Found yourself stuck in a situation where you HAVE to eat fast food? If you’ve ever taken a road trip or vacation, you’ve found yourself in a situation where fast food is your only meal option. What to do if you’re in a rush but don’t want to derail your diet? Although fast food is generally not the healthiest option, there are ways to eat on the go that won’t cause lasting harm to your health or waistline.
So if you HAVE to eat fast food? Here are your healthiest options by cuisine and food type.
Many fast-food restaurants now offer some sort of salad. Even if your only option is a small side salad, it’s a good idea to include fresh foods in your meal whenever possible. When visiting Italian fast-food chains, opt for a side salad and one piece of thin-crust pizza loaded with veggies like bell peppers and spinach. Avoid dishes that are higher in carbs, such as deep-dish pizza and pasta. For dishes with cheese, request less or no cheese, and add more vegetables. Stay away from breadsticks and processed meats like sausage and pepperoni.
Mexican is one of the safest options when it comes to fast food since you can usually order beans, grilled lean meats, and vegetables. When possible, opt for a taco salad with mixed greens, black beans, fresh pico de gallo, and veggies. Avoid fattening or high-glycemic items like flour tortillas and fried shells.
Chinese cuisine is often another safe option for fast food, since steamed rice, veggies, and grilled lean meats are often available at these restaurants. Stick to these items, and keep in mind that wonton and hot-and-sour flavored soups may be high in sodium and cause bloating. Avoid sweet and sour dishes, dishes that are fried or crispy, and any other sweet, sticky sauces that may be high in sugar.
Many burger restaurants are starting to offer more healthy menu options to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Choose among veggie burgers or chicken burgers that have been grilled, broiled, baked, or roasted. Instead of fries and onion ring, opt for a side salad. For an even healthier option, skip the bun — some restaurants may even allow you to turn your burger into a lettuce wrap. Also, stay away from cheese, “special” sauces, bacon, and meats and fish that are fried or breaded.
When eating at sandwich chains, keep it as simple as possible and stick to lean meats like chicken and turkey on whole-grain bread, flatbread, or a lettuce wrap. Load up your sandwich with vegetables, and avoid fattening condiments like mayonnaise, oil, and any special sauces. Add avocado or guacamole if offered as a form of healthy fat. Avoid ordering sandwiches that may contain lots of processed ingredients, such as meatball subs.
Most fried chicken chains offer healthier options like grilled skinless chicken without breading. Choose grilled and skinless options whenever possible, and order sides like baked potatoes and salad. Do not order biscuits, or fried or extra-crispy chicken, and stay away from unhealthy sides like gravy and macaroni and cheese.
More tips on choosing healthy fast food
- Review nutrition information. Most fast-food restaurants post calories, ingredients, and nutrition information on signs and menus, and can often provide this information if you ask.
- Avoid supersizing. Many restaurants are starting to eliminate their supersize options, but if you’re asked to supersize, just say no to avoid extra calories and sugar that your body doesn’t need.
- Opt for water. Though soft drinks are included in most value meals, avoid these sugary, unhealthy beverages and stick to water instead.
- Stop eating when you’re full. Like many other restaurants, fast-food restaurants often serve large portions you can share with a friend or save for later.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on November 15, 2017