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Tips for when eating fast food

Healthier Fast-Food Meals

Headed for a fast-food chain? Here's how to keep it healthy.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Reviewed by Jennifer Shu, MD

Hey, it happens to the best of us. When you're hungry and have only a few minutes (or a few bucks), fast food calls out to you. Yes, fast food is higher in sodium than it should be. Yes, fast food tends to be devoid of fruits, vegetables, and fiber. But, there are some healthier fast-food options out there. You just need to know how to order.

First, keep these three restaurant rules in mind:

Healthier Fast-Food Rule No. 1: Be Cautious About Condiments

Half the fat grams in Arby's Southwest Chicken Wrap and their Ultimate BLT Wrap come from the ranch sauce or mayonnaise. Believe it! Some fast food condiments add a lot of fat and calories -- like mayonnaise- and oil-based sauces. Others are lower in calories and have no fat, though they will add some sodium. Use a little catsup, mustard, marinara, or BBQ sauce instead of creamy sauces and spreads. Half a packet of BBQ sauce or honey-mustard sauce from most fast-food chains, for example, will add about 23 calories, no fat grams, and about 80 milligrams of sodium.

Healthier Fast-Food Rule No. 2: Watch Out for Side Dishes

Anything on the side that's fried is suspect, like French fries and onion rings. If you need something to keep your entree company, look for fresh fruit cups or side salads (and use half a packet of the reduced-calorie dressing). The other option is to bring your own fruits and vegetables from home. Don't laugh -- I've done this plenty of times!

Healthier Fast-Food Rule No. 3: Look Out for Liquid Calories

The last thing you need when eating at a fast-food chain is to drink something that gives you calories without nutrients, like soda, sweetened tea, lemonade, and fruit drinks. It's even worse if your drink is also loaded with fat -- like shakes. Choose either a no-calorie beverage (like water, unsweetened tea, or diet soda) or one that contributes some nutrients along with its calories (like low-fat milk or 100% orange juice).

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMDWeight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.