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Fast Food Nutrition: Are the Makeovers Made to Trick You?

Find out why it's almost always true that fast food options are less healthy than restaurants might want you to think. Some are more surprising than others.

Fast Food Nutrition: Are the Makeovers Made to Trick You?

Is fast food the new healthy way to eat? Well, many of the nation’s top restaurant chains would love you to think so. In fact, many of the country’s top-grossing restaurant chains are revamping their menu to include “healthier” options, while trying to answer the call of the obesity epidemic by promoting their brand in a healthier light.

“No matter what these fast food chains tell you, even the healthy options are bad for you,” says Tessa Prior-Pullins, one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD. “There is no such thing as 'healthy' fast food nutrition.”

To help you stay away from the hype of getting your energy from fast food nutrition, our dietitian, Tessa, is revealing what you need to look out for when it comes to these “healthy” fast food makeovers. From hidden calories and fat, to gimmicks promising kids healthier options, avoid these hurdles by knowing what to look out for from our expert.

1. Is the Happy Meal Really Healthier?

The fast food giant, McDonald’s recently announced that their famous Happy Meal will be getting a healthier makeover.

Happy Meals will be getting their fat and calories trimmed. The main concept behind the Happy Meal will still remain intact, as kids will still get a serving of McDonald’s famous fries, just in a smaller portion.

“The new Happy Meal with four pieces of chicken McNuggets, apple slices, smaller French fries and 1% milk has 410 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 560 milligrams of sodium,” says Tessa. “Even though this calorie count is significantly better than the old Happy Meal, which was over 500 calories, the sodium content is still way too high for just one meal.”

In fact, the recommended daily sodium intake for children between the ages of 4-8 is around 1200mg per day. This one Happy Meal already counts for almost more than half of your child's recommended sodium intake. This means there is a good possibility that your child could exceed this sodium intake if their meals aren't monitored more effectively.

Exceeding daily sodium intake in children can lead to a number of health problems, including obesity.

“Too much sodium can lead to higher blood pressure in children,” says Tessa. “This can significantly increase a child’s risk of developing serious health conditions later in life, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and heart attack.”

So, if you want to keep your kids healthy and happy, you may want to avoid the new and improved Happy Meal.

2. A Totally Healthy Taco?

Arguably known as the most popular Mexican-inspired, fast food chain in the nation, Taco Bell is also getting into the fast food nutrition craze by revamping their menu to include “healthier” options. They’ve even nicknamed their new Fresco menu, “The Drive-Thru Diet,” which offers 7 new menu items, with less than 9 grams of fat.

“Don’t let the name ‘Drive-thru Diet’ fool you,” says Tessa. “Even though these 7 items do contain less than 9 grams of fat, you won’t receive an adequate amount of nutrition if you select this plan as your complete diet.”

Taco Bell is promoting their “Drive-Thru Diet” by promoting real life success stories of people who have maintained a healthy lifestyle, while eating the foods on this exclusive menu.

“Don’t let the advertisements fool you, as most of these menu options are still not considered to be low-calorie,” says Tessa. “Most of them are around the 300 calorie mark, and this doesn’t even count the calories if you include a side or a soft drink.”

Most of us also know that one taco is not enough to satisfy anyone's hunger. Only a properly balanced nutritional diet can do that.

“When it comes to a diet, low calories are important, but so is making sure your body gets the nutrition it needs to stay fuller, longer,” says Tessa. “This includes a diet containing lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.”

Simply put: The Drive-Thru Diet doesn’t cut it.

3. The Healthy Summer Smoothie Spiel

The long, drawn-out advertisements with fast food chains promoting “healthy” fast food nutrition through delicious smoothies using real fruit is more of a gimmick than a guaranteed better way to snack.

“With an average of 250 calories per 16 ounce serving, you definitely need to avoid these summer drinks if you are trying to stay healthy,” says Tessa.

What makes these seemingly healthy drinks so bad for you?

“The sugar content in these drinks is through the roof,” says Tessa. “Most of these drinks have well over 65 grams of sugar, and contain a serving of at least 61 grams, or higher, of carbohydrates.”

This spells trouble for your waistline as excess sugar slows down your metabolism, which leads to a higher retention of abdominal fat.

If you want to keep cool in the summer, water is still the healthiest and safest bet.

“Water is the best summer drink you can get,” says Tessa.

If you still crave a smoothie, make your own at home. Real fruits, like strawberries, are already naturally sweet, so you can skip the sugar overload. All you need is some ice and a blender, and you’ve got yourself a healthy summer smoothie creation!

bistroMD Team Logo
Written By bistroMD Team. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on May 24, 2019.


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