Burgers without the bulge

By admin
27 February 2009

Takeaways can save you time and money but can leave your health and waistline to pay the price. Not any more! We serve up the healthiest options on the fast-food menus

By Celeste Naudé

Eating fast food can be a swift way to pile on the pounds and overload your body with unhealthy fats, salt and preservatives. Think about it: a super-sized burger with add-ons plus a portion of large chips and a large sweetened drink equals about 5 000 kilojoules (kJ) and 50 g of fat – sometimes more!

So this single, speedy meal is packed with more than half the number of kilojoules the average inactive adult needs a day.

Kids in particular are crazy about fast food and it's starting to show on the scales. A study by the South African Medical Research Council found that nearly a quarter of children between the age of one and nine are overweight. On top of the weighty issue of weight gain, a junk-food laden diet is also linked to poor nutrient intake and a risk of developing chronic lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The good news? By switching to smart ordering and healthier takeaway tactics you can halve the number of kilojoules and fat in your fast-food meals. Here's our guide to the healthiest takeaways on the table.


Your healthiest choices: A standard-size chicken burger (1 584 kJ), pine burger (1 587 kJ), vegetarian burger (1 935kJ), chicken strips and rice (1 594 kJ), beef or chicken Prego (1 419 kJ), chicken steak (992 kJ) and almost all other chicken options. To round off your meal the seasonal salad, flame-grilled mealie and spicy rice are low in energy and fat and make smarter side options than the chips.

Why? Because Nando's chicken is flame-grilled and not fried it's lower in fat than deep-fried chicken. The healthy preparation method and fewer add-ons make these meals lower in energy, total fat and saturated fat – meaning they're more heart-healthy and slimming-sensible. Nando's also offers the option of skinless chicken portions and a reduced-fat mayonnaise for weight watchers.

Steer clear of giblets or livers served with spicy rice and a Portuguese roll (4 035 kJ).

Why? It's high in kilojoules, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. When you have one of these you consume about three quarters of your total daily energy requirement in one go.


Your healthiest choices Wimpy Chicken Fillet Burger (1 723 kJ) and Wimpy Burger (1 760 kJ)

Why? Smaller servings make these options lower in kilojoules and fat than the double burgers with high-fat extras.

Steer clear of the Wimpy Double Burger with cheese and bacon (3 651 kJ) and the Wimpy Burger with cheese, bacon and hash brown (3 746 kJ).

Why? Oversized portions with lots of high-fat extras make these options much higher in total kilojoules and saturated fats.


Your healthiest Choices Rave Burger (1 200 kJ*) and chicken in pitta with no mayonnaise (1 900 kJ*)

Why? The burger is a smaller serving and the pitta is lower in kilojoules and fat with fewer add-ons.

Steer clear of the Triple Stack Burger (3 700 kJ*) and Dagwood Burger (3 500 kJ*).

Why? Oversized portions with lots of add-ons make these high in kilojoules and fat. The beef, bacon, cheese and egg combinations also push up the saturated-fat content.


Your healthiest choices Hamburger (1 116 kJ) and Fillet-o-Fish Burger (1 608 kJ)

Why? Smaller servings and fewer kilojoules

Steer clear of the Quarter Pounder Deluxe (2 347 kJ), Quarter Pounder Cheese (2 187 kJ), Big Mac (2 340 kJ) and Chicken Foldover (2 449 kJ).

Why? These are big portions and about 50 per cent of their energy comes from fat. All except the Foldover are also high in saturated fat.


Your healthiest Choices Grilled Original Recipe Burger (1 378 kJ) or Grilled Mini Twister (789 kJ)

Why? The grilled chicken options contain fewer kilojoules and less fat than the regular burgers and twisters.

Steer clear of the Double Crunch Burger (3 500 kJ*).

Why? This oversized portion is high in kilojoules and fat from the deep-fried batter on the two chicken patties and added cheese slices.

Healthy take away hints

Go for grilled.

Refuse fried options whenever possible. Food absorbs large amounts of oil during deep-frying especially when covered in batter. When oil is repeatedly heated to high temperatures dangerous fats form. By going the grilled route you cut out lots of energy and unhealthy fats.

A deep-fried portion of chicken in batter can contain more than twice the amount of kilojoules than the grilled, skinless version. To make things worse, in the deep-fried batter option more than 50 per cent of the total kilojoules come from fat.

Cheers to chips.

Swap the chips in a meal for a large seasonal salad (without dressing or cheese) and remove about 1 000 kJ and 13 g of fat from your meal while at the same time adding vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Salad days.

Go for a green seasonal salad as a side. If you're having a salad as a main meal select one with either cheese or meat for protein. They contain in the region of 900 to1 200 kJ per serving. Adding cheese, high-fat dressings and croutons to salads racks up the kilojoule count.

Cut it down to size./

Keep an eye on portion sizes and try to eat the same quantity as you would at home. Don't upsize menu items: you could end up consuming more than double the amount of the regular meal. An extralarge sweetened drink and fries contain in the region of 3 400 kJ and 18 g of fat while the regular sizes have between two and three times less (1 300 kJ and 8 g of fat). Therefore stick to regular sizes or even opt for the kids' meals.

Steer clear of salt.

Choose items with a low salt content especially if you have high blood pressure. Think twice before you add extra salt to your chips.

Sauce savvy.

Don't fool yourself into thinking the added mushroom sauce counts as a vegetable portion. Extra sauces are often loaded with kilojoules and a burger smothered in sauce is a dieting disaster. If you decide to have a sauce ask for it on the side so you can control how much you eat and go for lowerfat sauces such as sweet chilli.

Nutrition know-how.

Scan the nutritional information of menu items before you make a choice. This information is now provided by certain fast-food chains. Look at the kilojoule, fat and saturated fat content per serving – the lower the better. Some chains provide the nutritional information per 100 g, which can be deceptive. A burger might contain 980 kJ per 100 g but with a serving size of 250 g the total kilojoule count shoots up to 2 450 kJ!

Think before you drink.

Cooldrinks can be crammed with sugar (see page 52) so either avoid them altogether or have the artificially sweetened versions which contain a negligible amount of kilojoules. Fruit juice is a healthier option but some sweetened fruit juices are energy-dense and contain more than 200 kJ per 100 ml. Rather get those disease-fighting nutrients by having the whole fresh fruit for dessert. It's more filling and contains more dietary fibre, which is linked to reduced risk of heart disease.

Chain reaction.

A new range of health-driven convenience food chains such as Kauai, Osumo and Ecco have opened up recently, making grabbing a healthier meal on the go even more possible.


Have a smaller portion of chips with a salad (no dressing or cheese) and drink water instead of a sweetened drink to cut out more than 600 kJ.

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