The Fast Food Challenge

Believe it or not, you can make healthy fast-food choices. How? Know exactly what you are ordering and plan ahead.

Keep the ground rules of good nutrition in mind:

  • Eat a variety of foods in moderate amounts.
  • Include non-starchy vegetables at each meal.
  • Choose whole grains.
  • Limit the “the bad fats”: saturated fat and trans fat.
  • Keep salt to a minimum.
  • Stick to moderate portion sizes.
  • Follow the guidelines you've worked out with your dietitian or doctor.

Order Wisely

What you order is the key. It's easy to eat an entire day's worth of fat, salt, and calories in just one fast-food meal. But it's also possible to make wise choices and eat a fairly healthy meal.

Here are some tips to help you choose well:

  • Ask to see nutrition information for the foods. Most fast food places have it available somewhere in the restaurant. You can also look it up online ahead of time.
  • Know that an average fast-food meal can run as high as 1,000 calories or more, and raise your blood sugar above your target range.
  • Know the nutritional value of the foods you order. Although there are some good choices, most fast-food items are high in fat and calories.
  • If you are looking at a combo meal, ask to substitute a side salad, carrots, or apple slices for the fries.
  • If you're having fast-food for one meal, let your other meals that day contain healthier foods, like non-fried vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.
  • Think about how your food will be cooked. Chicken and fish can be good choices, but they can have more calories and fat if they are breaded and deep fried.

Breakfast Tips

If breakfast is your fast-food meal, choose an egg with a slice of whole wheat toast or English muffin. Or try fruit and yogurt with a few nuts sprinkled.

Stay away from muffins that are loaded with sugar, fat and calories. Even “low-fat” muffins are usually very high in calories for the amount of food you get Add low-fat milk.

Order cold cereal with fat-free milk, pancakes with sugar free syrup or plain scrambled eggs. Limit bacon and sausage because they are high in saturated fat.

Simple Steps to a Better Meal

The fast food we eat may stick around a lot longer than we'd like. With a little self-education, you can avoid the problem areas.

Don't Go Jumbo

Watch out for words like jumbo, giant, deluxe, biggie-sized or super-sized. Larger portions mean more calories. They also mean more saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.

Stay away from double burgers or "super" hot dogs with cheese, chili, or sauces.

Order a regular or junior-sized sandwich instead.

Go Topless

Order items plain, without toppings, rich sauces, or mayonnaise. Add flavor with mustard, and crunch with lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Ask for your sandwich or burger without the cheese. It carries an extra 100 calories per ounce, as well as added fat and sodium.

Choose grilled or broiled sandwiches with meats such as lean roast beef, turkey or chicken breast, or lean ham.

Be Bun Savvy

Skip the croissant or biscuit. Eat your sandwich on a bun, bread or English muffin and save calories and fat.

Choose a Salad

Go for the salad bar and fill your salad with things like carrots, peppers, onion, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and other veggies. Toss on a few sunflower seeds to add some healthy fats and add lean protein like grilled chicken or beans or chick peas to add some protein.

Watch out for potato and macaroni salads that are dressed with a lot of mayo, and other high-calorie toppings like dressings, bacon bits, cheeses, and croutons.

Take Care When Eating Globally

Order bean burritos, soft tacos, fajitas, and other non-fried items when eating Mexican fast foods. Choose chicken over beef. Limit refried beans. Or ask if they have beans that aren't refried.

Pile on extra lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa but go easy on cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.

Watch out for deep-fried taco salad shells - a taco salad can have more than 1,000 calories!

Pizza can be a good fast food choice. Go for thin crust pizza with vegetable toppings. Limit to 1-2 slices. Meat and extra cheese add calories, fat and sodium.

Chinese food may seem like a healthy choice, but many dishes are deep fried or high in fat and sodium, especially in the sauces. You can ask for the sauce on the side so you eat less.

Skinless fried chicken can have almost as much fat as the regular kind.

End on a Good Note

End your meal with sugar-free, fat-free frozen yogurt or a small cone of fat-free yogurt. Better still, bring a piece of fresh fruit from home.

Ices, sorbets, and sherbets have less fat and fewer calories than ice cream, but they are chock full of sugar. They can send your blood sugar too high if you don't work the extra carbohydrate into your meal plan.

Eating out can be one of life's great pleasures. Make the right choices, ask for what you need, and balance your meals out with healthy meals at home. You can enjoy yourself and take good care of your diabetes at the same time.

  • Last Reviewed: August 1, 2013
  • Last Edited: June 30, 2014

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