Fast Food: New Spin on an Old Foe

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Fast food has an unsavory reputation—with good reason. Just because food is quickly prepared does not mean it has to be unhealthy.

fast food 1Pressed for time, people of all ages grab and run—it could be pizza, a burger, or Buffalo wings. We talked earlier about new dietary guidelines from the U.S. government. Rather than heavy messaging about certain foods, the guidelines promote the need for a shift toward healthy eating over a lifetime. It’s all about making the right choices, even when it comes to fast food.

What is your fast food vice?

Your weakness could be a drive-through window, or it might be pre-prepared food from your local grocery store. “Fast” food generally means high calories and low nutritional content. Once in awhile is okay, but even once a week typical fast food may not be the best choice for your health goals.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

Chock full of something

Processed or fast food is generally high in sodium and other additives to enhance flavor. The 2004 indie film, Super Size Me, explored the chemistry and calories that underpin favorite foods from McDonald’s. Since then, the chain has taken steps to improve the health profile of its menu, but McDonald’s remains a go-to example of chemical fast food excess. It all adds up—and so have obesity statistics in the United States.

You are what you eat

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Photo courtesy of Roman Arkhipov

It is easy to understand—food fuels your body. Low quality fuel means low quality performance, maintenance, and long-term health. Metabolic syndrome, respiratory difficulties, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes accompany diets with low nutritional value. Disrupted gastrointestinal function, swinging blood sugar levels, and excess pounds stress every system in the body. Known as the “second brain,” the gut and microbiota communicate closely with the brain located above your neck, suggesting that cognition and thinking functions are influenced by what you put into your mouth.

The drinks are just as bad

Described as “liquid candy,” soda pop and beverages with added sugar have a big impact on health. While your body needs water—it does not need added chemicals and sugar. A Harvard study indicates we consume four times as many calories from drinks than we did in 1965. As word gets out on the unhealthy impact of sugary drinks, adults are starting to make better choices. Researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently asked parents in an online survey about beverage choices they make for smaller children. The study predicts that warning labels on sugary drinks could guide parents to buy healthier drinks for their children.

Highly processed fast food awash in chemicals, sodium, sugars and fats are not good for anyone, young or old. Are there fast foods that could be healthy? The answer is “yes!!!

Fast food tips

The need for speed is a key factor for hungry people on the move. Here are tips to boost nutrition, improve health, and make good fast food choices:

Prepare in advance

If your lifestyle permits, prepare lunch and dinner foods in advance. Many couples with young children spend time cooking on the weekend for the busy week ahead. This makes room for healthy food choices that make great meals later in the week. A big first step toward health for people of any age is to stock healthy food in your refrigerator and pantry.

Lots of people do not have time

Many people just do not have the time to cook meals in advance. When you are out and on the run, consider these suggestions:

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    Photo courtesy of Brian Chan @tigerrulezzz

    Watch the numbers: Take a look at the calorie counts of food you are planning to order—if the data is available. Up front research can make the difference between a McDonald’s Big Mac and a healthier chicken sandwich.

  • Consider portion size: Many people are aware that restaurant and fast food restaurant portion sizes have grown in the last several decades. Consider splitting a meal, ordering less, or taking home the extra in a doggy box or bag. Eat until you are no longer hungry—not until you are full. Think about salads that include protein you like, such as nuts, eggs, or poultry.
  • Find recipes that work: You can make fast food for yourself on the fly if you have the right ingredients. Take the time to find foods that work for you and invest in a good cookbook or join a cooking group. Do something that sparks your creativity to help you feed yourself, and your family, in a healthy way. Be sure to take individual tastes—and needs—into account. If you are gluten sensitive, there are recipes and ingredients options that will work for you.

Occasional fast food is not a bad thing. When the problem is time, think about adjusting your schedule or habits to ensure you can catch a fast—but healthy—meal.

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