Healthier Fast Food
Most fast food restaurants offer “value-priced” or “combination meals” and even let you upgrade to a super-sized version for a few more cents. University of Kentucky Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Janet Tietyen warns that consumers may be getting more than a few extra french fries when they choose to super-size.
Tietyen is a member of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, which recently published a study about super-sizing fast food meals. The study shows that upgrading to larger serving sizes often increases the price only modestly, but substantially increases the calorie and fat content.
Tietyen says that a small order of french fries usually contains about 200 calories and 10 grams of fat—an amount that is easy to occasionally incorporate into a healthy diet. But a super-size order can contain more than 500 calories and more than 25 grams of fat.
Tietyen says consumers don’t have to stop eating fast food as long as they only do so occasionally and stick to regular portion sizes.
“Generally, a regular hamburger or cheeseburger with a salad and milk, water, or juice to drink will be your best choice,” she says. “Or consider getting a child-sized meal. If you must order a ‘value meal,’ try not to super-size it.”
The appeal of a cheap meal may draw some consumers to fast food restaurants, but Tietyen says eating a healthy diet at home doesn’t have to be expensive.
“People who eat more meals at home rather than eating out spend less on food and tend to have healthier diets,” she says. “If consumers eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products—with smaller portions of meat—the cost of healthier food is actually very reasonable. Including some meatless meals in your diet will help keep costs down.”
Tietyen refers to a study by the American Dietetic Association that helped 20 families for five months make changes in their diet to include lower-calorie foods packed with good nutrition.
“Six months into the study, there had been no change in food cost, meaning the families were spending the same amount on food as when they began participating in the study,” she says. “But one year later, the families were eating healthier diets and spending less on food.”
She says they did it by purchasing fewer processed foods high in fat and sugar and choosing more fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods. The study shows that by taking time to learn how to shop for healthy foods, consumers can eat better and spend less.
Tietyen says the more consumers can cook and eat meals at home, the healthier they will be; however, eating out once in a while won’t ruin a healthy diet either if consumers make wise choices.
—Aimee D. Heald, University of Kentucky Extension Communications Specialist
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