Fast food menus are going healthy

It’s quick. It’s relatively inexpensive. But just how healthy is
it for you?
In recent years, fast food restaurants have responded to
consumer demands by offering more healthy items on their menus.
It’s quick. It’s relatively inexpensive. But just how healthy is it for you?

In recent years, fast food restaurants have responded to consumer demands by offering more healthy items on their menus. McDonald’s now serves several types of salad, chicken sandwiches made on whole wheat bread and yogurt and fruit cups. Subway introduced a line of low-carb wraps last year and Taco Bell gives customers a chance to substitute cilantro, onion and tomato for any items that have cheese and sour cream on them.

Joe Millwood, 55, is one example how the fast food industry’s campaign to bring healthy entrees has worked. Typically, the San Juan Bautista resident usually brings food from home, but once a week he heads to McDonald’s or another fast food restaurant, where he knows he can stock up on veggies. Millwood, who works as a legal assistant, is a pre-diabetic, meaning his blood sugar is “pretty high” and also suffers from arthritis. That’s why he is cautious about what he eats, knowing that too much sugar or carbohydrates can aggravate his condition.

“When I’m on a diet, the only kind of going out I do is to places I know I can have a salad,” he said, biting into a McDonald’s’ Cobb Salad topped with crispy chicken.

But the salad, with 21 grams of fat and 20 grams of carbohydrates, might not be as healthy as it first appears.

Add a serving of cobb dressing and both numbers shoot up by nine grams, making Millwood’s meal clock in at 30 grams of fat and 29 grams of carbohydrates. No more than 65 grams of fat and 300 grams of carbs are recommended in one day.

What makes Millwood’s selection unhealthy is the crispy chicken, which added 11 grams of carbs to his meal, and could be dangerous to his blood sugar. That’s because carbohydrates are made of sugars and are harder to break down that protein or fat.

“Twenty one grams of fat is definitely a big percentage of what a person with diabetes or anyone who is trying to avoid obesity to have in a day,” said Nancy Key, project facilitator for the Diabetes Collaborative. The collaborative is a multi-agency effort started in San Benito County last year to tackle the rise in diabetes.

Diabetics need to pay more attention to what they eat, particularly fat and carbohydrates because their bodies don’t process fats as well as those who don’t suffer from the disease, said Keys.

Millwood knows his cobb salad isn’t the healthiest option, but it sure tastes good.

“I am kind of cheating, I know,” he said.

However, if consumers want healthy choices, they are there for them, said Bonnie Modugno, a Santa Monica nutritionist who McDonald’s hired in the past to make recommendations to its menu.

“The biggest and most important thing McDonald’s does is provide nutritional information for people who seek it,” said Modugno. Today, there are still plenty of greasy options at the fast food giant from French fries to double cheeseburgers, but healthy options are available and becoming popular.

“There is a reasonable amount of fruit and vegetables to compliment their (consumers’) lean protein choices so that people can get the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat that works for them,” she said.

Similarly, Taco Bell’s “Fresco Style” campaign, which reduces the fat content of most entrees by 25 percent by substituting sour cream and cheese with other ingredients, has become popular since it was implemented two years ago, said Ignacio Martinez, a manager at the Hollister Taco Bell.

On a recent day, Hollister resident Kim Synegal was munching on Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, two tortillas filled with beans, cheese and onions, which has 31 grams of fat and 46 grams of carbohydrates.

Synegal, 45, said she eats out about twice a week, opting for choices like the pizza that have considerable less carbs than a burrito.

Synegal, a mother of two, had been running errands and didn’t have time to eat, she said.

Other “healthier” choices on Taco Bell’s menu are soft chicken tacos, grilled steak taco and pinto beans and cheese.

Over all, diabetics and other concerned about their food intake should realize they can’t survive on salads and waters alone, but should find a way to balance carbs, fats and protein in order to feel satisfied with their meals, said Modugno, the Santa Monica nutritionist

“People get stuck going from one extreme to the other when instead they should be figuring out how to put their meals together so they are balanced,” she said.

Healthy menus

calories fat carbohydrates

McDonald’s:

Caesar salad 90 4 7

-with grilled chicken 200 6 9

-crispy chicken 310 16 20

Bacon Ranch Salad 130 8 7 -with grilled 250 10 9

-crispy chicken 350 19 20

California Cobb Salad 150 9 7

Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait 150 2 4

McChicken Sandwich 400 16 37

Subway:

Tuna Salad 300 29 12

Savory Chicken Wrap 190 6 18

Chicken Bacon Wrap 440 27 18

Taco Bell:

Soft Chicken Taco 170 4 20

Tostada 250 10 29

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