Dieting at the drive-through

Watching what you eat doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to

Watching your weight but always in a hurry? Not to worry. Most
local fast-food joints offer healthy alternatives
– but be sure to do your homework
As the new year approaches, many people find themselves dieting and trying to lose some of those pounds that accumulated thanks to the holiday food fests. But for people constantly on the go, eating healthy can be challenging.

“I’m always in such a hurry. I never have time to make something healthy,” said Morgan Hill resident Rianna Vasquez while in line at Taco Bell in Gilroy on Thursday. “I try not to eat out too much, but I’m always on the go, so it happens.”

Whether it’s kids, a job or errands that keep you busy, sometimes swinging past the drive-through of a fast-food joint seems to be the only option for a satisfying lunch.

The menu of a typical fast-food restaurant – filled with tacos, fries and burgers – makes it seem impossible to avoid a fattening, carbohydrate-laden meal. But if diners do their homework, they’ll see there are some healthy options, said Marcia Byrd, a nutritionist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Gilroy.

“Ask for the nutritional information at the restaurant. Obviously, the best choice is usually going to be a salad if they sell them, but you need to watch the dressing. A lot of them are loaded with fat,” she said.

She’s right. The Chicken BLT Salad from Wendy’s contains 680 calories with dressing. That’s the equivalent of two cheeseburgers from McDonald’s or a Jumbo Jack with cheese from Jack in the Box.

Byrd, who works with patients dealing with weight problems, said oil-and-vinegar-based dressings are best, and if you’re really worried about the calories, you can carry your own dressing along with you in a small container.

How many calories and grams of fat foods contain are the two things people should pay most attention to when watching their weight, Byrd said. There are 9 calories in every gram of fat, and only 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrates and in every gram of protein, so eating something low in fat keeps the calorie count down as well.

While salads are good choices for dieters, french fries definitely are not, Byrd said.

“People should leave out the fries all the time if they can,” she said. “French fries are 77 percent fat.”

Another way to make dieting-on-the-go easier is to eat foods that have “staying power,” meaning they make you feel fuller for longer. Foods with high amounts of protein and low amounts of carbohydrates – such as lean meat and foods made from soy – tend to fill you up more than simple carbohydrates such as crackers or candy, so you won’t find yourself munching on snacks right after eating a meal.

High-protein, low-carb options are on the menus of fast-food restaurants. They just might not be as exciting as other menu items.

“I would recommend getting a plain hamburger and a salad, or a sandwich and soup,” Byrd said. “If you load up on carbs, you’ll be hungry in (about an hour). But if you eat something high in protein, chances are you’ll feel full for three to four hours.”

Tracking down nutritional information at most fast-food restaurants is as simple as asking an employee for it. Diners can also request that their food be prepared low-fat. For example, if you’re ordering a burrito or taco at Taco Bell, ask that the items be “fresco,” meaning the cheese or sauce will be replaced by salsa and diced tomatoes.

Although dieters should carefully consider what they order at fast-food restaurants, that doesn’t mean their favorite drive-throughs need to be banished altogether, Byrd said.

“The bottom line is, if you go to a fast-food restaurant one time and it’s the first time you’ve done it, it’s no big deal,” she said. “Life is all about moderation.”

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