When people all over the world are looking for a quick, easy meal to grab on the go, fast food is the common solution. With the efficient service, low prices, and casual atmosphere, fast food seems like the ideal "all-American" choice. In fact, over 25 percent of Americans consume fast food every day.
Fast food does not have to be unhealthy, but most of the time it is; consumers often order foods with more fat, calories, sugar, sodium, and less nutrition and vitamins than is necessary. Keep reading to find out some more about what makes fast food so common in America and how to pick healthier options.
Just how common is fast food in America?
According to this Google map, there are close to 50,000 fast food chains across the United States, with McDonalds being the largest restaurant chain. In the world, there are more than 500,000 fast food places.
Kids between the ages of 6 and 14 eat fast food 157,000,000 times every month. Ninety-six percent of kids in school could recognize an image of Ronald McDonald, the face of McDonalds. The only recognizable figure that ranked higher was Santa Claus. To top it off, Americans spend nearly $100 billion on fast food every year.
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Unhealthy Fast Food
Most people don't consider fast food as their healthiest option. While there are some ways to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal at a fast food restaurant, the unhealthy options are more common and more appealing.
Often, someone can consume all of the calories they need for the entire day in one sitting at a fast food restaurant.
The most common vegetable served at fast food places is the potato in the form of French fries. There is no problem with eating fast food occasionally, but if you are eating it more than once a week, consider ordering some healthier options that are more nutritional.
Check out these fast food comparisons. You might be surprised at what you find! For example, a McDonald's Triple Thick Shake has 1,000 calories more than a Wendy's Small Frosty.
Many foods are considered unhealthy if you eat too much of them – even healthy foods. Keep this in mind when ordering fast food. Don't opt for the super-size option, and keep reading to find out what healthy choices you can make.
You can check out this article (.pdf) for more nutrition information on many fast food items.
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Nutritious Fast Food
Not all fast food is bad. Today, more and more fast food restaurants are offering healthier options and new menu items. There are also ways you can customize your order to be healthy for you.
If you are looking for ways to cut down on some of the calories and extra fat in many fast food options, try some of the tips listed below.
- Don't order the biggest sizes. While it may seem like a bargain to super-size your order, it is no bargain for your health. The largest sizes have the most fat, calories, sugar, and sodium. You will probably be just as satisfied with a smaller portion.
- Sugar soda is full of sugar and calories, but it does not fill you up. It is important to stay hydrated, but make a smarter choice and select skim or low-fat milk, fruit juice, diet soda, or water.
- Sauces such as mayonnaise, tartar sauce, some spreads, or salad dressing can add loads of extra fat and calories where you might not need them – as can cheese, sour cream, guacamole, gravy, and "special" sauces. Order a sandwich without the condiments, or ask for them on the side so you can add your own. Most places give you more salad dressing than you need, so add it yourself and don't use the whole packet. Chose low-fat or reduced fat options when possible. Salads are a healthy option, especially with a healthier dressing.
- Generally, fried foods are not the best choice. Choose items that are labeled as grilled or baked.
- Go for the kids menu. The portions are smaller, and you can usually make substitutions. Another option is to bring half of what you order home to eat later instead of all in one sitting.
- Choose from the items labeled as "healthy" or "light". Most places now offer special sections on their menu.
Fast food does not have to be bad for you. By making smart choices, eating fast food restaurants can still be healthy.
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Written By: Julia Ransohoff,
high school student writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
The Real Truth About Fast Food & Nutrition, Think Quest Library.
Stop Press, McSpotlight.
Healthy Fast Food, HelpGuide.org.
Fast Food Nutrition Facts, FastFoodNutrition.org.