Sensible Fast Food

26 11 2009

Tweet Me from truthorcake

As a trusted purveyor of espresso beverages, I find myself cringing when people opt for nonfat milk but insist on keeping the whipped cream–“It’s the best part” they say.

This started me thinking, which choices really do make the most difference when eating out?  Does it really save on fat and calories to go for the fuller fat milk and leave off the clearly-decadent sugar/fat topping, or is it really an even trade?

I was somewhat shocked at the results.

Where I work, a 16oz cafe mocha with nonfat milk and whipped cream has 290 calories and 10 grams of fat, while going for the standard 2% milk sans whip nets you 260 calories and 8 grams of fat.  The best choices, clearly, are nonfat/no whip (220/2.5) or nixing the chocolate altogether—a 2% latte (190/7) or a nonfat latte (130/0).

If my thoughts on this are so relatively off-base, I thought, then what other misconceptions do I carry with me to the counters and drive-thru windows that I inevitably encounter on my day to day food life?

Salad always sounds like a good choice when trying to avoid fast food perils.  The next time you go to Wendy’s, consider this: their Mandarin Chicken Salad (with all of its trimmings) has 550 calories and 25.5 grams of fat, while a single burger with everything has only 470 calories and 21 grams of fat.  A grilled chicken sandwich (350/7) or chicken Go Wrap (250/10) affords you the addition of a small chili or Frosty–and think of all the additional protein you’ll be getting!

I’m also stymied by the differences in Chinese food nutritionals.  I look at the menu of my favorite Asian cafe and see “Sweet and Sour Chicken” and think “No…bad…fried,” but in reality, that option has only 360 calories per serving (two to a dish) and 10 grams of fat, compared to 450 and 21 for the seemingly innocuous–or at least comparable–Orange Peel Chicken.  The lesson here: know your stats before you order.  I know I have chosen the fattier version time and time again because of assumptions and misleading veggie content.

And now, for pizza.  I had thought I would have to save it for pig out days exclusively, as clearly it would be super-fatty and unhealthy at all times.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not ever going to be the most nutrient-rich choice, but the good news for me: giving in to pepperoni over a vegetarian option isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

That’s right; you heard me correctly.  The key difference is in the crust.  Choosing a thin crust over hand tossed—at least at Dominos—saves you 34 calories per slice (1/8 of a medium pie).  And the difference in fat on a thin crust slice between salty, resplendent pepperoni and garden nonsense is only 3 grams.  Hooray!  The key, then, is portion control.  Just make sure you have plenty of friends (with better hand-eye coordination than you) nearby to snag the last piece out of the box, and a good portion of sensibly-dressed salad to fill in the gaps.

These tenets hold true of any dining out experience.

Have a plan.  Sure, it’s less exciting to arrive with your full meal planned out in advance, but at least you’ll know you won’t be tempted by the pitfalls that lurk ahead.

And, most importantly, everything in moderation.  You can have burgers, and pizza, and beer and cheese—oh dear, now I’m dying for a cheeseburger—as long as you fit them in to a decently-rounded day or week.

Best of luck navigating the fast food jungle!

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