Health

Healthy tweaks to fast-food fix

Clinical dietitian recommends ordering fries without salt, using condiments sparingly

Fast food has always been labelled as unhealthy due to its high amounts of sodium, saturated and trans fat as well as sugar content, and bingeing on it will expose you to a greater risk of health problems such as heart disease and cancer.

While abstinence is best, it is understandable that there will be the occasional craving you simply cannot ignore.

Follow these seven tips by clinical dietitian Jaclyn Reutens from Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants for healthier ways to get your fast-food fix.

CHOOSE WHOLE PIECES OF MEAT

Patties and reconstituted meat are less nutritious than whole pieces of meat as they contain more sodium and fat.

Patties are made up of fattier meat, which are ground and mixed with preservatives. They also contain more saturated fat, which may increase the risks of high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Avoid hamburger patties and nuggets and opt for meat such as chicken breast.

CHOOSE GRILLED ITEMS

Fast-food chains use copious amounts of oil, so many of their foods are full of saturated fat.

But they now offer grilled options - a much healthier alternative to patties or other deep fried items.

BEYOND CALORIES - SODIUM

Remember to take sodium levels into consideration.

The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for sodium is 2,000mg daily. A burger and a packet of large fries can easily add up to half your daily RDA for sodium.

Ms Reutens said: "As a guide, if you are having three square meals a day, you should aim for less than 700mg of sodium a meal. If the fast-food meal exceeds 700mg of sodium, choose foods lower in sodium for the rest of the day."

SKIP THE FRIES

Deep-fried foods such as fries contain high levels of trans fat.

Ms Reutens said trans fat is linked to increasing bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol levels.

Fries are also full of salt and added sugar, which you should avoid as they increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.

Alternatives such as corn or mashed potato will do the trick.

BUT IF YOU MUST, GO SALT-FREE

You can request for no salt in your fries at fast-food chains.

This will save you 200mg to 400mg of sodium, which is more than 10 per cent the RDA of 2,000mg.

But do not negate your effort by dunking your fries in ketchup or chilli sauce after getting them without salt, said Ms Reutens.

GO EASY ON CONDIMENTS

Condiments such as chilli sauce and mayonnaise enhance the flavour of food, but they come with even more sodium and saturated fat.

Even supposedly fat-free and lower-calorie condiments are sugar-laden. So make sure to use condiments sparingly, or it will mean dumping a lot of salt, fat and sugar in your body.

IT IS ALL ABOUT CHOICE

Fast food does not necessarily have to be condemned to the most unhealthy of foods.

Compared with a plate of char kway teow, a grilled chicken burger or wrap has much less fat and sodium and fewer calories, said Ms Reutens.

It all boils down to making the right choices when ordering fast food - or any type of food for that matter.

As a general guideline, Ms Reutens recommends that burgers be kept under 350kcal and fast-food meals under 500kcal.

This article first appeared in Shape (www.shape.com.sg).

Food & Drink