“The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger.”
You get off work and you’re tired. You pick up the kids and sitting in traffic you come to the conclusion that you don’t want to make dinner and the kids are screaming in the back seat that they are “STARVING”. Looking at your watch you realize it’s nearing dinner time and you aren’t even sure what’s in your fridge at home to make. Up ahead on the next corner the golden arches appear… what do you do?
Before you stop and order something take a look at what you are getting yourself into and what you can do to take control and keep it healthy.
Fast food, as is no surprise to anyone contains significant calories and the density of those foods is misleading to the body. Fried foods actually contain twice the calories than before they were fried. If you compare a typical fast food meal with other same-sized meals that contain a more healthy balance of food groups, you’ll find that the fast food is much denser than the alternative. Some fast food combinations can provide almost 100 percent of an adult’s recommended daily caloric intake with just one meal. By eating a Big Mac and fries, the body consumes almost twice as many calories as you would if you ate the same weight of pasta and salad. I blogged about high glycemic foods… this is what I’m talking about! The glycemic response of taking in these many calories is treacherous to the body’s fat stores and the muscles abilities to try to absorb quality calories.
Many fast food choices contain harmful fats that negatively affect the body. From fatty meats to fried food, fast food is full of trans fat that has been linked to coronary heart disease, strokes, obesity, liver damage and even cancer. Although the scientific evidence is not conclusive, high levels of trans fat consumption have been linked to diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, erectile dysfunction, and infertility.
A fast food meal delivers plenty of unhealthy ingredients to the body, but it’s also important to realize what a fast food meal isn’t providing. Most fast food doesn’t contain any healthy ingredients like fiber, vitamins or minerals. Instead, processed food contains too much salt, sugar, artificial additives and preservatives. Replacing a healthy meal with a fast food meal deprives the body of essential nutrients that are a key part of a healthy, well-functioning body.
Clever marketing campaigns continually try to influence what kind of fast food to purchase and in what quantities. The acceptable meal sizes and portions that an adult should consume are ignored when it comes to fast food. Restaurants sell meals that are beyond average size, and then they give the customer the option for even bigger meal combinations. People get a false sense of an appropriate portion size, and they ingest even more unhealthy fast food in order to feel full.
The documentary “Supersize Me” introduced America to some of the pitfalls and dangers of eating fast food on a regular basis. Here are some of the statistics determined.
There is hope! Even McDonald’s is cleaning up their act. According to this article from Health.com lists these top ten restaurants represent the best out there when it comes to fast food! Surprise, surprise, McDonald’s cracked the top ten and is making great strides in healthy food options for consumers!
#1 Panera Bread
Over 1,230 locations nationwide (and in Canada) This bakery-cafe-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal.
Look for: Delicious, nutrient-packed combos like a half–Turkey Artichoke on focaccia bread with a bowl of black bean or garden vegetable soup. Danger zone: Sticky buns and cheese danishes are on display at the counter.
#2 Jason’s Deli 206 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South About one-fifth of all its ingredients are organic, from blue-corn tortilla chips and whole-wheat wraps to field greens and spinach. Plus, its creative salads—like the Nutty Mixed-Up Salad with organic field greens, grapes, chicken breast, feta cheese, walnuts, dried cranberries, pumpkinseeds, raisins, and organic apples—make you actually want to order the greens. Look for: Being able to build any sandwich on an organic whole-wheat wrap. Danger zone: High-sodium counts on some sandwiches; if sodium is a concern, stick to the ultrahealthy choices.
#3 Au Bon Pain 280 locations nationwide A pioneer in healthy fast food, Au Bon Pain serves up sandwiches, soups, salads, and hot entrees made with whole grains, veggies, and hormone-free chicken. Look For: Yummy low-cal soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables. Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don’t pay attention.
#4 Noodles and Company 204 locations in West, Midwest, South Here, you choose from three food types: Asian, Mediterranean, or American, then within each style, pick from four noodle bowl options. Lean proteins—hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu—can be added, too. Look for: The whole-grain linguine—usually hard to find when eating out. Danger zone: The desserts. The only options are two kinds of cookies and a Rice Krispy Treat bar that checks in at 530 calories and 19 grams of fat!
#5 Corner Bakery Cafe 111 locations in West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South What sets Corner Bakery apart? A fantastic breakfast menu, which is rare in the quick-serve world. But Corner Bakery also has healthy salads, sandwiches, and soups made with whole grains, fresh, lean meats, and vegetables, as well as great portion-controlled combinations that make limiting calories a no-brainer. Look for: Healthy oven-roasted chicken that comes on most pastas and salads. Danger zone: You have to go to their Web site to get nutritional info.
#6 Chipotle 800+ locations nationwide Buffet-style Chipotle gives every customer complete control over her burrito, taco, or salad. And you get to build it with fresh, local ingredients. In fact, Chipolte won high marks for its commitment to organics, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from local suppliers, which is revolutionary in a chain this big. Many of its entrees can be low-sodium, if you choose add-ins such as the fajita veggies and green tomatillo salsa. Look for: Burrito Bowls, which let you skip the tortilla—and the extra carbs. Danger zone: The dark side of a buffet is that you can go wild. So you have to go light on cheese and sour cream.
#7 Atlanta Bread 106 locations in 24 states (Southeast, West, and North) This innovative bakery also features whole-grain bread, fresh sandwiches (including paninis), and hearty, healthy soups and salads. It earned high marks for great sides, too, including fire-roasted black bean and corn salad. Look for: The entree salads like Salsa Fresca Salmon Salad: grilled wild Alaskan salmon filet on greens with fire-roasted black bean and corn salsa and a pineapple-mango vinaigrette. Danger zone: Pasta entrees at some locations are offered with bread … that’s a whole lotta carbs!
#8 McDonald’s 14,000 locations nationwide Admittedly, I was hard on the fast food chain – and with good reason but among the big burger-based chains, McDonald’s is leading the way in overhauling its menu to offer more heart- and waist-friendly fare. Take the Happy Meals, which you can order with a side of apple dippers (with low-fat caramel) instead of fries and low-fat milk or fruit juice instead of soda. (Now the trick is just getting your kid to go for them!) And if you’ve gotta have fries, McDonald’s are made in a healthy canola-blend oil and come in at just 230 calories for a small. The Grilled Chicken Classic sandwich and wraps are healthy choices, too (just skip the mayo or sauce). So is the salad with Paul Newman low-fat balsamic vinaigrette. Registered dietician Moore notes that an Egg McMuffin, at 300 calories, is a smart alternative to other “calorie-laden biscuit breakfasts.” And our whole panel commends McDonald’s for spelling out the nutritional information right on the back of its tray liners. Look for: The chain’s 260- to 270-calorie Snack Wraps (choose grilled chicken) for protein without a lot of unwanted carbs. Danger zone: Although McDonald’s made our list, this is still the land of supersizing and giant sodas. It’s up to you to request a small or even a kids meal size portion.
#9 Einstein Bros. Bagels 649 locations nationwide Einstein Bros. offers healthier alternatives like reduced-fat shmears, hummus, and peanut butter—a great way to add healthy fat to breakfast (or lunch). It also serves a Good Grains bagel that has an impressive 4 grams of fiber. In the mood for a salad? You can order any in a half-size. For kids, try the bagel dog (picture a Pig-in-a-Blanket with bagel-style bread as the “blanket”) and a fruit salad upgrade. Look for: The high-fiber Veg Out on a sesame seed bagel. Danger zone: “Overstuffed” size sandwiches are a calorie nightmare.
#10 Taco Del Mar 270 locations in 22 states You may have noticed that Baja-style Mexican cuisine—think: fresh ingredients and fish instead of beef and chicken—is a growing trend. Whole grains are easy to get here, with whole-wheat tortillas available as an alternative in burritos. The chain gets high marks for its new 320-calorie chicken burrito, available at most locations.
Look for: The 460- to 555-calorie Mondito-size burrito, which fills you up but keeps fat and sodium in check. Danger zone: The breakfasts. In particular, steer clear of the Mondo Breakfast Burritos, which are more than 1,000 calories.
So, even if you have to eat out there are options to keep you healthy and even clean!