“You are what you eat!” “Muscles are made in the kitchen, not the gym!” “A healthy outside starts from the inside!”
We already know that a healthy diet is the cornerstone of a healthy life — diets rich in whole grains, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables are the gold standard. But some days, these foods just aren’t available. Whether you’re on a road trip, out with friends, haven’t gotten to the store yet, or just have a craving, sometimes fast food is the only option. So how do you find the healthiest options on the menu? Here are some handy tips:
BIGGER ≠ BETTER
The FDA recommends a daily calorie intake of 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. Broken down to three meals and one snack a day, this means staying under about 600 calories per meal for women and about 750 calories per meal for men. And yet, a standard McDonald’s order of one Big Mac, one medium french fries, and a medium soda clocks in at 1,080 calories — between one and a half and two meals’ worth of calories in one order! At Burger King, a triple whopper, large fries, and large soda comes in at a staggering 2,150 calories — a full day’s worth of eating for an adult woman. So what’s a good way to scratch the burger itch without blowing the calorie budget? Substituting a cheeseburger, small fries, and small soda takes the calorie count to a meal-sized 670 calories, and swapping diet soda or (better yet!) sparkling water brings you down to 520 calories at McDonalds, and the same meal at Burger King will come out to 710 calories with the soda and 500 without. Going to In’N’Out? Get all the joy of a burger with an animal style cheeseburger instead of a Double-Double, and you’ll save 190 calories while still getting the same flavors you love.
Another way to get the most nutrition for a reasonable amount of calories is to eat the leanest protein possible. Protein helps you feel full longer after eating, making wayward snacking less likely later in the day. Eating a bigger burger may bring you more protein, but it comes with the price tag of more saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat equal an increased risk in heart disease and high levels of bad cholesterol. So how do you get the most protein with the least fat? Go lean! Chicken, even fried, almost always has less fat than beef for nearly equal amounts of calories and protein. At Burger King, a Whopper and an Original Chicken sandwich both have 660 calories and 28 grams of protein. But, the chicken sandwich has just over half the saturated fat of the Whopper (7g versus 12g) and zero trans fat compared to 1.5g in the Whopper. At McDonald’s, a Double Cheeseburger and Crispy Chicken sandwich have similar amounts of calories (450 and 470, respectively) and protein (25g and 27g), but the chicken sandwich has less than half the saturated fat, only 5 grams compared to 11 in the burger. With similar calorie costs and similar amounts of protein, the lean protein of the chicken will give you the same benefits with much less of the harm.
Finally, cutting down on sauces is an easy way to cut hundreds of calories without having to deny yourself a fast food treat. One ounce of ranch dipping sauce at Burger King, for example, adds 140 calories and 15 grams of fat! Treating yourself to a McChicken? Leaving off the mayonnaise will save you 140 calories and 11 grams of fat. By being mindful of where the calories in your meal are coming from, you can make choices that fit your taste and your calorie budget no matter where you find yourself eating!
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