but let’s be honest: It can sometimes be impossible to avoid. It’s quick, easy and convenient, and when you’re on the road or in a pinch, it’s there for you. Luckily, many fast food chains are making an effort to offer several healthier options to choose from.
Quick Tips for Healthier Choices
Let’s get started with a few simple ways to make healthier choices when you eat fast food:
- Most fast food establishments offer grilled chicken in addition to breaded or fried chicken. If your favorite fast food meal has breaded chicken, ask if you can swap it for a grilled chicken breast. You’ll save approximately 150 calories and 12 grams of fat each and every time!
- Avoid menu items with words such as “crispy,” “loaded,” “smothered,” “supreme,” “grande” or “fried.” These words typically mean dipped in oil, loaded with cheese/bacon/sour cream, covered in a fatty sauce or just plain too much food.
- Another recently popular food item to avoid on fast food menus: chipotle sauce! This often means your meal comes with a mayo-based, chipotle-flavored sauce that can have more calories than ranch dressing.
- Go for the whole grain. If you can opt for whole grain bread for your sandwich, do it! The extra dietary fiber will fill you up faster and keep your tummy fuller, longer.
- Order your sandwich as a lettuce wrap, or order your burrito as a bowl. By making this simple change, you’ll cut 200–300 calories and 40–50 grams of refined carbohydrates.
Choosing Healthier Dressings and Sauces
The majority of sauces and dressings found at fast food restaurants are high in calories, fat and sugar. This includes sauces that top sandwiches or tacos, dressing on salads and cartons of dipping sauce that you can request with just about anything you order. The calories can add up fast. Let’s take a look:
Avoid: ranch, Caesar, French, raspberry vinaigrette (high sugar!) or anything with the word “creamy.” These dressings typically start around 130 calories for 2 measly tablespoons.
The better options: Low-fat or light dressings. There is generally at least one lower-calorie option at each fast food chain. If you’re watching your sugar intake, ask to look at the label, because these lower-calorie options can be loaded with sugar.
The best options: olive oil and vinegar, a squeeze of fresh lemon, or a few dashes of hot sauce
Avoid: ranch, mayo, chipotle sauce, cheese sauce, garlic sauce, sweet and sour sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup, sweet chili sauce, honey mustard sauce and anything with the word “creamy”*
The better options: marinara, buffalo sauce**
The best options: mustard, hot sauce, red wine vinegar, salsa, pico de gallo
*Some of these choices are low-fat options, but they’re still loaded with sugar and are highly processed.
**Buffalo sauce can be high in calories if a lot of butter is added, but oftentimes it’s still an “OK” choice.
Choosing Healthier Beverages
Fast food beverage options rank right up there with sauces when talking about calorie traps! The best option when it comes to drinks is to choose water, unsweetened iced tea or plain coffee. This may not sound exciting, but ask yourself, “Would I rather eat my calories or drink my calories?” Most would agree: eat! If you need more convincing, most 30-oz. sodas or sweet teas come in at around 280 calories and 75 grams of sugar. And these are not even the worst offenders. Check out some other common fast food drink options:
- Large juice (lemonade, orange juice, etc.): 400 calories/100 g sugar
- Large vanilla iced coffee: 250 calories/40 g sugar
- Large milkshake: 850 calories/123 g sugar
- Large frozen drink: 400 calories/100 g sugar
- Large sweet tea: 300 calories/75 g sugar
Purchasing an extra-large? Double these numbers! Finally, while diet beverage options may seem like a smart choice, many of these contain artificial sweeteners that are loaded with chemicals and have been shown to increase appetites. Choose options that are naturally sweetened with sugar alcohols or stevia.
Fast Food Swaps
Putting everything together, here are some common swaps that will save lots of calories, fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates. For more options, check out these salad swaps and this list of lower-calorie selections from common fast food stops.
|Eat This…||Instead of This…||And Save…|
|Grilled Chicken Sandwich||Crispy Chicken Sandwich||150 calories/12 g fat|
|Salad w/ Grilled Chicken and Low-Fat Vinaigrette||Salad w/ Crispy Chicken andRanch Dressing||280 calories/25 g fat|
|Chicken or Steak Burrito Bowl||Chicken or Steak Burrito||300 calories/50 g refined carbs|
|Unsweetened Tea, Water or Regular Coffee||Soda, Juice, Latte, Frozen Drink or Sweet Tea||300–800 calories from sugar|
|Roast Beef Subwith Veggies and Mustard||Italian Subwith Italian Vinaigrette||250 calories/25 g fat|
|2 Pieces of Thin-Slice Pizza||2 Pieces of Pan Pizza||220 calories/20 g refined carbs|
|Ham and Egg WhiteBreakfast Sandwich||Sausage and EggBreakfast Sandwich||150 calories/15 g fat|
A Final Savorfull Tip
Look outside the fast food box for something with more variety and fresher options: the grocery store. This may not be an option every time, but wherever you go, there’s typically a grocery store “around the corner.” Some convenience stores double as mini grocery stores as well. Head to the produce section for fresh-cut fruits and veggies, hummus, nuts and seeds, and ready-made salads and subs that are usually made every morning with fresh ingredients. If you have a few minutes, check out the soup and salad bar or deli counter for sandwich options. At a grocery or convenience store, it’s also much easier to seek out and avoid hidden ingredients like MSG, soy, dairy by-products, tree nuts and gluten that you may be trying to avoid.
Have any other tips? Share them with the readers below!