Healthy Fast Food Choices

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Hitting your favorite fast food joint doesn't necessarily have to lead to weight gain. Learn how to choose wisely before your next drive-thru trip.

It's hard to beat the convenience of fast food, which delivers affordable meals that are ready within minutes. But if you aren't careful, you can eat your entire daily allowances for fat, calories and sodium in a single meal. Over the long run, this can contribute to obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other serious health issues.

So how do you make a fast food run without breaking your nutrition budget?

Savvy strategies
First, take heart. Not all fast food meals are necessarily unhealthy. More and more restaurants now offer healthy alternatives.

Check out the following tips before your next drive-thru run:

Burger basics

  • Order the smallest burger available, and ask for extra lettuce, onion and tomato.
  • Remember that cheese adds an extra 100 calories and 8 to 10 grams of fat.
  • Go light on the extras. Mayo, sauteed mushrooms and bacon all add an average of 90 calories and 8 grams of fat.
  • Use mustard or ketchup, which has zero fat, instead of mayo (100 calories per tablespoon).

Chicken and fish facts

  • A fried chicken or fish sandwich has as much fat and calories as an extra large burger.
  • Instead, go for the grilled, unbreaded option.
  • Use special sauces, mayonnaise or tartar sauce sparingly. Having them served on the side will help you consume smaller quantities.
  • Skinless chicken will have less than half the fat and calories of fried chicken.
  • If the restaurant offers roasted chicken, choose that and remove the skin.

Salad smarts

  • Order a salad with grilled chicken (no breading).
  • Use low-calorie or nonfat dressing. Regular dressing will add over 200 calories and 15 grams of fat.
  • Avoid Chinese noodles, croutons, bacon and/or tortilla chips.

Mind your drinks

  • One large 32-ounce soda has as much as 425 calories and 26 teaspoons of sugar.
  • A small shake can have as much as 360 calories and 10 grams of fat.
  • Order water, unsweetened ice tea or low-fat milk instead.
  • Try this: fill your cup 3/4 full with water, and then add a splash of lemonade for a refreshing, lower calorie drink.

Fries and onion rings

  • A small order of fries or onion rings can have as much as 200 calories or more and over 10 grams of fat.
  • If you really want a taste, consider sharing with someone. Otherwise, substitute a side salad with low-cal dressing.

Keep portion sizes in mind

  • Larger-sized meals and sandwiches come with additional calories, fat and sodium.

Other healthy options

  • Chili, with or without rice and/or plain baked potato.
  • Baked potatoes - just don't load them with sour cream, butter or cheese. Ask for these on the side and use sparingly.
  • Fruit cups.
  • Wraps or pitas with turkey, roast beef or ham. Add extra lettuce, tomatoes or other veggies, and skip dressings, mayo and sauces.
  • Ask for nutrition facts information. They are often found posted in the store, in a brochure or on the restaurant's website.

Finally, it's about moderation. An occasional high fat meal from a fast food joint is OK. But if you find yourself eating buy cialis it on a regular basis, it may be time to put your health first.