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Can You Eat Healthy Fast Food?

by Chef Dave Fouts and Vicki Bovee, MS, RD, LD

Summer 2010

To view some helpful tips for eating healthier at fast food restaurants, click here.

Speed and Convenience – The top two reasons people drive-thru fast food restaurants. So, how do you keep your busy schedule and not sacrifice healthy food choices?

We’ve all done it. We run to a drive-thru to pick up a quick meal. What else can you do that requires so little calorie expenditure in return for high calorie consumption? It’s no mystery why people use the drive-thru. All that is needed is to push a button to lower the window, hand over a couple of dollars for a value meal, and in return you get a tasty meal to fill you up and it requires no preparation or clean-up.

According to a USDA report, Americans have increased the amount of their total food expenditure on meals away from home from 34 percent in 1972 to almost half in 2006. In those dollars spent on food away from home, fast food dollars have increased from 21 percent to 38 percent. It is estimated that one in four Americans visit a fast food restaurant daily.

Why Fast Food?

Why are so many of us eating fast food even though most of us know that the meals are high in calories, fat and sodium? Researchers at the University of Minnesota interviewed nearly 600 people who ate regularly at fast food restaurants. The results will come as no surprise with speed and convenience the top two responses.

Of those interviewed, 92 percent stated eating fast food because they’re quick. More than 80 percent said they are easy to get to. You can find a fast food restaurant with no problem since they are just about on every corner. Only 20 percent felt there were many nutritious foods to choose from. Bottom line, we know we’re not making healthy food choices, but time and convenience are more important to us.

Menu Labeling

Several U.S. states and cities have passed menu labeling policies that require nutrition information to be provided to consumers that is easy to find and easy to read. When calorie content is posted on the menu rather than in a nutrition pamphlet that may not be easily accessible, many consumers are making lower calorie choices.

The problem is for most of the country, consumers have to ask for the information and it may or may not be available. The fast food chains have nutrition information listed on their Web sites, but that requires the consumer to search out the site for information. If the number one reason we are eating fast food is because it is quick, how many people will take to the Internet to find the numbers they are looking for?

Resources to Help You

There are several Web sites that can help you select a restaurant in your area that will offer healthier choices. and allow you to select restaurants in your area displaying their suggested menu items, with or without special requests. You can make healthier choices and enjoy your occasional fast food meal.

About the Authors:
Chef Dave Fouts is known as the world’s premier culinary expert for weight-loss surgery patients. Chef Dave can be found speaking around the country. Chef Dave is a member of the OAC Advisory Board.

Vicki Bovee, MS, RD, LD, has been working in the field of weight management for more than 20 years. She is a consulting clinical dietitian specializing in bariatric nutrition. Vicki is a member of the OAC Advisory Board.

Rydell SA, Harnack LJ, Oakes JM, Story M, Jeffery RW, French SA. Why Eat at Fast-Food Restaurants: Reported Reasons among Frequent Consumers. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:2066-2070.
Stewart H, Blisard N, Jolliffe D. Let’s Eat Out: Americans weigh taste, convenience, and nutrition. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service; 2006.

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