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Fast Food: It's Not Always What You Eat, But How Much

Armen Hareyan's picture

Nutrition Fact Sheet

Eating on the run can be disastrous to your health, but by making healthier fast food choices you won't have to give up your cravings completely.

"There is no such thing as a 'bad food,' which would include fast foods," said Dr. Mark Gilger, an associate professor of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children's Hospital. "Eating too much of a fast food, for example french fries, is certainly not recommended. It's the quantity consumed, not the food itself."

Fast food meals tend to be high in fat, salt and calories and low in dietary fiber. These dietary factors may lead to health problems if you eat fast foods too often, he said.

"The obesity epidemic is serious business, as we are now seeing the complications of obesity in increasing numbers in children," Gilger said. "The risks of obesity are becoming more and more clear. There's diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and the list goes on and on."

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In recent years, fast food restaurants have responded to the growing number of obese children and adults by providing healthier food choices on their menus. To help select healthier fast food options, ask for a nutrition fact sheet from the restaurant. Grilled chicken sandwiches are one of the healthiest options. It is recommended to skip the mayonnaise, any special sauce and cheese. Also, ask if a wheat bun can be substituted for white bread and a fruit cup instead of fries. A baked potato can also be a healthier alternative to french fries if you go easy on high fat toppings like sour cream, butter, bacon bits and cheese.

The key, though, is portion control, which means sticking to the 'kid's meal' and not choosing meals with the words "double," "ultimate" or "monster." Eating too much of any food is where the problem lies, Gilger said.

Parents can teach their children how to make healthy food choices by setting a good example.

"If mom and dad eat what they want when they want, and in portions more than necessary, it's very likely that their children will model that behavior," Gilger said.

Moderation in fast food consumption and making nutritious choices, whether dining at home or in a restaurant, are the key elements for developing a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits, he said.