Fast foods are quick and easy substitutes for home cooking. But fast foods are almost always high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt.
Some restaurants still use hydrogenated vegetable oils for frying. These oils contain trans fats. These fats increase your risk for heart disease. Some cities have banned or are trying to ban the use of these fats.
Now, many restaurants are preparing foods using other types of fat. Some offer low-calorie choices instead.
Even with these changes, it is hard to eat healthy when you eat out often. Many foods are still cooked with a lot of fat. Many restaurants do not offer any lower-fat foods. Large portions also make it easy to overeat. And few restaurants offer many fresh fruits and vegetables.
In general, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease must be very careful about eating fast food.
Knowing the amount of calories, fat, and salt in fast foods can help eat healthier. Many restaurants now offer 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 for a copy.
In general, eat at places that offer salads, soups, and vegetables.
With pizza, get less cheese. Also pick low-fat toppings such as vegetables. You can dab the pizza with a paper napkin to get rid of a lot of the fat from the cheese.
Healthier sandwiches include regular or junior size lean meats. Adding bacon, cheese, or mayo will increase the fat and calories. Ask for vegetables instead. Select whole-grain breads or bagels. Croissants and biscuits have a lot of fat.
If you want a hamburger, get a single meat patty without cheese and sauce. Ask for extra lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Limit how many French fries you eat. Ketchup has a lot of calories from sugar. Ask if you can substitute a salad for fries.
Look for meat, chicken, and fish that are roasted, grilled, baked, or broiled. Avoid meats that are breaded or fried. If the dish you order comes with a heavy sauce, ask for it on the side and use just a small amount.
In your salads, avoid high-fat items. Dressing, bacon bits, and shredded cheese all add fat and calories. Choose lettuce and assorted vegetables. Select low-fat or fat-free salad dressings, vinegar, or lemon juice. Ask for salad dressing on the side.
Eat low-fat desserts. A rich dessert can add fun to a well-balanced diet. But eat them only on special occasions.
Order smaller servings when you can. Split some fast-food items to reduce calories and fat. Ask for a "doggy bag." You can also leave the extra food on your plate.
Your food choices can teach your children how to eat healthy, too. Choosing a variety of healthy foods and limiting portion size are key to a healthy diet for anyone.
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: 06/16/2011
A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine (10/6/2010).