Thursday, May 29, 2008

Navigating fast-food, smartly

Fast food fills you up, and the price is certainly right. But it’s loaded with calories. Even some healthy-looking menu items like salads can weigh in at over 800 calories. Beware the add-ons for salads, and while chicken salad sandwiches and wraps might be popular, remember that most are loaded with mayonnaise and sodium.

ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, pored over the calorie counts of dozens of items at top fast-food restaurants to find out if there's a way to eat healthy.

The bottom line: No fast food is perfect (even lower-calorie options may be loaded with sodium; some have more than a third of the recommended daily amount) so you shouldn’t eat it every day. But it turns out that wherever you eat, you can make good lower-calorie and lower-fat selections.

The 12 rules of fast-food ordering, from the July issue of ShopSmart:

Look up nutritional stats at a fast-food chain’s Web site before you go there so you can plan your meal.

Ask if you can order that burger, chicken sandwich, or other item without the cheese and sauce. Or ask if you can get the sauce on the side, or order a half-portion.

Pass up combination meals. They’re designed to be filling. (Read: larger with more calories.)
Choose grilled or roasted meats over fried ones.

Split appetizers or turn a side into a main course.

Skip the fries. Instead, get a baked potato or some veggies on the side. A large order of fries can set you back as many as 600 calories. If you can’t live without them, split a large serving or order a small one and save 300 calories

Stick with “original” or “traditional” burgers and sandwiches, which tend to be smaller than newer menu items. And stay away from anything crispy, like Burger King’s Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich (790 calories).

Don’t eat the top bun or bread slice.

Steer clear of regular mayo and cream dressings. Instead, ask for mustard, salsa, and low-fat mayo.

Question the salad. Order a salad but not one that comes in a calorie-dense deep-fried shell or is covered with cheese, croutons, or deep-fried or breaded meats.

Have a glass of water or a sugar-free drink. Regular sodas can have up to 400 calories a pop.

For dessert, stick with frozen yogurt or light ice cream—the child’s cup or cone size.

And don’t think that some fast-food restaurants are better for your waistline than others. A recent study found that at Subway—famous for its ads featuring Jared “The Subway Guy,” who lost more than 200 pounds eating at the chain restaurant—people ended up eating about 350 more calories than they did at McDonald’s.