How to be healthy with fast food in Eagle County
August 22, 2012
Ah fast food. We love it and we hate it. Unlike a lot of America, in Eagle County, most of us don’t make a daily habit of eating Big Macs. But sure, sometimes we indulge in a fast food treat or have a certain guilty pleasure that propels us to the drive-thru window every once in a while. Then there is the issue of simply not having much time. We just didn’t get around to making that healthy quinoa and cucumber salad to take to work this week. So fast food it has to be.
While nutritionists emphasize that it’s always better to make your own salads and sandwiches and avoid fast food, there are still some fast food options that are not THAT bad for you.
“Anytime the food is fresher, you’re going to be better off than when it’s not,” said Eagle nutritionist David Foster. “You have to keep things balanced. Everybody has their little pleasures and fast food is a big one. Eat whole foods the bulk of the time, and when you have to eat fast food, look at what might be the healthiest option and go with it. Choose the salad as a side instead of the fries. If you stick to things that are less processed, say you’re going to Burger King or Wendy’s, get the grilled chicken items rather than the fried ones.”
As far as fresh food, actually seeing the ingredients in front of you while your food is being made – such as at Qdoba or Subway – helps at least establish a healthy peace of mind, if nothing else.
“They still have to prep it and they probably use some sort of freshening agent to put on the stuff to keep it from wilting,” Foster said. “Everybody thinks chicken and turkey are so wonderful for you because they are lean cuts. But our whole food system and the way things are processed is the problem. Fats in and of themselves are not the demon.”
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Calories are not necessarily the bad guys either, according to nutritionist/health coach Liz Ziegler at Live for Balance in Edwards.
“Instead of looking at calories, we need to dive deeper. Where did the food come from? How close to a whole food is it? Obviously French fries are potatoes but they are dunked in the deep fryer,” she points out, adding that sodium is a big culprit in even the low-calorie, low-fat fast food options.
“The majority of everything I looked at had WAY too much sodium, which is one of the reasons our country is so obese,” she said. “We need to stop the obsession over just counting calories and learn how to identify what they are doing to the foods. The closer we can stay to whole foods, the better.”
Ziegler goes on to say that most fast food contains several additives to make it flavorful and this is why it can be so addictive.
“When we introduce unnatural foods – fast food – they have a very exciting, drug-like effect on our system,” she said. “They increase our levels of dopamine in the brain and convince your nervous system that it is in your best interest to pursue that not-so-good junk food.”
Foster points out that the sodium used in a lot of fast food is sodium chloride, which is what makes it a “bad” salt.
“Salt in and of itself is not bad, but the salt used is sodium chloride, (which) has no minerals,” he said. “Using sea salt, all the minerals tend to be there so it’s much better rather than getting only sodium. The downside to having higher than normal salt is it imbalances the minerals in your body.”
Wendy’s has attempted to jump on the health bandwagon by using sea salt on its “naturally cut” fries, but the fact that they are still fried in oil negates the benefits of the sea salt.
“Instead of using hydrogenated oils to heat up fries, non hydrogenated oils would be better, but heating up any kind of oils opens up free radicals that are not good for you and transforms the consistency of the oil,” he said.
Convinced now to starve rather than swing into a fast food joint for lunch? You don’t need to do that. Even Foster said he hits up Subway now and then and Ziegler also endorses the sub shop as having “great, healthy alternatives.”
The better fast food choices
Health magazine compiled a list of America’s Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants and while the majority are not available here in Eagle County (Panera Bread, Jason’s Deli, Noodles and Company …) surprisingly, McDonald’s made No. 8 on the list. The article points out that McD’s is “leading the way in overhauling its menu” to healthier choices, mentioning the Happy Meals that come with a side of apple slices and low-fat caramel dip and that the fries are made with a Canola oil blend and contain just 230 calories for a small, that a salad comes with Paul Newman’s low-fat balsamic vinaigrette and that the grilled chicken sandwich and snack wraps are low-fat and low-calorie.
Likewise, Qdoba has just introduced a whole wheat tortilla, and Larkburger, located in Edwards, makes a point of offering its burgers wrapped in lettuce. These are the obvious selections for a healthier fast food experience, along with eliminating sodas and sauces, which can add a sea of unexpected calories and counterbalance the good of your healthy food choices.
Also, Foster said even the smidgen of lettuce, tomato and onion can be beneficial in combating the free radicals in a burger. Any kind of vegetable will help with this. But no, ketchup doesn’t count.
“There is research out that said any vegetable with a meal is better than no vegetables at all,” Foster said. “Also, instead of drinking a soda, drink water. There’s research that said if you drink soda along with a cheeseburger, it causes more of the fats to be stored rather than potentially burned.”
In an effort to steer people in a better direction if they MUST opt for fast food, Ziegler came up with a list of items to consider ordering at local haunts.
“If you are going to make the choice to have fast food, make sure you limit your exposure to that to once or twice a week at the most,” she recommended.