Not So Fast: Replacing Fast Food with Healthy Alternatives

Dr. Christopher McGowan
February 22, 2021

A Happy Meal from McDonald’s is an institution in the lives of many kids in America. As we grow up, though, greasy cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and french fries are not so happy anymore. No matter how good it may taste, fast food can do a number on our waistlines.

There are no two ways about it: eating fast food will put you on the fast track to gaining weight. The calories, carbs, preservatives, and unhealthy fats in cheap fast food all contribute to very unhealthy outcomes for your body. Despite the dietary dangers, millions of people still eat fast food regularly. Breaking the habit of just grabbing a burger can be hard to do, especially if you have a busy life that keeps you on the go. With the many health dangers that can come from excess body weight and the increased likelihood of heart disease associated with fried foods, it pays to find ways to replace the fast food in your diet with healthy alternatives. 

Healthy Eating Starts at Home

If you are going to get serious about avoiding the dangers of fast food, it is going to take more than ordering a side salad instead of french fries with your burger. You may be able to start with reducing the number of trips you make through the drive-thru, but if you have been obese or struggling with your weight for a while, you may need to eliminate fast food from your diet altogether.

You may not feel like you have a choice in eating fast food. Many people cite a need to keep themselves or their family fed while on the go as the reason they indulge in quick calories. Replacing Chick-fil-A with a healthy chicken breast or some lettuce wraps made at home certainly takes more planning, but a little thinking ahead can go a long way to keep your wallet and waistline in good order. 

The good news is, a lot of healthy fast food alternatives can be made in large batches, which means finding a time to cook once a week can provide you with healthy meals for several days. If you are not very experienced in the kitchen, it may seem daunting at first, but a little time searching on the internet and a willingness to experiment will provide you with all the recipes you need. 

What Should I Eat When Craving Fast Food?

Making healthy choices when you get a sudden craving for some french fries or a chocolate shake is not easy. If your idea of healthy, homemade food is a dry chicken breast tossed on a dry tortilla, that burger craving is going to be hard to turn down. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy options available if you want to get serious about staying healthy. 

What alternative you should turn to is determined by what you are craving. If it is your sweet tooth screaming at you to put down a chocolate shake, reach for a fruit smoothie instead. Smoothies can be made quickly with either frozen or fresh fruit, and if the natural sugars in the fruits and juices you choose aren’t enough to quench the craving, adding a pinch of alternative sweetener like stevia can satisfy your sugar cravings without adding the calories you would have been getting from a shake. 

If you are craving a salty snack, sometimes chips are the only thing that will satisfy. Swapping out kale or vegetable chips for potato chips can be a great start to healthier snacking. Vegetable chips can be found in grocery stores, but they can also be made at home for an even more nutritious treat. Baking your own chips in the oven will allow you to control the amount of salt and oil used in flavoring your chips. 

Even if you are baking your own veggie or sweet potato fries to perfection, the delectable sauces you find in restaurants might actually be more tempting. Thankfully, crave-worthy sauces are also something you can make easily at home. Making your own sauces also means you can control the amount of sugar or dietary fat that is in your favorite dip. You can also swap out sugars for other, more healthy sweeteners like natural honey or agave. 

A few veggie chips and a homemade dipping sauce are not going to cover the hole left in most peoples’ diets by eliminating fast food, though. You are going to have to dig a little deeper into your culinary bag of tricks to make Taco Bell runs a thing of the past. Homemade black bean burritos or baked chicken breast quesadillas can be just the thing. Wrap each burrito in foil and freeze them, only taking them out when cravings for Mexican cuisine strike or you don’t have time to make an entire meal.

When it comes to keeping lunch interesting at work, whole grain bread and lean meat sandwiches are only going to go so far. With a little time to plan and an afternoon in the kitchen, burritos, tuna salad, homemade pizza, and many other dishes can be made ahead in large quantities. Chinese take-out may be alluring, but it turns out the flavor of sweet and sour chicken can come from your own kitchen, and with less work than you might think. Many Asian dishes can be made in large batches and refrigerated or even frozen in pre-bagged portions to provide tasty lunches at work for many days.

If you don’t feel up to tackling many main dishes on your own, sorting out the side dishes can be a place to start. More calories creep into our diets through unhealthy side dishes than you might think. Choosing some fresh apple slices, canned vegetables, or even some homemade guacamole are all better options than snagging some fries or adding onion rings to the combo at a burger joint. 

What are the Healthiest Fast Food Options?

Some fast food chains have tried to differentiate themselves from traditional burger joints like Wendy's. Subway is an example of a fast food restaurant that tries to claim healthier options than most drive-thrus, but if you are trying to avoid gluten or cut down on the carbs, their bread-heavy menu will not leave you with many options. 

Are There Any Healthy Fast Food Restaurants? 

Even though fast food restaurants get a bad rap for their quality of food, there are some healthier choices. If you are going to be grabbing food on the run, guacamole or a black bean burrito bowl from Chipotle is better for you than a greasy cheeseburger from the likes of Burger King. Even a grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A is going to beat out some chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. 

If you are starting your day with some carbs, choices like a bagel from Panera Bread will be better for you than donuts any day, but you could still be taking in plenty of grams of fat depending on what spread you choose for your bagel. Starbucks has marketed many low-calorie food options in recent years, but it is good to keep in mind their products are still not as healthy as the food you can make at home. 

Finding Healthy Alternatives to Fast Food

You don’t have to be a trained dietitian to know that regularly eating at fast food joints will have some negative consequences down the road. That said, having a nutritionist or a dietitian help you craft a diet that can provide both the nutrients you need and the tastes that satisfy can be a huge help on any weight loss journey. 

Consistency is important for anyone trying to lose weight, and even a few indulgences in fast food can set most anyone back further than you might think. For people who have undergone gastric bypass or are considering a weight loss procedure such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, there is an even more compelling reason to avoid the burgers and fried food many of us crave. 

After a gastric surgery or procedure, you will only be able to consume a very small amount of food each day, and every gram of protein or bite of fresh fruit or veggies matters. Consuming the empty calories in fried foods will not only rob you of the nutrients you need, but it also can put you at risk of diarrhea. This may sound uncomfortable or embarrassing, but with only a small portion of your stomach available to take in liquids, the dehydration caused by diarrhea can be dangerous or even lethal for people who have undergone weight loss surgeries or procedures. 

Knowing how your body will respond to weight loss surgery, and knowing that seemingly small indulgences like a quick burger and a shake can have drastic consequences, are part of the important considerations you need to take if you are considering a procedure to help you find freedom from excess body weight. 

At True You, we specialize in helping people understand whether a weight loss procedure is right for them, walk them through preparing for their procedure, and help them succeed with their new diet down the road. If you are considering surgical options for weight loss, request a consultation with us today.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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