Healthier Fast Food
Everyone knows that fast food and ready-to-eat meals can be damaging to health. But for someone having a stressful day it’s not always easy to find time to make food from scratch. For an older person who is alone and unaccustomed to cooking, it’s not that easy to get started. And for anyone who has lived on fast food for many years, it’s not easy to break those habits.
It’s important to be realistic: changing habits takes time! At the same time it’s possible, with small changes in existing habits, to get tangible health effects. Think about whether any of the following information and tips can be useful to you.
- Ready-to-eat entrees such as quiches, pasta dishes, soups or whole dinners for reheating often contain high quantities of added sugar and salt. Ready-to-eat food also has higher levels of trans fats that produce inflammation and vascular damage.1
- It’s often the side dishes that make fast food so unhealthy. French fries contain vessel-damaging trans fats and mashed potatoes produce serious blood sugar peaks. Try replacing French fries or mashed potatoes with salad or baby carrots and replacing soda with a light variety or water. This reduces blood sugar peaks which are so damaging for eyes, kidneys and blood vessels.
- Hot dogs, pizza or hamburgers can be made more healthy by exchanging the white-flour bun or crust for a whole-grain version. Hot dog and hamburger buns can both be found in less processed varieties.
- Ask for reduced quantity of cheese when you order pizza. This can radically reduce the amount of calories and saturated fats without affecting the taste that much.
- The quantity of food is often more important than the content itself. Making a habit of ordering a half pizza and more salad instead, avoiding the large-size fast food items, or simply having a thin layer of mustard on a sausage instead of adding layer upon layer can have noticeable effects on your health.
- Falafel contains legumes, which produces slow carbohydrates and more even blood sugar. It can be an alternative to pizza, hamburgers and sausage. Both falafel and kebab are healthier if you choose fresh vegetables and yogurt sauce instead of deep-fried halloumi cheese and grilled vegetables.
- The white rice in sushi produces a rapid blood sugar response. One way to reduce this is to order edamame beans or other fiber-rich accompaniments.
- If you buy a lunch baguette then choose whole-grain bread and ingredients such as chicken, roast beef or tuna fish. These have fewer calories than for example cheese, salami and meatballs.
- Fast food usually contains very few vegetables. For that reason try to actively add vegetables, which helps you achieve a more even blood sugar.
- There is naturally great variation in how health-conscious restaurants are, but in many cases restaurant food contains more fat, sugar and salt than homemade food. In the same way as you choose how long you want your meat cooked, you can choose to ask for less sauce, smaller portions, less cheese on the pasta or whatever is appropriate for the dish you have chosen.
- Vegetarian entrees are not necessarily healthy. Sometimes the vegetables are mixed with large quantities of cheese and other dairy products, which results in a high calorie count. For that reason judge the entrees based on their entirety.
- If you go out for lunch then try putting the salad on the main plate instead of on a small plate alongside. Then green vegetables will be the basis for your lunch rather than an accompaniment on the side.
Fast food and ready-to-eat entrees are contrary to how we are biologically adapted to eat. To avoid starvation the body sends powerful signals that drive us to eat. The combination of fat and sugar in particular activates the body’s endocannabinoids and produces a strong feeling of satisfaction.3
This reward system plays tricks on us nowadays, when calorie-rich food can be bought day or night.
Of course we can’t control these inherited reward systems. But even so with small means we can live much more healthily while at the same time satisfying our need to enjoy food.
We may need to review our entire life situation and attitude. We may need to prioritize differently to make time for healthy habits. Preparing food yourself may mean that we eat less because the aromas during cooking stimulate fullness. Eating slowly and really enjoying the taste means that we eat less. Healthy habits really don’t need to be a sacrifice.
How can you improve your eating habits without making it feel like an insurmountable sacrifice?
1. Helgegren H et al., Good food with type 2 diabetes [Swedish: Bra mat vid typ 2-diabetes]