Remember that day back in school when, while walking down the street with your mum, you had suggested that you be allowed to snack on a McChicken burger and skip the daal-chawal waiting at home? Mum had probably responded with a firm “NO”. Yes, fast food is unhealthy. That’s possibly one of the most repeated of the lessons we learn as kids. Yet, it comes with its own attractions: prompt dine-in service, speedy home deliveries, affordable and great-tasting options on the menu, etc. Given the sheer convenience, it is often only too easy to compromise with your conscience (and maybe, an expanding waistline) and find yourself at your nearest McDonald’s or Domino’s outlet. So what do you do then? The solution is simple: pick your fast food smartly.

Thankfully, smart fast food eating is not the myth you may think it is. With growing global concern over obesity and heart diseases ensuing from unhealthy eating, fast food chains the world over are making an effort to include healthier options in their menus. Besides, there are ways to make sure that that occasional treat at a fast food restaurant does not turn into the unhealthy grease fest that it has every potential to be. Here are a few simple tips:

Downsize your portion:

Super-sized portions of fast food usually cost you only a little extra: they are marketed as “value for money meals”. But while they may gratify your economic mind, they can pack a whopping nutritional blow to your body. Research shows that larger the serving in front of us, the more food we tend to eat even beyond satiation. Bear in mind: double the portion equals double the calories. If you’re almost principally opposed to passing on a meal deal, you could try splitting the large portion with a friend.

Design your own meal:

Healthy Fast Food 2

Choosing your own meal constituents gives you the opportunity of keeping the calories, sodium, and fat content in check, while boosting the fibre content. Opt for made-to-order fast food options, wherever possible. Ask for whole grain breads, buns, wraps, and pizza crusts. When choosing your fillings or toppings, try to include plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and legumes (dried beans, lentils, and peas). Privilege leaner fresh cooked meats such as roast beef, chicken, or turkey breast. Avoid processed deli meats such as salami and bologna. Choose low-fat milk products: steer clear of the extra cheese option.

Watch the “extras”:

Those little “extras” like salad dressings, sandwich sauces, mayo, spreads, and gravies that you add to your meal to indulge your taste buds can infuse your meal with more fat, calories, and salt than you had bargained for. Opt for lower-fat condiments such as ketchup, salsa, mustard, and relish. However, use them sparingly, since even these condiments have higher sodium content than recommended levels. Make it a point to ask for the “extras” on the side rather than a huge dollop on top, so that you can use small amounts as and when required.

Be salad savvy:

Healthy Fast Food 3

Salads are popularly hailed as healthy meal options. But beware: not all salads are equally, or even necessarily, healthy. For instance, a chicken Caesar salad laden with mayo can have about as many calories and as much fat as a deep fried chicken sandwich. When ordering your salad, go for leafy green ones. Religiously skip the croutons, bacon bits and fried noodles or tortillas; they are heavy on fat, calories, and sodium, while offering few good-for-you nutrients.

Drink Smart:

If you’re thirsty after a meal, there is nothing like water. If you want a filling beverage, skimmed milk is a great choice. Virgin fruit juices are a healthy beverage option, though not readily available. Try to avoid aerated drinks as far as possible. If you are craving a sugary drink, order the smallest size; a large glass can contain as many calories as a whole meal. In fact, milkshakes often contain more calories than most other items on the menu. Adding flavoured syrups or whipped cream to your beverage may increase its calorie content by 200-300. Adding milk instead of cream to your tea or coffee is a healthier choice.

Be Dessert-Wise:

Healthy Fast Food 4

When it comes to desserts think fresh and light. Fresh fruit, plain frozen yogurts, and sorbet are healthier options than ice cream and cakes. When in the mood to indulge your sweet tooth, watch your portions. Some large cookies may contain as many as 400 or more calories. An acceptable compromise might be to order one dessert and ask for many spoons to share with friends or family.

Don’t compromise on your breakfast basics:

We know how tempting it might be to quickly grab a McEgg burger during those rushed mornings, but it is important to remember that breakfast is your most important meal. You depend on your breakfast choices to give you the energy and nutrients you need through the day. Opt for oatmeal, fruit, yogurt, or whole grain bagels with peanut butter. Limit high fat options like doughnuts, pastries, muffins, croissants, bacon, sausages, and fried hash browns.

Fetch your Facts:

Make an informed choice. Before placing your order at a restaurant, ask for the nutrition profile of the meal ordered. Compare the percentages of calories, fat, sodium, sugar, fibre, and key nutrients – you may be surprised.

These quick tips should help make your occasional fast food experience healthier. Above all, remember that healthy eating is a matter of balancing your food choices over time. So if you overindulge at one meal, remember to compensate by eating wholesome, healthy food at your next meal.