Fast food can be healthy
Healthy and nutritious options are becoming more popular.
November 16, 2015 - Author: Annette Sokolnicki, and Melissa Pavlik, Michigan State University Extension
As unusual as it sounds, yes, some fast food can be healthy. Consumers are no longer limited only to traditional fast food restaurants that grill up the same product throughout the entire United States. Today, Americans desire healthier options. Moving in a more health conscious direction, nutritious options are becoming increasingly popular. Restaurants like Chipotle and Panera mix up tradition by offering fresh, seasonal and local options. Also trending, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other fast food outlets are realizing these customer demands for healthier choices. Within the last few years, a lack in options has created a decrease in overall consumer purchases at a few chain outlets. Times are sure changing for fast food chains!
An article in The New Yorker titled Freedom From Fries, by Michael Specter, discusses the question, “can fast food be good for you?” Specter explains that consumers are in fact making healthier choices while eating out. Traditional fast food chain profits are declining as health conscious chains report an increase in the sale of their healthier foods. In the past year McDonald’s has closed 700 stores due to declining market sales.
Specter goes on to explain that customers are concerned about overall nutrition and look for resources to choose the healthier menu option. Nutrition facts are an important decision factor. For example, a basic McDonald’s double cheese burger has 440 calories, 23g of fat and 1150mg of Sodium (about half the sodium one should eat in a day). Compare that to a Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl which has 190 calories, 7g of fat and 370mg of sodium. At Panera you can take away a cup of chicken noodle soup with 80 calories, 1 grams of fat and 960 mg of sodium or a cup of Turkey Chili with 190 calories, 8g of fat and 710 mg of sodium. The burger now has some competition and in the nutritional health aspect, it is losing.
McDonald’s is trying to win back its customers by introducing low calorie options, including seasonal items such as clementine oranges, to their Happy Meals. Back in April McDonald’s announced the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich, advertising that it is, “100 percent real chicken breast, free of artificial flavors, added colors and preservatives, seasoned with pantry spices and herbs like parsley, salt and onion powder, cooked in McDonald’s kitchens using a canola and olive oil blend and seared on the grill to lock in flavor and juices.” The sandwich has 360 calories, 6g of fat and 930mg of sodium.
Taco Bell has also made some menu changes adding a Fresco Crunchy Taco with 140 calories, 8g of fat and 290mg of sodium. Their Fresco Chicken Soft Taco plus Pintos’ n’ Cheese has 330 calories, 10.5g of fat and 460mg of sodium.
The website Fast Food Nutrition, provides detailed nutrition facts on all the major fast food outlets. On the website they have an easy to use fast food calculator. Before ordering, one can calculate the calories, fat, sodium, and even sugar of the entire meal. For example, a Culvers Bacon Deluxe Single, Chili Cheddar Fries and a short Mint Oreo Concrete Mixer shake has a total of 1990 calories, 111g of Fat and 1817mg of sodium. Compare that with a Culvers Grilled Chicken Sandwich, a Fresco salad and a small diet soda; 515 calories, 14g of fat and 1226 mg of sodium.
Yes, some fast food can be healthier when making smart consumer decisions. Reading the nutrition facts allows consumers to make the best choice. Michigan State University Extension recommends choosing wisely with tools such as the Fast Food Meal Calculator will assist in the decision making process.
Above all, the most powerful tool of all is voting with our wallets. The reason McDonald’s put fresh clementine’s on their menu and Taco Bell Started offering Fresco Chicken Soft Taco plus Pintos’ n’ Cheese is because the customer are buying it.