Fast food gets a makeover

Tiffany Ciesicki

Healthy options, nutrition facts are becoming more available for consumers


Credit: Steve Schirra

It’s not uncommon to see one fast food restaurant without another nearby. They seem to be grouped in clusters, and the smell of french fries carries through the air around them.

This tantalizing smell can easily attract a hungry person who is also aware that the drive-thru never fails to be convenient.

However, not everyone is so willing to give in to the allure of salty fries and greasy cheeseburgers.

Quinton Rainey, freshman criminal justice major, is not a big fan of fast food.

“Honestly, I eat it sometimes, but I’d rather eat at home,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids gain weight and become obese so I try to stay away from it.”

In recent years, many top fast food chains have been promoting new menu items presented as “healthy options.”

Rainey supports the attempts made by major fast food corporations to include healthier foods on their menus. He wishes they would do more, he added.

Greta Siler, coordinator of the university’s Nutrition Outreach Program, said this is a trend that will only continue.

Siler said the government already requires all fast food companies to make nutritional information available to the public in some way, and they are now asking for even more healthy options.

The government is also taking action on the issue of portion size.

“The government is asking all restaurants, because of obesity, for smaller portions,” Siler said. “People tend to eat what is in front of them.”

McDonalds encourages staying active along with making healthy food choices. “It’s what I eat and what I do” is one of the company’s popular slogans.

The Go Active! Happy Meal for adults is one of their latest ideas. The meal includes any premium salad, Dasani water or a medium or large drink and one of four exercise DVDs.

The McDonald’s Web site features their Premium Asian Salad with grilled chicken in the picture of the Go Active! Happy Meal.

According to nutrition facts available on the Web site, this salad has 290 calories and 10 grams of fat. This is without the dressing. Once the suggested Newman’s Own Low Fat Sesame Ginger dressing is added, the salad has 380 calories and 12.5 grams of fat.

The salad proves to be a healthier option; it has less calorie and fat content than almost every sandwich available, and also provides 6 grams of fiber and 32 grams of protein.

However, the Caesar salad with grilled chicken has a total of 410 calories and 24 grams of fat, enough to compete with many of the high-fat sandwiches on McDonald’s menu.

In fact, the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic has 15 fewer grams of fat and offers the same amount of fiber and protein with only 10 more calories.

Ordering the Caesar salad with crispy chicken adds another 7 grams of fat and 80 more calories – enough to declare this salad more fattening than most of McDonald’s sandwiches.

McDonald’s is not the only fast food restaurant trying to shape up. Wendy’s now offers side items such as a mandarin orange cup, low-fat strawberry flavored yogurt, Baked Lay’s potato chips and fresh fruit when in season.

It also has its own selection of salads. Yet, Wendy’s taco salad has 710 calories and 41 grams of fat, and the chicken BLT salad has 680 calories and 46.5 grams of fat. Even salad with low-fat honey mustard dressing still contains 520 calories and 23.5 grams of fat, which is higher in calories and more fattening than almost all of Wendy’s sandwiches.

Siler said dressing can add a lot of fat and calories. Sometimes the dressings alone can be more fattening and calorie-ridden than the salads themselves, something people need to watch for.

She advises salad lovers to try dipping their fork in the dressing before each bite instead of immediately dumping all the dressing directly on the salad. Siler said about half as much dressing will be consumed, and the salad will actually taste better and not get soggy.

Siler said she believes the initiative of providing healthier choices is a great idea and is excited to see more.

“There is such a plethora of fast food companies that we need to have healthier choices,” she said. “Especially for students.”

Erica Gardner, senior integrated social studies major, enjoys her fast food just the way it is.

Gardner added that she thinks the effort to add healthier options is pointless.

“I mean it’s fast food,” she said. “You know it’s unhealthy and you know it’s quick.”

Both Wendy’s and McDonald’s Web sites offer tips on eating right and options to consider when visiting one of their locations.

Although Burger King offers two salads, neither is comparably healthier than many of the other foods on the menu.

Taco Bell doesn’t have specified “healthier options,” but customers can choose to order their favorite menu items fresco style. Asking for an item fresco style is choosing to replace any cheese or sauce that normally comes on the item with salsa to reduce fat and lower calories.

When giving in to cravings for food dispensed through a drive-up window, know there are items on the menu that aren’t necessarily loaded with fat and calories.

Siler offers a few tips on how to choose food that is both convenient and healthy. She suggests substituting a baked potato or fruit for french fries. If you really want to eat the french fries, she said, try sharing them with a friend.

Ask for condiments, like cheese and sour cream, and dressings on the side.

Contact news correspondent Tiffany Ciesicki at [email protected].