A recent study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than a third of Americans eat fast food on any given day. Contrary to what you might expect, those with higher incomes were more likely to have eaten fast food than those with lower incomes; 42% for highest family income levels compared with 31.7% for lowest family income levels.
Let’s face it, most of us live busy, hectic lives where finding time to eat can be a challenge. But regular consumption of fast food has been associated with a host of health problems including obesity, asthma, increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, delayed time to pregnancy and risk of infertility.
If you find yourself at the drive-through, here are some strategies to make a fast food meal less detrimental. Remember, it's the small daily changes that can make a big difference in your health.
Luckily, most fast food restaurants provide at least a few options to make a healthier, but still tasty meal. Here are two strategies that work for any meal:
1. Replace soda with water or unsweetened flavored water. You'll avoid empty calories and sugar. And note, even diet drinks can have negative health consequences.
2. Go for color. That means adding colorful non-starchy vegetables and fruit wherever you can. Try to make half the meal vegetables, fruit or a combination. Don't underestimate the power of fruits and vegetables when it comes to your health. They are the ultimate superfoods, delivering the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that your body craves.
If a fast food hamburger meal is your go-to, absolutely have a burger, but not the biggest double quarter-pounder with cheese. Opt instead for a smaller double cheeseburger. Replace fries with a side salad and ranch dressing. If you really want the fries, consider asking for a small or medium with no salt-added and a bun-free burger. These two small changes cut the calories of the meal in half, significantly reduce sodium and add in the health benefits of fresh vegetables.
If Mexican food is a favorite, skip the sour cream and extra cheese on the burrito, make fresh vegetables the condiment. Ordering a Taco Bell Fresco Burrito Supreme instead of a Smothered Burrito will cut calories in half and provide you with some leafy greens, tomatoes and onions. Add in a dollop of avocado and you'll have a healthier, tasty and satisfying meal.
If you love a fast food chicken meal, go for roasted instead of fried, and add green beans and corn to go along with your mashed potatoes and gravy.
For breakfast, here are the components that will keep you satisfied and set you up for healthy eating the rest of the day - fiber, lean protein and healthy fat. How does that look for breakfast? Skip the orange juice and pancakes, they are packed with empty calories and you'll be starving in an hour. Opt instead for a bowl of oatmeal, which provides fiber, topped with fruit (more fiber) and nuts (healthy fat). Add a side of turkey sausage for lean protein, and you'll have a satisfying, balanced meal providing your body everything it needs to face the day's challenges.
A typical fast food meal provides a lot of energy without a lot of nutrition. But you can change that. Skip the soda and add in some fresh vegetables that will provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and health promoting plant compounds that your body craves.