Fast food is everywhere… literally! It’s widely available, convenient, and inexpensive. However, these foods are highly processed, and often contain far too many calories, fat, and sodium. These foods also tend to have little to no nutritional value, vitamins, minerals, or fiber.
Fast foods often contain large amounts of added sugar and are high in saturated fats and trans fats. This combination is especially dangerous for diabetics as it causes food to be digested more quickly. Without good fats and fiber to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, sugar levels can skyrocket and blood pressure can increase.
The saturated and trans fats often found in fast food can put you at greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. While there are good sources of saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, and full-fat cream, there is nothing even potentially healthy about trans fat. This dangerous fat raises bad cholesterol levels and lowers good cholesterol levels.
Sugar is also hiding where you may not expect, even in fast food! Don’t let the name “sugar” fool you. Corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, maltodextrin, all are sugars and all should be avoided. Be sure to read food and beverage labels carefully.
You may think sugar is pretty easy to spot, but think again! It’s not only cookies, cakes, and donuts that diabetics need to watch out for. Sugar is lurking everywhere, and is difficult to avoid if you don’t know where to look. It’s in condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce, foods like yogurt, canned fruit, and drinks like fruit juice and white wine just to name a few.
Fast foods are also full of salt. New research has found that Americans consume about 3,400 mg of salt daily. That’s more than double the American Heart Association’s “ideal” intake of 1,500 mg daily. A whopping 61% of the salt consumed daily in the U.S. comes from prepared foods and restaurant meals. The best way to reduce sodium is to avoid processed and prepared foods, and fast food.
Too much sodium in your system causes your body to retain water. This puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels. This can lead to high blood pressure which increases risk for heart attack and stroke.
Reduce the need for fast food, by planning meals at home. Enjoy plenty of protein – beef, poultry, and fish. Don’t be afraid of fat! Avocado, salmon, eggs, and nuts all are good sources of heart-healthy fats. Learn the difference between carbs and sugars. Choose complex carbs that are also high in fiber, such as whole grain breads, brown rice, quinoa, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Keep junk food out of the house. Foods like cupcakes and candy should be limited to very occasional treats. Instead of ice cream for dessert, have a piece of fruit. Instead of a bag of potato chips for a snack, dip raw veggies in hummus or pesto.
Toss out the sodas, processed juices, and energy drinks. Water is best. If you don’t enjoy a plain glass of water, try water infused with fresh fruit (lemons, limes, and oranges), veggies like cucumber, or herbs such as mint.
When you do indulge in fast food, because let’s be honest, it will happen, you can make smarter choices.
- Don’t order the jumbo or super-sized portion. It may save money, but you’ll double or triple the amount of calories, fat, and sugar
- Choose lean meats such as turkey or chicken breast and have them grilled instead of fried
- Watch the condiments. Mustard is better than mayonnaise, ketchup, BBQ sauce, or special sauce
- For sides, ask for a salad, soup, or fruit instead of French fries
- Salad bars are a great option; be sure to choose healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado. Romaine, spinach, and mixed greens are good bases for peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower. Choose your dressing and skip the croutons.
- When enjoying pizza, go for a whole-wheat thin crust, topped with full fat cheese and plenty of veggies like spinach, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and olives.
Fast food will likely never be the most nutritious choice. We need to eat more healthful meals at home, and limit our meals on the go. However, when we do indulge, (and we will), we can make the smartest choice possible. Our bodies, and health, are in the balance.