Fast Food: Are you making the right choice?

If you've noticed the recent introduction of rolls, salads and wraps at your favourite fast food outlet - or you've seen their advertising (hard to miss if you watch TV!) - you've quite possibly assumed that these 'non-burger' menu items are healthy and suitable for a weight loss diet.

But did you know that some of these supposedly 'healthy' items contain more than 20g of fat and over 500 calories? That's as much as a Big Mac!

Read on to learn more about making wise choices.

Fast food know-how

Our tips will help you keep your calorie intake under control without sacrificing your fast food experience.

Don't be fooled by words like 'fresh' or 'flame-grilled'. Flame-grilled food may be drowned in fat before grilling. And fresh...well that can mean anything! The food could be 'fresh' looking, 'freshly' cooked (in fat!), and so on

Skip the mayonnaise, tartare sauce, cheese and other special extras. Add a little mustard or tomato sauce instead if you need a flavour enhancer

Most fast food servings are oversized. Boris Kazakov, dietitian, recommends choosing the smallest serving size. "You can always order more food if you are genuinely still hungry," he reminds us

Skip the high-fat side dishes (such as fries, onion rings, or garlic bread), have a garden salad instead, with reduced-fat or nonfat dressing

If you must have fries, order the smallest serving size and share them with a friend

Order the smallest size soft drink and avoid unlimited refills. Choose water or diet drinks

Generally fast foods are high in sodium, so drink plenty of extra water to reduce the affects, such as fluid retention and excessive thirst

Watch out for battered, crumbed, 'crunchy', breaded, or fried menu items, these will usually be high in fat and calories

Take the 'fast' out of fast food and eat your meal slowly. Enjoy what you're eating and stop when your hunger is satisfied

Although home-prepared foods will usually win out nutritionally over fast foods, sometimes you're pushed for time or on the run and fast food is the most convenient option. So if you do choose fast food, it makes sense to be prepared and know which choices are better for you. The next few sections of this article will help you identify smarter choices.

McDonalds - Deli Choices

Although McDonalds may imply that their Deli Choices range of "delicious and wholesome gourmet rolls" (to quote from McDonalds' website) is a healthier choice, words like 'wholesome' don't provide any guarantee of low-fat or low-calorie food. In fact, only three of the Deli Choice rolls have less than 10g of fat. Be aware that the Chicken Caesar roll and Bacon and Egg roll both have more calories than a Big Mac and nearly as much fat (Big Mac: 480 cals; 2010 kJ; 24.9g fat).

Unlike the Salads Plus range (which does have 10g fat or less), you'll need to choose wisely from the Deli Choices range.

- Calories Kilojoules Fat
Better choices
Chicken Tandoori 335 1400 7g
Thai Chicken 353 1480 8.1g
Turkey and Cranberry 414 1730 8.2g
Not so good choices
Vege Pesto 326 1370 10.4g
Classic Ham 408 1710 15.5g
Mustard Beef 419 1760 14.8g
Italian Supreme 470 1970 22.5g
Bacon and Egg 497 2080 21.4g
Chicken Caesar 563 2360 21.2g
Meal: Big Mac, large fries, large coke 1091 4571 48.2g

Hungry Jacks – Baguettes

With sayings like "We're all about fresh", Hungry Jacks seems to be trying to lighten up its image. The new range of baguettes on offer implies a healthier alternative to burgers, but are they? Three of their baguettes stack up okay, but the Country Chicken baguette has 660 calories and nearly 35g fat, around the same as a Whopper (655 cals; 2740 kJ; 39.3g fat).

- Calories Kilojoules Fat
Better choices
Grilled Chicken 387 1619 8.7g
Spicy Chicken 388 1623 8.1g
Steak Sandwich (only available some states) 511 2138 9.5g
Not so good choices
Veggie Supreme 538 2249 23.2g
Country Chicken 660 2764 34.6g
Meal: Whopper, large fries, large coke 1376 5762 61.2g

Boris also points out the 'salad trap'. While salad can be a healthy choice (eg. Caesar Chicken Salad: 310 cals; 1300 kJ; 15g fat), when you start adding full-fat dressings the figures change dramatically - 444 cals; 1860 kJ; 28g fat. That's more calories and fat than a Junior Whopper!

Subway – 6g of Fat or Less and Carb-Conscious

Subway has established itself in the fast-food market as an alterative to the usual burger and fries. They offer 7 types of rolls with 6g of fat or less, but you need to stick to their guidelines and avoid adding cheese, oil or mayonnaise.

Don't be fooled into thinking that all of Subway's products are low-fat. For instance, some of their 'Carb-Conscious' wraps - although low in carbohydrates - contain about as much fat as that Big Mac.

- Calories Kilojoules Fat
Better choices
Veggie Delite® 229 960 3.7g
Roast Beef 274 1150 4.7g
Savoury Turkey 277 1160 5.6g
Savoury Turkey & Ham 278 1160 5.1g
Subway Club® 290 1210 5.4g
Roast Chicken 306 1280 5.1g
Honey Mustard Ham 313 1310 5.0g
Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki 368 1540 5.4g
Carb Conscious Turkey Wrap 219 916 6.4g
Not so good choices
Carb Conscious Tuna Wrap 347 1450 17.9g
Carb Conscious Turkey & Bacon Melt Wrap 442 1850 25g
Carb Conscious Chicken & Bacon Ranch Wrap 452 1890 23.1g

Moral of the story

Whichever your favourite fast food outlet is, there are bound to be good and not-so-good choices. Take care not to make assumptions about menu items. If you're skipping the burger to have a roll or salad, you might well be sacrificing your preferred choice for no benefit, weight-watching wise!

However, while some of these alternative choices may be no lower in calories than a burger, chances are you're still getting more nutrients, more fibre, and more vegetables than if you choose a greasy hamburger.

So be aware of what you're eating and check your Pocket Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter or our Food Database for nutritional information before ordering. You can also ask restaurant staff for nutritional information and food preparation details, and many companies list details on their website.

So the moral of the story is...don't give up on 'healthier' fast food options, just choose wisely!

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