Fast food without the fat

We all love fast food. What we don't love are the implications for our health and our weight. Here's how to have your cake and eat it.

It's not true that healthy eating needs to be an all-or-nothing thing; homecooked meat-and-three-veg or a sugary greaseball. Many restaurants and fast-food chains have clocked our concerns, and include healthier varieties of their favourite items on their menus.

Some general rules for choosing healthy meal options include:

1. Look for the Heart Mark
The Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSFSA) has joined forces with some restaurants to include healthier meal options that are lower in fat, cholesterol and salt, and higher in fibre.

The aim is to identify items on the menu which already meet the dietary guidelines recommended by the HSFSA and to offer suggestions on making small changes to menu items to make them more heart-friendly. All you have to do is look for the Heart Mark symbol on menus.

The following restaurants have taken part in this: Spur Steak Ranches, Panarotti’s Pizza Pasta, Mochachos Chicken Villages, Morituri Pizzeria, Col’Cacchio Pizzeria, St Elmo’s Woodfired Pizza, Osumo and Blow Fish.

2. Get nutrition smart
Some fast-food outlets have started making the nutritional details of their meals available both on the internet as well as inside their stores. If you can, wise up before you go, so you don't get confused (and tempted) by the chips.

3. Control your portion sizes
Try to eat the same amount you would at home. Don’t upsize your meal and avoid combo options. Go for regular size meals or even choose a kid's meal.

4. Skip the chips
More fast-food outlets are adding salad to their menus. Swap the chips for a salad, baked potato or vegetables.

However, be careful of high-kilojoule salad dressings, yellow cheese and sour cream. Also avoid creamed, sugared and buttered vegetables (ask for grilled or steamed options instead).

5. Like it lean
Choose lean meat, chicken and fish wherever possible.

If you’re having chicken, take the skin off, or order it skinless (this option is available at Nando’s). A 100g portion of roasted chicken with skin has 933kJ and 13.5g of fat while 100g skinless chicken supplies only 640kJ and 4.2g fat – quite a difference.

If you’re having steak, choose the smallest option (often, especially irritatingly for men who're not huge eaters, called a 'ladies' steak), grilled, and with visible fat removed. Rather than having gravy, try mustard, or a barbeque, black pepper or monkey gland sauce. Stay away from deep-fried cordon bleu options and schnitzels.

Have fish grilled or baked. Low-fat options include hake, kabeljou, sole, kingklip and sushi.

6. What’s for dessert?
Avoid having a creamy, high-fat dessert and try a fruit salad. You could also have a coffee, tea or cappuccino with skimmed milk.

Steer clear of sweetened cold drinks as these contain a lot of sugar.

The healthier option
If you’re trying to lose weight – or simply trying to eat better – choose the options marked in red below instead of the options in the line above them*:

Menu item Energy (kJ) Fat (g) Carb. (g) Prot. (g)
Wimpy Burger with cheese (per portion) 2034.00 24.80 35.50 29.40
Wimpy Burger (per portion) 1760.00 19.40 33.30 25.30
Chicken mayonnaise sandwich (per portion) 2007.00 27.80 32.20 23.70
Cheese & tomato sandwich (per portion) 1546.00 20.10 31.10 13.80
Wimpy Early Bird Breakfast (per portion) 2103.00 35.50 18.50 26.60
Wimpy Surprise Breakfast (per portion) 1511.00 24.70 16.10 17.90
Menu item Energy (kJ) Fat (g) Carb. (g) Prot. (g)
Cheddamelt Steak (100g) 827 12.20 12.20 10.70
Lazy Aged Steak (100g) 647 7.57 5.84 16.10
Guacamole Burger (100g) 1091 17.6 18.70 8.25
Monkey Gland Burger (100g) 985 13 23.2 7.81
Chocolate Brownies (100g, with cream) 1456 12.1 57.9 4.81
Log Cabin Waffle (100g, with cream) 1109 6.25 49 4.68
Menu item Energy (kJ) Fat (g) Carb. (g) Prot. (g)
Steer Burger (100g) 2044 25 43 26
Chicken Burger (100g) 1636 11 48 26
Menu item Energy (kJ) Fat (g) Carb. (g) Prot. (g)
Vegetarian Burger (per serving) 1805 10.7 68.8 14.1
Chicken Burger (per serving) 1607 6.9 43.9 35.6
Chicken Pita (per serving) 2169 11.4 63.6 39.1
Chicken Wrap (per serving) 1605 8.5 37.6 38.3
Chicken Strips & Rice (per serving) 2195 7.4 76.8 33.8
Vitailty meal (chicken breast, mealie, salad) (per serving) 1426 6.3 36.2 34.0
Menu item Energy (kJ) Fat (g) Carb. (g) Prot. (g)
Double Crunch (per portion) 3000 29 69 43
Grilled Burger (per portion) 1535 5 51 30
Twister (per portion) 2515 28 55 31
Grilled Twister (per portion) 1590 9 45 28
Crispy Strips with dip (per portion) 2055 25 29 37
Crispy Strips with no dip (per portion) 1805 21 24 36

*Please note that some of the fast-food outlets have done their nutritional analyses per 100g (indicated next to relevant menu items in the table), whereas others have worked with the total mass of the menu item.

(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, updated October 2010)

Read more:
Nando's: what to choose

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa
Spur Steak Ranches:

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24