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Many fast foods, including hamburgers and sandwiches, are high in carbohydrates. However, simple strategies and choices can cut the carbohydrate content of many fast foods. It is okay to eat low-carb fast food occasionally, but it is not healthful to eat lots of fast food.
Many fast foods are fried in unhealthful oils or coated in salt to make them more appetizing. Also, additives, such as salt or oil make fast foods a less healthful option for people seeking to reduce carbohydrate consumption. A low-carb diet is not necessarily a healthful diet, especially if someone mainly eats fried meat or high-calorie processed foods.
Tips for low-carb fast food
All healthful diets contain some carbohydrates. A person’s carbohydrate needs will vary based on their activity levels, their stature, and their health goals. For specific requirements, it is best to speak with a dietitian.
Fast food can be a part of a healthful diet, and people can make choices to make fast food options more nutritious, balanced, and healthful.
One study in Nutrition and Metabolism noted that to achieve a low-carb diet people should aim to consume less than 130 grams (g) of carbs each day.
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Dietitians consider anyone consuming below 30 g of carbs per day to be on a very low-carbohydrate diet. Some fast food restaurants do offer low-carb alternatives, but if not, the following tips can make it easier to eat low-carb fast food:
- Ask for sandwiches and burgers without the bun or bread.
- Replace sides, such as fries, potato chips, and bread with salad or a more nutrient-dense carbohydrate choice, such as a fruit cup.
- Ask for grilled meat. If there is no grilled option available, take the fried skin off.
- Know the serving size and keep portions small.
- Skip the main menu and head to the salad bar.
- Steer clear of dressing, and instead top the salad with protein, such as eggs or chicken.
- Add more flavor by including healthful fats, such as avocado, nuts, and seeds. Drizzle some lemon juice on top.
Health considerations for eating fast food
According to the American Heart Association, fast food is typically high in:
- trans fats
- saturated fats
Even a healthful choice, such as a salad, may be full of unhealthful additives, such as high-sodium or high-calorie salad dressing.
The following strategies can help make fast food more healthful:
- Have a precise definition of what “healthful” means: A healthful diet for a person with diabetes might mean foods with a low glycemic index, while a healthful diet for a person on a whole foods diet may mean only “natural,” unprocessed foods.
- Read the nutrition facts: Learning the nutritional value of something that seems healthful might reveal unhealthful ingredients.
- Limit fast-food consumption: People who travel a lot or who otherwise find themselves eating a lot of fast food should stick to small, simple fast food meals and try to get the majority of their nutrition
- Beware of sauces, dips, and other add-ons: Dressing and sauces can make even healthful options less healthful.
- Pay attention to how fast food feels: People who experience stomach pain, low energy, or other symptoms after eating fast food should either avoid fast food or eat something different next time.
- Fill up on vegetables: Vegetables offer a filling alternative to bread and other high-carb snacks. Choose grilled or raw veggies because fried options are less healthful, or opt for a salad.
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Healthful eating and making healthful choices can help a person support specific nutritional goals. Fast food can be a part of a healthful diet, and people can make choices to make fast food options more nutritious, balanced, and healthful.
It is nearly impossible, however, for fast food to form the bulk of a healthful diet.
Eating fast food in moderation, keeping healthful alternatives to fast food close by, and eating plenty of nutrient-dense, wholesome meals at home can all be part of a nutritious, balanced low-carb diet.