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Best Healthy Choices at Fast Food Restaurants

How To Not Get Super-Sized

After reading the title of this essay, the first words out of your mouth should be, “If I wanted to eat healthy, I wouldn’t eat fast food.” I won’t argue with that. (I will argue with your decision to not watch “Mad Men.”) However, sometimes we need to eat right now and the moniker “fast” is not just for how it can travel through you. (Yes, you can argue with me for making a poop joke.)

First, let’s establish a baseline. Since men cannot live on diet sodas and salads alone, we need to find something that tastes good and fills us up. For the ideal back when we were 16, I think we can all agree, is the #1 at McDonald’s, medium size. (Ah, those days when thousand island dressing was the best thing ever.) So, for the nutritional information for a Big Mac, fries and Coke, we’re looking at 1130 calories, 48 grams of fat, 151 grams of carbohydrates (58 grams from the Coke), 29 grams of protein, some vitamin C (really? wow), calcium and iron.

Second, to determine if it is healthy for us, we need to figure out what our daily caloric intake would be. This site has a great formula and if we plug in a six foot tall, 180-pound man (around ideal weight) that’s 25 and does about an hours worth of running at ten-minute miles, we get about a 3,000-calorie diet need.

Third, since most listings for recommended daily intake we see on labels are for 2,000 calories, we would need to increase that to 3,000 calories. So, for 3,000 calories, the daily value would be 97 grams of fat or less and 450 grams of carbohydrates or less. (If you need to watch your cholesterol or sodium, you probably already know that you need to avoid fast food.) As you can see, if we are at our ideal weight and exercising regularly, the Big Mac meal is about a third of our daily caloric and carbohydrate intake needs and about half of the fat intake. Which isn’t bad, if we are just eating three meals a day. (I’m looking at you guy with head in fridge at 10 pm.)

Any excuse to use this photo is a good one.

Any excuse to use this photo is a good one.

Then again, we might not be exercising regularly, we might not be at our ideal weight (and need to cut down on fat, carbohydrates and calories) and we aren’t getting any younger. So, we need something a little lower in calories, fat and carbohydrates. Just making the Coke a Diet Coke (or Ice Tea or Water) gets rid of 210 calories and 58 grams of carbohydrates, so a better baseline for the entrée of the meal would be 920 calories, 48 grams of fat and 93 grams of carbohydrates. If we can find an entrée that fills us up and tastes good that has less than those three amounts, I would say it is healthy. Ok, ok, healthier in comparison.

So, when stopping at these fast food chains, here are some “healthier” suggestions.

Chipotle Barbacoa Burrito with Lime Rice, Black Beans, Tomato Salsa, Cheese and Lettuce: 835 calories, 28.5 grams of fat, 98 grams of carbohydrates. Yes, it is a little higher on the carbohydrate side, but if you lose the tortilla and make it a bowl, you lose 290 calories and 44 grams of carbohydrates, which makes it an even healthier option. But, it would feel like a (shudder) salad.

Wendy’s Double Stack and a Large Chili: 690 calories, 28 grams of fat, 59 grams of carbohydrates. Not much in the way of vegetables here except that big slice of onion on your Double Stack, but it is darn tasty. Scary thing about Wendy’s: the bigger chicken sandwiches have more sodium, calories and carbohydrates than the Double Stack.

Chick-fil-a Chicken Sandwich and Waffle Potato Fries: 810 calories, 38 grams of fat, 84 grams of carbohydrates. Maybe it is just chicken, as the sodium levels for Chick-fil-a are high as well. But, for better chicken sandwiches and fries, it still has fewer calories and carbs than comparable sandwiches at Wendy’s.

Subway. Yeah. It’s healthy. I get it. That’s the whole point of this. Still, it is about as interesting as a traffic jam. Go ahead. Be like Jared.

In-N-Out Cheeseburger and Fries: 880 calories, 45 grams of fat, 93 grams of carbohydrates. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. Yes, it is about the same as a Big Mac meal, so not really healthier. (But in my older self’s opinion, much tastier.) Making it a double, double adds 190 calories and 14 grams of fat.

KFC Original Recipe Chicken Drumstick, Thigh, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Biscuit: 640 calories, 34 grams of fat, 50 grams of carbohydrates. Well, here’s what you get when your meal is not on a bun – fewer calories and carbs, which makes sense. Not making it extra crispy saves 150 calories. Not making it a Double Down saves your life.

Sadly, after looking up a few other fast food joints (Arby’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and especially Carl’s Jr.) I didn’t really find much tasty stuff different from the above that would fill you up without filling out your waist too much. Then again, I think most of us expect that when we go get fast food. To try to find something different is like looking for a Chipotle burrito in a haystack. Mmmmm, Chipotle burrito.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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