Because it's inexpensive and widely available, fast food consumption is often associated with lower incomes. But it turns out the “middle class” – up to $60,000 a year in household income – are actually more likely to drive thru and super size than people with lower incomes, according to a recent study in the journal Population Health Management.
No matter how much money you make, it's almost impossible to avoid eating fast food occasionally. But that doesn't mean you have to destroy your diet when you dine. Here are five tips to eat healthier when you eat fast food.
1) Get to know the menu. Fast food restaurants have nutritional information posted online and have them available in the restaurant. Getting to know the menu before you go will help you make healthier choices, says Beth Kitchin, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "When you're at a fast food restaurant, comparison shop. What are the items lowest in calories, lowest in sodium, and lowest in fat? Look for the best of the bad."
2) Don't supersize. "Avoid the biggest burger or biggest serving of fries," Kitchin says. "At Burger King, instead of getting the Whopper, get the Whopper Jr. Going a size smaller will help you save a lot of calories, sodium and saturated fat – all those things that are bad for you."
3) Pass (on) the biscuits. Biscuits are loaded with extra calories, fat and sodium. If you're ordering a breakfast sandwich, choose another kind. "Even something like the Egg McMuffin at McDonald's is lower in calories and fat than the biscuit. It's not that bad when you compare it to a biscuit."
4) Try the side salad. Most fast food restaurants now offer salads, and they tend to be the healthier option because they contain some healthy ingredients. But they’re not always the low-calorie option. For example, the Baja salad at Wendy's has 730 calories, 47g of fat (17g saturated fat) and 1970 mg of sodium – between two and three times the calories, fat and sodium of a Jr. Cheeseburger at the same restaurant.
5) Go simple. "The fewer sauces and less frying an item has, the better it generally is for you," Kitchin says. "The plainer, the better." And leave off the cheese if you can. A single piece can add 40 calories, 2g of saturated fat and 200mg of sodium.
"It's not horrible to have fast food," Kitchin says. "Just have it sparingly."