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Fast Food: Dining on the Dash

In a hurry? Good nutrition doesn't have to take
a backseat to fast-food convenience.

Fast Food Meal


In the hustle and bustle of today's world, fast food seems a natural fit…a speedy solution to last-minute lunches and dinnertime dilemmas. But all too often, healthy-eating goals fly out the window the minute you reach the drive-thru window.

While hamburger, chicken and roast beef restaurant chains may not be your most nutritious alternatives, there are some choices you can make to keep you on the road to eating right.

For example, when fast food is your last resort, consider ordering a basic burger. With fewer calories and less fat than its king-size counterparts, a simple hamburger makes a savvy selection. The beef patty will help satisfy your craving, and the bun will fill you up for the time being. If you think you'll miss the fatty cheeses and sauces of the restaurant's signature sandwich, try topping your burger with extra ketchup, mustard and pickles.

Plain roast beef or skinless chicken sandwiches can be smart choices as well. However, if an item is listed as grilled, broiled or roasted, be sure to ask how it is actually prepared. Contrary to what a sandwich's name implies, it could be deep-fried…and if it is, you'll want to avoid it.

Steer Clear of Extras

Most quick-cuisine spots will let you order their specialty burgers and sandwiches plain. Do so and you'll save on the extra calories and fat found in mayonnaise and flavored sauces.

Remember to stay away from super sizes, mega-meals and colossal combos. You may get more for your money, but you'll get a lot more sodium, calories and fat, too. Similarly, skip anything that layers burger on top of burger. If there's more than one patty on the bun, order something else.

French fries have long been considered the essential add-on to fast-food fare. That side dish, however, usually carries as many calories and grams of fat as the burger itself, according to a recent study.

A comparison of nutritional values of popular foods among three nationwide fast-food chains showed that a small order of fries had nearly as many calories and fat grams as the chains' basic burgers. And the fat and calories in a medium order of fries were equal to or greater than those found in large burgers and sandwiches! A burger and fries? That's like eating two main courses at one sitting!

Replace the greasy fries with a green salad, and you'll be a lot better off. Most fast-food places offer a variety of leafy sides to choose from, each usually carrying less than 10 grams of fat. Ask for a light dressing and stick with your commitment to healthy eating.

Take a Different Route

Hamburgers may be the kings of the road, but they're not the only kids on the block. Leave the burgers behind and you may be surprised at what else fast-food restaurants offer. Some chains sell baked potatoes and soups. Choose your potato toppings in moderation and pick a broth-based soup instead of a cream-based one for a meal without the guilt.

Pull into an Oriental drive-thru and you'll be amazed at the number of lean full-flavored vegetable, beef and chicken selections on the menu. Some eateries allow you to choose as many as three Asian entrees for a combination meal, but stick to one and ask for additional white rice instead. Pass on the egg rolls, but go ahead and treat yourself to a fortune cookie.

Or, hit a sub sandwich shop and order turkey and veggies on whole wheat. Get the smaller or half-size sandwich and leave extras like potato salad, chips and cookies at the counter.

Even though seafood subs, tuna grinders and chicken salad hoagies may seem like wise picks, order them with caution. These sandwich spreads are often big on fat due to large amounts of mayonnaise.

Remember, too, that meatless sandwiches aren't necessarily nutritious. Pile on the lettuce, tomato, onions and peppers, but make sure the vegetarian hero you order doesn't include a lot of cheeses, oils or heavy sauces.

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