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Fast food tips

Can You Eat Fast Food?

Fast foods are quick and easy substitutes for home cooking. They fit well into our busy lifestyles, but fast foods are almost always high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt.

Some fast-food restaurants still use hydrogenated vegetable oils for frying. These oils contain trans fats, which increase your risk for heart disease. Some cities have banned or are trying to ban the use of trans fats.

As a result, many restaurants are now preparing foods using other types of fat. Some restaurants offer low-calorie choices like salad bars with low-calorie dressing, low-fat milkshakes, whole-grain buns, lean meats, and grilled chicken items.

Even with these changes, it is hard to eat a healthy diet when you eat at fast-food restaurants often. Many foods are cooked with a lot of fat, even if they are not trans fats. Many fast-food restaurants do not offer any lower-fat foods. Large portions also make it easy to overeat. And most fast food restaurants do not offer many fresh fruits and vegetables.

In general, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease must be very careful about choosing fast food because of its high fat, salt, and sugar levels.

When You Go to a Fast-food Restaurant

Knowing the amount of calories, fat, and salt in fast foods can help you make healthier choices. Many fast-food and other restaurants now offer nutritional information about their food. This information is much like the nutrition labels on the food that you buy. If it is not posted in the restaurant, ask an employee if they have a copy you can look at.

Consider these general tips:

  • In general, eat at places that offer a variety of salads, soups, and vegetables.
  • Pizza: Ask for less cheese, and choose low-fat toppings such as onions, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Also, dabbing the pizza with a paper napkin will get rid of a lot of the fat from the cheese.
  • Sandwiches: Healthier choices include regular or junior size lean roast beef, turkey, or chicken breast, or lean ham. Extras -- such as, bacon, cheese, or mayo -- will greatly increase the fat and calories. Ask for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables instead. Select whole-grain breads or bagels. Other choices, such as croissants or biscuits, contain a lot of fat.
  • Hamburgers: A single, plain meat patty without the cheese and sauces is the best choice. Ask for extra lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Limit how many French fries you eat. Ketchup contains a lot of calories from sugar. Ask if you can substitute a salad for fries.
  • Meat, Chicken, and Fish: Look for items that are roasted, grilled, baked, or broiled. Avoid meats that are breaded or fried. If the dish you order comes with a heavy sauce, such as gravy, ask for it on the side and use just a small amount.
  • Salads: Avoid high-fat items, such as dressing, bacon bits, and shredded cheese. They all add fat and calories. Choose lettuce and assorted vegetables to make up most of your salad. Select low-fat or fat-free salad dressings, vinegar, or lemon juice when available. Ask for the salad dressing on the side.
  • Desserts: Choose low-fat frozen yogurt, fruit ices, sorbets, and sherbets. A rich dessert can add fun to a well-balanced diet. But eat them only on special occasions.

Order smaller servings when you can. Consider splitting some fast-food items to reduce the amount of calories and fat. You can also ask for a "doggy bag" or just leave the extra on your plate.

Knowing what is in the foods you eat and how it affects your health can teach your children how to make healthy food choices, too. Choosing a variety of healthy foods and limiting portion size are key to providing a healthy diet for adults and children.


American Heart Association Nutrition Committee; Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, Carnethon M, Daniels S, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Jul 4;114(1):82-96.

Review Date: 10/6/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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