As a dietitian, I was taught to describe fast food as having “minimal nutritional quality” and “low nutrient value.” Typically these foods are high in fat, sugar, salt, or any combination of the three, and low or void in health-protecting fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Dictionaries define it as food that can be prepared quickly and easily, and it is usually linked with eating out (not eating food prepared at home). It’s often inexpensive, tasty (simple starches zap and zing our brain’s happy receptors), convenient (no preparation fuss), and standardized (expect the same tomorrow, next week, and even next year).
Clearly, there is a subjectivity associated with defining fast food. There is consensus, however, with the numerous studies linking fast food consumption with childhood and adult obesity. The large portion sizes, sugary beverages, and processed and meat-centric foods are affecting our health, contributing to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
If I asked you about the healthiness of fast food, you would probably acknowledge that it isn’t an optimal diet. This is general knowledge. Fast food fare is light on healthy whole grains, fruits and veggies, and usually loaded with fats and salt. Regardless, people are eating fast food because it fills some need: low cost, easy availability, convenience, or perhaps an unconscious search for those primal needs (salt, sugar, fats, and comfort). As life gets busier, fast food is the default option, right?
Not necessarily. It is possible to transform your needs for fast food with a little planning. Make your favorite nutritious foods easily available. Have on hand some whole-wheat bagels, flavorful cheese slices or nut spread, and pre-prepared veggie slices. Have a basket of fruit on the kitchen table. Prepare a dozen hard-boiled eggs. Buy seedless grapes, cut them into small bunches, and put them in ready to grab bags. Make your favorite Dagwood-style sandwich, but with 100% whole wheat bread and spicy mustard instead of mayo. The point is to prepare the food you like, in advance of your week, and make this food easy to grab and go. And when you prepare the food you like, it is food you will eat (but focus on the healthy choices)!
I just had a quick snack: a bunch of red grapes, some white cheddar, half of an apple (sliced), a hard-boiled egg, multigrain pita bread, and some peanut butter (totaling 370 calories of nutrient dense food), all packaged in advance and fully satisfying.
You can also make better versions of your favorite fast foods. Scramble an egg, warm a slice of lean turkey, and put between a whole wheat English muffin. Your version is 210 calories; their version is 440 calories. Your version protects your health; the commercial version compromises your health potential. Choose well, eat well, and Live Well Utah!