"Our findings from a large nationally representative sample of US adults show that frequent consumption of meals prepared away from home is significantly associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality," commented Dr. Du. MD, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, University of Iowa.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid fast food entirely. When you’re hungry and on the run, fast food can really hit the spot (unless of course you have a Health Island snack at hand). It’s cheap, tasty, and, best of all, convenient. But while it’s okay to indulge a craving every now and then, to stay healthy you can’t make it a regular habit. The key is moderation - both in how often you frequent fast food chains and what you order once you’re there.
Here are some tips to improve your choices and health when dining out:
- Opt for foods that are lower in fat and higher in protein and fiber. Look for items with more good stuff, like fibre, whole grains, and high-quality protein. Also aim for options that are relatively low in saturated fats. And steer clear of all items that contain trans fats.
- Watch your sodium intake. High sodium intake is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.
- Keep your eye on portion size. Many fast food meals deliver enough food for several meals in the guise of a single serving. Avoid supersized and value-sized items, and go for the smallest size when it comes to sandwiches, burgers, and sides.
- Focus on grilled or roasted lean meats. Avoid fried and breaded items, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets.
- Pay attention to the descriptions on the menu. Dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy and crispy are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Grilled is usually best.
- Don’t be afraid to special order. Many menu items can be made healthier with a few tweaks and substitutions. For example, you can ask to hold the sauce or dressing or serve it on the side. Or you can request a wheat bun for your hamburger or whole-grain bread for your sandwich.
- Don’t assume that healthy-sounding dishes are always your best option. For example, many fast food salads are a diet minefield, smothered in high-fat dressing and fried toppings. This is where reading the nutrition facts (when available) before you order can make a huge difference.
- Go easy on special sauces, which add a lot of calories. If you don’t want to do without, ask for the sauce on the side. A little goes a long way.
- Skip the fries. You’ll save hundreds of calories (510 calories for a large McDonald’s fries, 340 calories for a medium). I know, sometimes its all about the fries - share a serving with your partner/child rather?
- Eat the good stuff first. If you have a side salad or any raw or steamed food with your meal, eat most of it before your protein and starch. Pro Tips: Eat slowly, chew your food properly, take it easy with liquid intake while eating (they dilute your digestive abilities).