Fast Food: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
The fast food industry generates billions of dollars in revenue each year with 25 restaurant chains topping $1 billion, and 43 exceeding the $500 million mark in 2010 (the most recent data available). Burger giant McDonald’s has no peer at $32.4 billion, more than tripling Subway, a distant second at $10.6 billion in revenue.
I will qualify fast food appropriately enough by how fast one can order and receive one’s food: under 10 minutes or less the majority of the time. A drive-through is not a requirement, or we would lose such entities as Chipotle (#18 in sales revenue), Panera Bread Co. (#13) and Dunkin’ Donuts (#7). Yes, we all like us some bear claws and honey buns!).
I am frequently asked which fast food offerings I would choose if I had to make a choice. That choice would depend on my goals at that moment, and in all honesty, how hungry I am. On the weekend I find I am less regimented: I sleep later, eat breakfast later, then suddenly it’s two in the afternoon, and I’ve eaten only once… that’s when I begin to rationalize why Whataburger is actually healthy for me – it has veggies like onions, pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce. Never mind about the artery-clogging saturated fat in the meat and cheese, or the diabetes inducing insulin blast from the white flour and potatoes, so I get a Diet Dr. Pepper with the combo meal.
This bit of indulgence may hit closer to home than many would care to admit. Once a week? Not a big problem. Once a day? You’re on the way to becoming a Fatty McButterpants (in the words of Doug Heffernan of King of Queens). Let’s look at some potential healthier options at a few fast food eateries, then mention a few of the heaviest offenders, just for jiggles and giggles!
Fast food restaurants include burger joints, pizza parlors, sandwich shops, fried chicken, Chinese/Eastern Asian, Tex-Mex, seafood (primarily fried), baked goods/pastries, and ice cream. Some, like Starbucks (#5) and Panera Bread Co., may have a combination. What are not included in this article are cafeterias, such as Luby’s or Furr’s. If you go to these during off-peak times and you can eat with the speed of a Marine at 1st chow, I suppose one could title these as fast food restaurants.
Some of the aforementioned food genres offer little in the way of “lean” fare. Theoretically, one could go to a pizza parlor and order a salad. Campisi’s makes a reasonably healthy salad and an absolutely yummy salami pizza. Why would you do that to yourself? To test your willpower? Let’s face it, ice cream, pizza, burger, pastry, and for the most part, fried chicken joints are tough. You may find grilled chicken at the latter, but the sides are problematic, with corn or baked beans as your better “bad” choices. The burger joints will offer a grilled chicken sandwich, but you’re back to the problem of bread. You can’t get lean if you are consuming bread on a daily basis, unless you have the genetics of a giraffe. This makes sub sandwich shops less than optimal. What does that leave us with? Honestly, not very much.
Chipotle tops my list of fast food choices. The burrito bowl works well, offering several lean proteins (chicken, beef, pork), low glycemic starches (black or pinto beans, brown rice), and several sources of fibrous veggies (pico de gallo, grilled peppers and onions, lettuce). Salsa is a freebie. Any Tex-Mex that offers grilled meats and whole beans will suffice.
Panera Bread Co. is primarily sandwiches with soup and salad, so the bread problem rears its ugly head. On the positive side of the ledger, some of the salads work, and they do offer a breakfast of eggs and oatmeal. As with any salad, eighty-six the croutons and cheese, and choose the lightest dressing (on the side). Any of the various sub sandwich shops will have a lean protein selection with veggies. Get the 6 inch instead of 12 inch, double the meat and eat 1/2 the bread.
Now for the ugly. A whole lotta ugly.
- 1 slice large thin crust pizza: ~ 300 calories
- 1 slice heavy crust loaded pizza: ~ 600 calories. In high school, we would try to eat one entire pizza by ourselves. Yep, about 5,000 calories of fat and flour that may or may not have digested by the end of the following day.
- 1 Big Mac: 550 calories
- 1 large fry: 500 calories
- 1 24 oz soda: 350 calories
- In general, a half-pound cheeseburger with fries is 1,200 plus calories, not counting the beverage.
- 3 scoops ice cream: ~ 650 calories. I have eaten way more than this in one sitting!
- 1 Doughnut: ~ 235 calories. Who has not gobbled 4 or more of these? I think you’re a dirty low-down liar if you said, “not me.”
- Fried chicken: 1 breast, 1wing, 1 thigh, 1 drumstick total 1,000 calories. (This does not include the fries, roll, and sweet tea. Add another 750 big fat calories for these.)
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Fast food is a fast way to expand your waistline with very few exceptions! I am not saying you can never indulge, but be judicious.