Six ways to make your Friday fast-food run healthier

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  • Tips on how to make better choices with your Friday takeaways.
  • There are some guidelines to follow to get more bang for your buck - nutritionally.
  • Don't ignore the healthy sections on menus - or nutritional info.

Healthy eating and Friday evenings rarely go hand-in-hand. Most fast and takeaway foods contain not only fewer nutrients, but also high amounts of salt, saturated fats, and energy (kilojoules) which, if eaten in excess, pose serious health concerns.

Of course, you can indulge in an unhealthy meal now and then, but when it comes to ordering in, there are a few simple guidelines to follow to get more bang for your buck – nutritionally speaking.

Some restaurants and takeaway outlets have healthy sections on the menu and provide you with nutritional information, which is something to keep in mind when placing an order.

Here are a few tips to steer you in a healthier direction:

1. Choose your mains wisely

When choosing your protein option, choose lean, unprocessed animal protein foods. Chicken (skin removed) and seafood (all types of fish, calamari, and prawns), as well as lean beef or pork (outside fat removed), are your best bet.

Eggs can be a good choice too. Red meat, compared to fish, seafood and chicken contains more calories per portion. Always order a small portion such as a 200–250g portion of fillet or rump steak when you go for beef, lamb or pork.

A fish or bean curry from an Indian restaurant is, for example, a better choice than a mutton curry. 

Processed meat refers to any meat "transformed" through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to preserve it or enhance the flavour.

The percentage of lean meat in these products is lowered during the process as additional fat and flour are added.

Examples are bacon, hot dog sausages, boerewors and processed cold meats like meatloaf and polony.

2. Choosing healthier side options

Select places that offer salads such as Portuguese salad, coleslaw, stir-fry vegetables, roasted vegetables, spinach and pumpkin.

Include vegetables to contribute to a nutritionally balanced meal, as they include valuable nutrients like fibre vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Swap the fries for rice as the fat and energy content of plain or spicy rice are significantly lower than fried potato chips and onion rings. 

For example, you can save 2 345 kilojoules and 38 grams of fat by ordering a single beef burger with a salad instead of fries.

The oils used at many fast-food outlets have been hydrogenated and contain trans fatty acids. These fatty acids are harmful as they increase your LDL cholesterol (bad) and decrease your HDL cholesterol (good).

Trans-fats also aggravate inflammation associated with heart disease and arthritis.

3. Look for the Vitality options

Certain restaurants have Vitality options added to their menus. This table displays the nutritional comparisons. 

Nutritional comparisons.
Nutritional comparisons for six meals.

4. Rethink your drinks

Most fast-food meals include drinks and, if possible, opt for still or sparkling water as sugar-based juices and cold drinks will reverse the benefits of eating a salad.

Alternatively, you can try the sugar-free version, which will save you seven teaspoons of sugar (35g) and 600kj of energy.

It is important to note that smoothies and fresh fruit juices are similar in energy and sugar content to any sugar-based cold drink, with 780kj of energy and nine teaspoons of sugar per 340ml fruit juice.

5. Go easy on the sauces

Adding a sauce can round off any dish with a tangy taste. However, most sauces (including mayonnaise) contain oils, which can add a lot of calories to the meal. 

Therefore, keep the portion in mind and don't overdo it. Choose tomato, chutney, and spicy sauces rather than cream, butter, and cheese sauces. 

Low-calorie toppings, such as gherkins, tomato, piquanté peppers, onions, and cucumber can also add flavour – and crunch.

6. Select wisely and go low on the carbs!

Avoid foods containing potato (baked, mashed, chips, wedges) and refined carbs (pap) and foods made from flour (pizza bases, wraps, Tramezzini, Prego rolls, vetkoek, Naan bread, roti, rolls and bread) as these are nutrient-poor and energy-dense.

They also have the potential to cause a rapid rise and drop in blood glucose levels compared to rice, which has a lower glycaemic index.

That's a wrap

The best takeaway foods you can select are chicken or fish (grilled, with roasted vegetables, salad, stir-fried vegetables or half portion of rice).

Alternatively, you can go for an Indian bean or vegetable curry with a half portion of rice, or East Asian dishes, like chicken Chow Mein with a half portion of rice and a double portion of vegetables.

Happy ordering!

WATCH | Why fast food is so addictive

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READ | Do you often find yourself choosing cold rather than hot foods? You might end up eating more

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