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How To Eat Healthy At Fast Food Joints

mcdonalds

Whether you want to or not, you’re going to end up eating at a fast food joint. Perhaps you’re traveling in a new area, strapped for time (or cash,) or hanging out with your friends that don’t care what they eat as long as it tastes good.

The “how” and “why” of ending up at McDonald’s doesn’t matter, it just matters that you’re there and you’d like to make it out alive.

The good news is that it is possible, you just have to do some planning and research beforehand. Follow my guide and you will (most likely) make it out alive!

Step 1 – Review The Basics

Before you start thinking about what to pick off the menu, you should review some healthy eating basics so you know what to look out for. If you know of types of food that are always bad, it will be make it much easier to narrow down your choices.

Here are some fast food facts to get you started:

  • Anything deep-fried (i.e. French fries) will be full of saturated and trans fats (which are just about the worst things you can put in your body.)
  • Water is a much better choice than soda, even if it’s diet.
  • Salad dressing is loaded with calories.
  • Most items will have more calories, saturated fat, and sodium than you expect, so reading the nutrition facts is much better than guessing.
  • The beef is going to be the lowest-quality they are allowed to serve (in most cases.)

And here are some menu items that are usually the healthiest options:

  • Grilled chicken (usually a sandwich)
  • Fruit side dishes (like apple sauce or apple chunks)
  • Salad (with dressing on the side)
  • Baked potato (that’s not loaded with butter, cheese, or sour cream)

And some options that are really bad:

  • Fried and/or breaded chicken (including chicken nuggets)
  • Onion rings
  • French fries

mcdonalds fries

What else?

Don’t super size. It might be a mere 9 cents extra, but it could add inches to your waist line!

You have to ask yourself, “Will the large not fill me up?” Usually you’ll be full but then stuff down what’s left, anyway. If you stick with a smaller size and eat slowly, you’ll be plenty full by the time you leave.

Step 2 – Read The Menus

Again, even before you go out, you want to read the menus. Luckily, you can find them online, complete with nutrition facts. Some sites even offer “meal calculators” that will give you nutrition facts for any meal combinations you choose.

Links to popular fast food menus are below. (Sometimes you have to start at the home page, while some provide printable PDF menus.)

McDonalds: Homepage | Nutrition (overview) | Nutrition facts

Burger King: Homepage | Nutrition brochure (PDF)

Wendy’s: Homepage | Menu

Arby’s: Homepage | Menu | Menu (PDF)

Subway: Homepage | Menu (PDF)

Pizza Hut: Homepage | Nutrition | Nutrition Guide (PDF) | Ingredients (PDF)

Taco Bell: Homepage | Menu | Nutrition facts

eat this not that

Do this at home where you aren’t rushed (unlike when standing in line to order) so you can think clearly. Pick out some things you might like that are fairly healthy, then review the nutrition facts on them (which is something you won’t even find on the menu.)

You could also read Eat This, Not That, which is like the Cliff’s Notes version of fast food nutrition facts!

 

 

Step 3 – Make a List

If you want, make a list of healthy options for each restaurant and keep it in your purse or wallet. It will come in handy for those “which did I want, the grilled chicken sandwich or the chicken nuggets?” moments.

Here’s a sample checklist:

McDonalds
Egg McMuffin (300 calories, 12g fat, 18g protein)
Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich (420 calories, 10g fat, 32g protein)
Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (320 calories, 9g fat, 30g protein)
Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (40 calories, 3g fat)
Apple dippers w/ caramel dip (105 calories total)

Burger King
TENDERGRILL Chicken Sandwich (400 calories, 7g fat, 36g protein)
TENDERGRILL Garden Salad (240 calories, 9g fat, 33g protein)

Wendy’s
Ultimate Chicken Grill sandwich (320 calories, 7g fat, 28g protein)

Step 4 – Eat

burger king

Well it’s time to order your food and eat it. If you ordered as healthy as possible, it’s time to sit back and relax (but don’t cover your salad in dressing!)

*Tip* Chew your food completely! It helps you lose weight in a number of ways! (For example, you eat slower, so you feel fuller sooner. And it aids in digestion.)

 

[That’s a Burger King burger right there. It looks nothing like the version in the commercials!…]

 

Step 5 – Reflect

burger king staff

Now that you have eaten, think about what you ate. It it was fairly healthy and you feel good, keep it in mind for next time. If it made you sick, remember that, so you don’t get tempted to go to a fast food place tomorrow and order the same thing!

Most of all, ask yourself if the taste was really worth the extra fat, cholesterol, and calories.

Or consider my personal strategy:

My strategy is to binge on fast food or junk food a couple times a year, and afterwards I always ask myself “why?” The disruption to my diet makes me feel like crap for at least a few days, and that’s what I remember about each fast food experience. That’s good, though, because it severely limits the number of times I eat the stuff.

To summarize: When eating junk food, eat enough to get sick, and then you won’t want to go back for a long time!

 

Bonus Fast Food Avoidance Strategy!

Don’t make fast food a habit. Watch the documentary Super Size Me and lose all desire for fast food!

 

Had A Little Too Much Fast Food Already?

I highly recommend watching this totally FREE 5-part video series from Dr. John Berardi, one of the sharpest minds in sports nutrition and fat loss.

pn fat loss video

Just click play!

 

Photo credits: AdamL212 | trungson | VirtualErn | The Consumerist

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15 Comments
  1. This isn’t nutrition. This begins by essentially instructing you to give up on your attempt to avoid a fast-food franchise which you probably avoid for more reasons than mildly toxic food… such as deforestation, animal cruelty, and whatever else your conscience was telling your already plaque filled arteries.

    Instead of providing any real information concerning nutrition, It encourages a neurotic obsession with weight and appearance (versus perhaps a concern with health or longevity). The author also made sure to demonstrate that he knows the science of the 80’s with the idea that saturated fat will give a healthy normal individual hypercholesterolemia.

    But the real beef (McD-quality) of this article is to help walk you through being that guy who takes forever deciding because he can`t figure out that his choice of consumable does not have the world teetering on the edge of dire consequence; and he`s even too stupid to realize that if it did, the simple solution would be to walk out and leave like he wanted to in the first place.

    Great article! Thanks man!

  2. Wow thresh, thanks for the very helpful comment… Maybe next time you’ll read the article to see what it’s actually about before going on a rampage.

    Have a nice day 🙂

  3. Thank you for this guide! I find myself relying on fast food restaurants on numerous business trips and while I am crunched for time I would still like to make healthy choices.

  4. great article! I really like your tip about making a list to keep just in case you end up going to one of these places. I tried to avoid them like the plague because like you, I always feel miserable afterwards. (no matter how good those fries smell, they are not worth the after-feeling!) thanks!

  5. There is nothing healthy about fast food, but this is a pretty good guide to choosing the lesser of many evils. Thanks.

  6. Thanks, glad you’re liking the article! 🙂

    @Stengel99
    In this case, we’re talking about “relatively healthy” food 😉

  7. This is a great post. Ever since the Supersize Me special where that guy ate nothing but McDonald’s, people are acting like the food is poison. It’s more fattening than most foods, but it is NOT going to make you fat overnight. Meanwhile, you can still eat healthy at fast food joints. Many people don’t have time to pack a healthy lunch for work so they need to eat at McDonald’s. This blog is great for filling those people in on how to eat healthy.

  8. Well i just read your article and it helps out alot with me having 5 kids and always on the go we are eating out alot. I just wanted to know if what i was choosing was correct or not. After reading this I know I am. Thanks.

  9. Thanks for sharing these tips with the public. Being a fitness and nutrition expert myself, I love seeing others help people make healthier choices. I would also add that drinking the required amount of water for your body each day, helps keep your hunger at bay. Another option to having to make an unhealthy choice is to carry healthier snacks like raw nuts with you whenever you are on the run. That being said, it is nice to see these “fast food joints” are starting to offer better options to choose from.

  10. If I’m going to have to eat fast food I’m going to eat what I want. Fries and chicken are about the scope of my FF practice. Thankfully I don’t have to eat it often. Still, too much of anything, healthy or otherwise, can make you fat.

  11. !!GREAT HELP LEVI!!! NOW I TRULY WATCHING WHAT I GET IN MY MOUTH, SPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE NEPHEWS THAT LIKE TO EAT IN THIS PARTICULAR RESTAURANTS, BUT I AM HAPPY THAT YOUR SUGGESTIONS ABOUT CHOICES WORKED FOR ME THANKS….

  12. I understand for most people that fast food can be unavoidable with long road trips and the likes. It is good to see an article towards better options at these awful establishments. The only thing I would add is to remove the buns for your chicken sandwich. I am not a carb nazi by any means, but those buns are full of processed crap. Healthy options include staying away from processed food.

  13. Great simple article. There’s always so much more fat salt and calories in fast food than you would think. Therefore i’d keep fast food as the occassional treat.

    I find Subway to be a great alternative to McDonalds

    We’ve changed from fast food to more traditional takeaway’s instead. I have a thing for takeaway Jamaican Jerk Chicken

  14. Water is always my choice over any soda. I avoid salad dressings and anything fried. Grilled chicken, salad, and baked potatoes are my healthy options. French fries? Pffff. Onion rings? Hate them…
    I rarely eat at McDonalds. If I ever happen to, my choice is:
    Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich (420 calories, 10g fat, 32g protein).

    I have heard of the SuperSizeMe experiment but never watched it until today when I found it on Youtube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z74og9HbTM

  15. I LIKE BURGER KING!!!!!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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