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fast foods

The term "fast food" generally refers to the type of restaurants that sell quick, inexpensive take-away food, but even supermarkets now offer quick and easy food choices. Fast food is often laden with extra kilojoules, saturated fat and sodium. It is possible, however, for quick meals to be nutritious. With the growing interest in a healthy diet, vendors of fast food are starting to provide more healthy choices.

Good choices about the amount and type of food eaten provide the basis for a balanced diet. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NH and MRC) have issued "Dietary Guidelines for Australians".

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods.
  • Keep active to maintain muscle strength and a healthy body weight.
  • Eat at least three meals every day.
  • Care for your food: prepare and store it correctly.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables (including legumes) and fruit
  • Eat plenty of cereals, breads and pastas.
  • Eat a diet low in saturated fat.
  • Drink adequate amounts of water and/or fluids.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit your intake.
  • Choose foods low in salt and use salt sparingly.
  • Include foods high in calcium.
  • Use added sugars in moderation
Even individuals who eat fast food regularly can meet these guidelines. However, it may take some extra effort to get enough of the fruits, vegetables, and grain products recommended. Many fast-food restaurants now offer salads. Baked potatoes with vegetable toppings are also a good choice when eating at a fast-food restaurant. Another challenge when eating fast food is to limit the amount of fat and saturated fat. Choose grilled food over fried or deep-fat-fried food. When eating burgers and other sandwiches, skip the heavy sauces and extra trimmings. These often contain more fat than the meat itself. Finally, added salt is usually unnecessary, especially for individuals watching their blood pressures, so ask for no salt.

Many fast-food outlets have printed nutrition information available outlining the kilojoule, fat or sodium content of specific food items. The following tips are helpful in making healthy fast food choices:
  • Choose salads whenever possible, but beware of creamy dressings and toppings.
  • Emphasise fresh vegetables topped with a vinaigrette or reduced-kilojoule dressing.
  • Choose baked potatoes instead of french fries (no sour cream).
  • Stay away from fried fish sandwiches. They are usually the highest-fat option. Try a grilled chicken sandwich instead. Choose mustard in place of mayonnaise.
  • Choose low-fat milk or fruit juice in place of shakes or soft drink. Better still choose water.
  • Split large or high-fat items with a friend.
  • Ask for pizza with less cheese, and choose vegetable toppings rather than salami, pepperoni and meats.
  • Choose sandwiches, bagels or breads instead of croissants and biscuits.
  • Have low-fat yoghurt, or sorbet for dessert.
  • Avoid "meal deals" which encourage you to eat more
  • Fresh fruit is the finest fast food
There are a wide variety of healthy fast-food options. By making wise choices based on a wide selection of foods, it's possible for an individual to achieve a balanced diet even when in a hurry.

Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 22/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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