Can Fast Food Really Be Healthy?

Published On October 28, 2013 | By Christa Schueler | Eating Healthy, Health

That is the question I keep asking myself every time a big-time fast food chain “revamps” their menu or adds something that is supposedly more nutritious. But does that necessarily make it healthier to eat or is it just a marketing ploy? Now that consumers are becoming more and more health conscious thanks to food activists like Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) and documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Super Size Me, the largest perpetrators of contributing to an unhealthy America are trying to tap into that particular market. Are they sincerely trying to do their part by creating more nutritious choices or is it just an illusion?

Burger King Satisfries

These fries are the newest item on Burger King’s menu and claims to be 40% lower in fat with 30% fewer calories; however, this is in comparison to McDonald’s fries. I went to both sites and was a tad surprised at what I found. According to Burger King’s nutritional information, a medium order of  Satisfries has 310 calories with 14 grams of fat (2 grams saturated and 0 trans fat). An order of medium fries from McDonald’s is 380 calories, 19 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated and 0 trans fat). So basically, you’re saving yourself 70 calories and 5 grams of fat if you eat a medium-sized Satisfries over McDonald’s fries. Not exactly life altering, in my opinion. But what got me was the fact that the ingredients were nearly identical with the only difference being that McDonald’s adds more crap to their fries. Both contain canola oil which I try to stay away from although it’s been debated that it’s healthier than other oils; however, canola is a huge GMO.

Verdict: I think I’ll pass.

McDonald’s Happy Meals

McDonald’s has gotten a bad rap in recent years, especially when Super Size Me hit theaters. The ingredients of their Chicken McNuggets has always been suspect, even when I was a child but we still feed McDonald’s to our kids because let’s face it, it’s quick and cheap. But as childhood obesity continues to be a growing problem here in the U.S., many frowned upon McDonald’s targeting kids with their well-known Happy Meal boxes (often depicting the latest children’s blockbuster movie) and toys. In 2011, McDonald’s announced a new and improved (and supposedly healthier) Happy Meal with apple slices and smaller portioned fry along with the choice of a fat free chocolate milk, low fat white milk or apple juice.

Although I applaud McDonald’s on at least attempting to make a more nutritious option for young children, Happy Meals are something I don’t allow my kids to eat very often. These meals may be lower in calories and fat but they still contain a lot of unsavory ingredients. The fact that my older daughter found a pack of unopened McDonald’s apples after they were left in our car for over a week and they still looked “fresh” kind of bothered me.

Verdict: Nice try but I’ll stick with Trader Joe’s Drumstick Nuggets and fresh apples I sliced myself.

Wendy’s Garden Sensations Salads

I have to admit that one of my favorite fast food items was Wendy’s salad bar which sadly disappeared sometime in in the late 90’s much to my discontent. Wendy’s was one of the first fast food chains to offer a full-on salad bar but whether it wasn’t economical anymore or the demand waned, the popular fast food restaurant stopped offering it. But Wendy’s must have known that they had to offer some healthy alternative to burgers and fries, so Garden Sensations Salads was born. Currently, there are 8 different salad choices and calories range from 300 to a whopping 780.

If I do order food from Wendy’s, I will usually get the half-size Chicken BLT Cobb salad. Although I’m sure it’s still loaded with chemicals and GMO’s, at least I’m not eating a lot of fat and calories.

Verdict: Not bad although I still really miss the salad bar (wipes tear from face).

Kentucky Grilled Chicken

Now that the FDA will finally ban farmers feeding arsenic to chickens which in turn we eat, that already speaks volumes for chicken fast-food restaurants like KFC. However, arsenic or no, fried chicken has always been listed as an unhealthy food. KFC has tried over the years to appeal to the health-conscious by switching to soybean oil (a GMO product by the way) and adding grilled chicken to their menu. Lower in fat and calories, the grilled chicken is a better option for those looking to eat healthier.

Verdict: Grilled chicken without the arsenic is appealing but I would still want the mashed potatoes with gravy and biscuits and there’s no way those items are healthy!

Taco Bell Fresco Menu

A while back, Taco Bell announced they were dropping the kids’ meals because they weren’t selling well, not due to the crusade against childhood obesity. Taco Bell, in my opinion, has never seemed to be extremely unhealthy because that’s something I’ve always associated with hamburgers, fries and fried chicken, which are not on Taco Bell’s menu. However, the need for being healthy and nutritious was something Taco Bell wanted for their image so the Fresco Menu was introduced. Each of their six fresco items are low in calories, have under 10 grams of fat and are loaded with fresh pico de gallo salsa. Now, if they could just replace those GMO-laden taco shells, all would be right in the world.

Verdict: Perfect food to eat if you’re looking for a nutritious alternative but the Fresco Menu is not for the anti-GMO crowd.

My final thoughts on healthy fast food is that it really doesn’t exist. They can trim the fat, replace the cooking oils, reduce the calories and add more veggies and fruits, but at the end of the day, what has really changed? Looking at the list of ingredients that are in these foods is flat out disturbing; they are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, GMO’s, sodium, chemicals and preservatives. If that is still healthy then I stand corrected but I don’t think many would disagree with me.

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About The Author

UNLV graduate, wife, mother of three, blogger and aspiring novelist, Christa Schueler brings her writing, editing and research skills to Recess. As an advocate for education and health reform and a 25 year Las Vegas resident, Christa understands the need for providing a platform and a "voice" for women in Southern Nevada. Despite Las Vegas being one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Christa has seen continual lack of community connection and strives to change that. Now, she's joined the sandbox revolution!

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