Burgers without the bulge

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 1,190 calories and 50g of fat – sometimes more! So this single, speedy meal is packed with more than half the number of calories the average inactive adult needs a day. 

Kids in particular are crazy about fast food and it’s starting to show on the scales. 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 calories and fat in your fast-food meals. These tips will help you pick those healthier menu items:

1. 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 calories than the grilled, skinless version. To make things worse, in the deep-fried batter option more than 50% of the total calories come from fat. 

2. Cheers to chips  
Swap the chips in a meal for a large 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 215 to 285 calories per serving. Adding cheese, high-fat dressings and croutons to salads racks up the calorie count significantly. 

3. Cut 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 extra-large sweetened drink and fries contain in the region of 809 calories and 18g of fat, while the regular sizes have between two and three times less (309 calories and 8g of fat). Therefore stick to regular sizes or even opt for the kid’s meals. 

4. 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. 

5. Sauce savvy
Don't fool yourself into thinking the added mushroom sauce counts as a vegetable portion. Extra sauces are often loaded with calories 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 lower-fat sauces such as sweet chilli.

6. 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 calorie, fat and saturated fat content per serving – the lower the better. 

Some chains provide the nutritional information per 100g, which can be deceptive. A burger might contain 235 calories per 100g but with a serving size of 250g the total calorie count shoots up to 588 calories.

7. Think before you drink
Cooldrinks can be crammed with sugar so either avoid them altogether or have the artificially sweetened versions, which contain a negligible amount of calories. 

Fruit juice is a healthier option but some sweetened fruit juices are very energy-dense, so be careful. 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.

8. Chain reaction
A new range of health-driven convenience food chains are setting up shop across Australia, making grabbing a healthier meal on the go even more possible. Be selective when you choose a takeaway outlet. It will make picking a meal so much easier once you’re standing behind the counter.  

- (Celeste Naudé)

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