It's always been a challenge to eat fast food in a healthy way, but it may be more challenging now than ever because more and more fast food restaurants offer value menus and dollar menus, including McDonalds, which is bringing its back after a long hiatus.
Dr. Devika Umashanker, an obesity medicine specialist with Hartford Healthcare, said she understands their allure of high-convenience and low-price.
"When people are working 10-12 hours a day and they go home and they want to bring something to their children for dinner, it’s just easier to grab and go,” she said.
Counting calories off a value menu isn't nearly as convenient, but it can be done, as many restaurants print an item's caloric value on the menu itself, and a complete nutritional guide is usually just a few clicks away on-line, but how many people do you know who would take the time to count calories while hitting a drive-through menu in a rush?
For this reason, we asked Umashanker for some general principles people can use to eat more mindfully off of a value or dollar menu, without having to resort to counting calories or grams of macro-nutrients like fat and carbohydrates.
Her first tip is to make your calories count, but making them as nutritious and filling as possible, especially for breakfast.
“Make those choices where you have higher protein, where you feel fuller for the rest of the day,“ she said, “anything with carbs involved can tend to make people feel hungrier through the day.”
In a general sense, it's good to try to cut carbs all day, because it's so easy to overload on them. Fortunately, that can mean keeping intact the most elemental parts of your burger or chicken sandwich - the meat.
“Maybe do a faceless burger. Do only one slice of the bread," Umashanker said, "you know if you want to have your chicken sandwich you can definitely just eat the inside of the contents, you know, where you are still getting that protein - you are still getting that satiation and that fullness.”
Of course, one of the biggest problems people have is simply ordering too much food.
“Instead of getting a burger, you can always get a junior cheeseburger as an option,” she said, " [also] you can always cut the portion in sizes and have half of what you would normally take.”
Last, but certainly not least, people tend to have a funny habit of not counting any calories that come in liquid form. You should, and for that reason, Umashanker warns against sodas and fancy coffees.
“Just stick with milk and the coffee itself instead of getting the latte and the whipped cream on top.”