Fast Food – it IS bad for you

Posted on February 24th, 2015 by Seth Nickinson

The isn’t going to be a surprise: fast food is designed for convenience, not nutritional value. Yes, we acknowledge that fast food companies have begun to take their responsibilities to their customers’ nutrition much more seriously in recent years – side salads as a sub for fries; having kids’ meals meat school lunch standards; adding a fruit option to kids’ meals. Yes, there are healthier options available (more on that at the bottom). But truly, fast food has a lot of pitfalls. Especially because condiments like mayo or “special sauce,” soft drinks in ever-increasing sizes, and sneaky sides, pack a real whallop.

Check out this slide show below of typical meals at fast food restaurants, with calories and fat (PDF)


But not everything is bad. WebMD has a slide show comparing best and worst fast food breakfasts. has a collection of healthier menu choices at 10 very popular restaurants.  There are always healthier choices.

spinach feta wrap

The Mayo Clinic offers the following five overall tips:

  • Keep portion sizes small – burgers, not triple patties; shoot for < 300 calories
  • Choose healthier side dishes – fruit bowl, corn on the cob, baked potato chips
  • Go green – salads, that is
  • Opt for grilled items – seek out lean roasted or grilled meats
  • Watch what you drink – water, unsweetened iced tea, and stay away from shakes!

In our next post, we explore the “good” side. How to actually eat healthy even if you are choosing fast food. And what menu items are best picks.

Read More about fast food choices has a really helpful writeup on Healthy Fast Food: Tips for Making Healthier Fast Food Choices. It even includes healthier fast food menu options by type of chain, as well as healthier menu choices at 10 very popular restaurants. Here are some of  their blanket tips:

  • Try to keep your entire meal to 500 calories or less. The average adult eats 836 calories per fast food meal—and underestimates what they ate by 175 calories. So don’t guess! Most chains post nutritional info both on their websites and at the franchise location. Take advantage of this information.
  • Opt for foods that are lower in fat and higher in protein and fiber. Look for items with more good stuff, like fiber, 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.
  • 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. You can also find more reasonable portions on the children’s menu.
  • Focus on grilled or roasted lean meats. Avoid fried and breaded items, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets. Choose turkey, chicken breast, lean ham, or lean roast beef instead. Grilled skinless chicken is usually your best bet.
  • Be careful when it comes to condiments and dressings. When choosing items, be aware of calorie- and fat-packed salad dressings, spreads, sauces, and sides such as sour cream. Mayonnaise- and oil-based sauces in particular add a lot of calories. Try holding the mayo and asking for a packet of ketchup or mustard you can add yourself—controlling how much you put on your sandwich
  • Stick to zero-calorie beverages. Soda is a huge source of hidden calories. The average large soda packs around 300 calories, which can quickly gulp up a big portion of your daily calorie intake. Shakes are even worse, with up to 800 calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat. And don’t be fooled by lemonade and fruit drinks, which add calories and sugar without much in the way of nutrients. Order water, diet soda, or unsweetened tea instead.


Tips on Making Healthier Choices at 10 Popular Fast Food Chains –

10 Seriously Healthy Fast Food Meals – ABC News / Prevention

The Healthiest Options at Fast Food Restaurants –

Calorie King and Calorie Count both provide detailed Nutrition Facts for menu items from several hundred fast food restaurants.