Fast Foods: Better Choices

NUTR_girl eating with mom NUTR_girl eating with mom

In today's fast-paced world, it's likely unrealistic to say you'll never eat fast food or restaurant food again. However, you can still lead a healthy lifestyle and occasionally eat out at the same time. The more you know about the food that goes into your body, the better choices you'll be able to make.

Planning for fast food as part of your whole day

If you know you will be eating a meal out, think about the other food choices you'll be making throughout the day. Be sure to include lots of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products to balance your intake. In addition, make a special effort to be more active that day. Get off the bus one or two stops early and walk the extra distance.  Remember, all foods can fit; it's all about moderation. 

Fast food facts

The average adult needs about 2000 calories a day, comprising no more than 65 grams of fat (including less than 22 grams of saturated fat) and no more than 2400 mg sodium.

Inactive 14 year-old girls and boys require approximately 2000 and 2300 calories a day, respectively. Just one fast food meal can easily contribute nearly half of these daily requirements. Take a look at some of these popular restaurant food items and compare.

Menu Item


Total Fat

Saturated Fat




Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese - McDonald's


45 g

21 g

1310 mg

Big Mac - McDonald's


29 g

10 g

1020 mg

Bacon Deluxe Single – Wendy's


41 g

17 g

1480 mg

Whopper - Burger King


40 g

11 g

910 mg

Chicken Sandwiches


McChicken - McDonald's


27 g

4.5 g

790 mg

Homestyle Chicken Fillet Sandwich – Wendy's


21 g

5 g

1180 mg

Crispy Twister - KFC


23 g

3 g

1300 mg

Fish Sandwiches


Fillet-O-Fish - McDonald's


20 g

4 g

580 mg

Fisherman's Fillet - Burger King


26 g

4 g

860 mg

So what can you eat? Here are some menu suggestions that offer less calories, fat, and sodium.


When it comes to burgers, the best bet is to order a single plain hamburger. It will be the lowest in fat and calories. Veggie burgers, made from soybeans are also healthier options. Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions add some nutrient value without the calories.


If chicken sandwiches are your preference, look for ones that are "grilled". 


Craving a fish sandwich? Try asking for one without the sauce. You can save an extra 160 calories and approximately 17 grams of fat. 

Drinking your calories away

You would be surprised just how many calories can be in your favourite Star Bucks coffee. A Vanilla Frappucino® Blended Crème with whipped cream (grande size) comes in at 480 calories with 17 grams of fat (12 of them saturated) and 26 grams of sugar; that's the equivalent of 5 teaspoons. 

By choosing a plain coffee and adding your own sugar/sweetener and skim milk, you will cut down your calorie and fat intake. Also, to reduce the saturated fat intake, ask the server to make your cappuccino or latte with skim rather than whole milk.

Healthier alternatives

Many fast food restaurants offer new menu items that claim to be healthier choices. Sometimes this may be true, other times not.  For example, a salad with toppings and extras like bacon, crispy chicken, and high fat salad dressings can provide as many calories, fat grams, and sodium as the burgers. 

Healthier items include whole wheat submarines, wraps and pitas filled with lean meats and lots of veggies. Go easy on the sauces and spreads, or ask if they offer low-fat or light alternatives. 

Look for the Eat Smart symbol

In Ontario, you can choose restaurants that are approved by the Eat Smart program or have low fat menu items. The Eat Smart program was developed in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Community and Health Promotion Branch and other foundations and public health units. Look for this symbol in the restaurant's store front or on the menu itself.

'Eat Smart' Logo image Eat Smart Logo image

This symbol assures you that the restaurant offers:

  • a variety of healthier food choices, on the menu and by request.
  • exceptional standards in food safety including kitchen staff certified in safe food handling by Public Health.
  • 100% smoke-free seating.

While Eat Smart applies to Ontario, many other jurisdictions have similar programs.

Look at the menu descriptions 

At any restaurant, look closely at the description of the food item - to reduce your fat intake, choose items that are baked, grilled, poached, steamed, barbequed, roasted or broiled.  

Other key words that likely mean a high-fat choice are: alfredo, au gratin, breaded, buttered, creamed, crispy, en croute, hollandaise, pastry, prime, rich, sautéed, scalloped, with gravy, with thick sauce.

High sodium foods are often described as pickled, smoked or made with soy sauce.

Fried foods

Skip fried foods; they are loaded with saturated fat. There are always other healthier options to choose such as garden salads, baked potato, wild rice, and baked or grilled version of their fried counterparts. 


Ask for salad dressing or mayo on the side. That way you can control the amount of fat that goes on your food, rather than the restaurant.

Always ask

Ask the server which are the lower fat entrees. The server should be knowledgeable with regards to the restaurant's menu items. 

Portion sizes

Avoid larger sizes, try the lunch portion. If you can‘t finish what you ordered, take it home for lunch the next day. 

Health implications

Help your health by moderating your calorie, saturated fat, and salt intake.

Calorie intake

Think of maintaining a healthy body weight as a balanced teeter-totter. If you consume more calories than you burn by being active, the teeter-totter will lower, with you gaining weight. If you burn more calories than you consume, the teeter-totter will rise, losing you weight. Being overweight is linked to many diseases such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and other heart related disease.  

Fat and cholesterol

Fat, specifically saturated fat, can increase your body's production of "bad" cholesterol; the kind that sticks to your artery walls causing them to narrow and eventually be blocked. In order to decrease your risk of heart disease, lowering your intake of saturated fat is crucial.

Salt and high blood pressure

Sodium, which you consume as salt, is strongly linked to high blood pressure. Diets high in salt cause your body to retain water, which increases your body's blood volume. Think of your artery as a garden hose; if you turn on the faucet, the water (blood) will eventually get pumped out.  If you were to crank the faucet to full, the amount of water (blood) coming out is significantly more. The pressure inside the hose increases in order to pump the water through. Now think of your garden hose being pinched; (e.g. a narrowed or blocked artery from the build up of "bad" cholesterol) the pressure before the pinch would be huge, and dangerous. 

Key Points

  • Eating a diet high in saturated fat and salt, causes weight gain and high blood pressure.
  • If you know you'll be eating a meal out, be sure to include lots of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products during the day. This way you can balance your intake.
  • The average adult needs about 2000 calories a day. Just one fast food meal can easily contribute nearly half of these daily requirements.
  • Choose healthy fast-food options, which include: single, plain burgers; grilled chicken; unbattered fish. Avoid deep-fried food and always watch your portion size.

Jennifer Buccino, MEd, RD


Statistics Canada. Canadian Community Health Survey: A first look. The Daily. 2002 May 8. Available from:

In Motion. Fit Facts for Adults. Available from:

Beck L. Fast-food smarts served here - or not. The Globe and Mail. 2005 March 23. Available from:

Heart and Stroke Foundation. Fast Foods and Eating Out. Part of "Healthy Living" consumer pamphlet series sponsored by Becel.

Eat Smart Ontario's Healthy Restaurant Program. Available from: