The so-called Fast Food Diet has been generating a lot of talk recently. In an effort to attract more customers, many of the most popular fast food chains now offer supposedly healthy options.But are they really healthy? Can they provide options that will help you safely lose weight and enjoy the convenience fast food provides? Let's take a look at what they offer.
Subway was one of the first to contribute to the fast food diet craze and has long promoted some of their products as healthy. Subway says that as long as customers don't load up on high-calorie and high-fat condiments, their products are reasonably healthy and low calorie. And in fact many of their sandwiches are lower in calories; for example their Fresh Fit subs are in the 230 to 380 calorie range.
Taco Bell's contribution to the fast food diet has been to bring out what it calls the “Fresco” menu consisting of seven options, which include burritos and tacos, all of which come with less than 9 grams of fat. Compare that to the 31 grams of fat for their Express Taco Salad or the staggering 62 grams of fat for the Volcano Nachos.
Unfortunately, both Subway's Low Fat and Taco Bell's Fresco menus don't hold up so well in other measures of healthy eating such as sodium intake. Those interested in the fast food diet should be aware that the amount of sodium in these offerings is often off the scale. The Fresco burritos, for example, contain between 1290 and 1410 mg of sodium (http://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/information/).
Subway's Low Fat Footlongs (not including the Veggie Delite®) have between 1490 and 2400 mg of sodium! Yikes!
The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2400 mg for a healthy adult. That's for an entire day, so with just one sandwich you could be maxing out on sodium. People who are overweight or who have high blood pressure should monitor their sodium intake carefully, and products like this don't help.
A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that reducing your intake of salt, even in small amounts, can reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease as much as quitting smoking, losing weight, and lowering cholesterol.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and former Chief of Cardiology at Manchester Memorial Hospital, calls the 1,410 mg of sodium in Taco Bell's Fresco Burrito Supreme Chicken, “A disaster. With fast food you get the good, the bad and the ugly. It's like weaving your way through the minefield. You can step on a mine and blow up." These high quantities of salt are used in these products because it makes things taste good.
Ruth Carey, a consultant for fast food franchises and a registered dietician, notes that “...not everyone is sodium sensitive and has high blood pressure.” However, all that salt is crowding out other nutrients that are important...and delicious.
In addition, a soon to be published study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reveals that calorie information on fast and processed food makers tends to be underreported. In the study, investigators determined that 29 chain restaurants in the Boston area, as well as 10 frozen meal companies underreported the calories their food contains by an average of 18 percent.
No matter how you look at it, the Fast Food Diet is not a healthy one. Nutritionists advise caution when interpreting the fast food industry claims about their healthy, low fat meals. “Even if they're offering healthy fare, go into it with a wary eye -- more likely they're tricking you," said Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian and author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness”. She adds, “the fast-food restaurants have not led the troops in healthy eating yet, so there's no reason to believe they're going to change their colors now.”
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