The Fast Food Survival Guide

8 essential tips for healthier drive-thru dining.
It's no wonder that too much fast food can contribute to obesity: A typical meal of a burger, fries and soft drink contains more than 1,000 calories and a PointsPlus™ value of 30!

Worse yet, the chains are forever encouraging us to double our order size for a few pennies more, or to try the new signature sandwich that somehow squeezes in one more beef patty than the last one.

You can make better decisions at the counter or drive-through so that you can continue to enjoy the occasional fast-food stop. Here's what you need to know:

Go for the small burger
If you really want a burger, the small plain burger is your best bet, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LD, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute in Chicago. The chart below shows how the small hamburgers stack up. The Wendy's burger has the fewest calories, but that's mainly because it's the smallest at 3.4 ounces.

Burger Oz. PointsPlus value
McDonald's Hamburger 3.5 7
Wendy's Jr. Hamburger 3.4 6
Burger King Hamburger 4.2 7

If a small burger just isn't enough to satisfy and you're willing to part with a few more PointsPlus values, here's how some popular 1/4-pound burgers weigh in.

Burger PointsPlus value
McDonald's Quarter Pounder 11
Wendy's Classic Single Hamburger with everything 12
Burger King Whopper without mayo 14

Have it your way
Order your burger without cheese or mayonnaise-based dressings and save 1 to 5 PointsPlus values. "These are small sacrifices that add up to huge savings," says Blatner.

Understand trans fat
An order of small fries has about 5 grams of trans fat — the harmful, cholesterol-boosting fat that has made news in recent years. Consumed daily, those fries would increase your risk of heart disease by as much as 23 percent. New York and, to some extent, other cities have banned the use of all but a tiny amount of trans fats in large restaurants. A better solution: "Don't fall into an ordering rut and always choose fries," says Blatner. "You can find mandarin orange slices from Wendy's with 80 calories or Apple Dippers from McDonald's with just 35 calories."

Look beyond the beef patty.
Here are some alternatives at...

Taco Bell
Chicken Burrito Supreme "Fresco Style"; i.e., without cheese or sauce

Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
330 8 49 18 8
Pintos and Cheese
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
120 6 19 9 4

Tender Roast Chicken Sandwich, without sauce

Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
300 4 28 34 10
Side of Green Beans
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
98 0 5 1 0
Corn on the Cob 3"
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
71 0.5 16 2 2

Boston Market
1/4 White-Meat Rotisserie Chicken, No Skin

Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
240 4 1 50 6

Regular Roast Beef

Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
320 13 34 20 9

6" Roast Beef Sub

Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
290 5 45 19 8

Ultimate Chicken Grill

Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
320 7 36 28 9

Drink smart
The calories and PointsPlus values from regular soda or juices like lemonade can increase the risk of weight gain of regular fast-food eaters. "Choose water, unsweetened iced tea or diet soda," advises Blatner.

Go green
Most large fast food chains have tasty salads, a meal-size version of which comes in at 100 calories or less, or about 2 PointsPlus values. But watch out for the add-ons such as meat, tuna, cheese and croutons. Additionally, some fast food low-fat dressings are not low calorie. One way to get around this is to use only half the dressing in the packet.

Crunch on this.
Here are some salad selections from some national fast-food chains.

McDonald's Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
220 6 12 30 5
Burger King's Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
220 7 9 30 5
KFC's Roasted Chicken Caesar Salad, without dressing and croutons
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
190 6 5 29 5
Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad (without noodles, nuts or dressing)
Cals Fat Carbs Protein PointsPlus value
180 2 16 24 4

Bar some items at the salad bar
Watch out for breaded and fried items that sneak their way into a salad, says Blatner. Some of the highest calorie dishes are salads with fried chicken on top or tortilla shell bowls; added cheese can also be sneaky. Burger King's TENDERCRISP® Chicken Garden Salad with cheese tops 400 calories and has a PointsPlus value of 11.

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