• Ashleigh Caradas

Life In The Fast Lane

It’s a fast-paced world we live in, and between keeping up with it all, who has time to think about food? The resulting desperation for convenience has led to a booming fast-food industry. A few take-out spots scattered throughout the country only ten years back has mushroomed to the point that we rarely need to drive more than a few kilometres to our favourite fast food haven. But are we sacrificing our health by resorting to quick and easy food? Is convenience killing us? And are there quick but nutritious alternatives for people on the run?

For the most part, fast-foods are not health foods. Fast-food menu’s are not only kilojoule bombs waiting to explode, but also come with the added bang of being laden with disease-causing harmful fats. Take your typical hamburger: saturated fat sandwiched between processed carbohydrates, with lots of added salt and a small sliver of tomato with a side order of deep fried potatoes and a fizzy, caffeinated, sugar-laden beverage is not by any means a healthy, nutritious meal. And to make matters worse, we’re being “super-sized”. Portion sizes of common foods have steadily increased. According to a report in the February 2003 Journal of American Dietetic Association, portion sizes offered by fast-food restaurants today are two to five times bigger than they were just a few years ago.  

The situation is not all-bad though. The rise in obesity and diseases of lifestyle has led to a consciousness shift towards health and wellness, which has forced many fast food chains to at least offer some healthy alternatives. So there is some opportunity to make healthier food choices. It’s important to realise too that junk foods do not on their own cause obesity and disease- but they are certainly part of the equation. If you’re going to eat junk-food, do so in moderation but don’t follow a “junk-food lifestyle”. Small indulgences here and there are unlikely to jeopardise your health to any great degree, especially if you indulge within the context of a healthy balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

We examined nutritional data from 3 major fast food chains (Mc Donalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Nando’s) and 1 health food chain (Kauai Juice) and came up with a comparative look at what’s on offer and weighed them up in terms of health. The choice is yours.

Putting it into perspective

The daily kilojoule requirements for weight maintenance for a 56kg moderately active woman would work out to about 8500 kilojoules

For health, fat intake should be kept at below 30% of total kilojoule intake, so that’s a maximum of 67g fat per day. Saturated fat intake should be kept as low as possible and should not exceed one-third of the total daily fat intake.

Cholesterol is an independent risk factor for heart disease. It is recommended that for good health dietary cholesterol intake should be less than 300 milligrams/day. If you have heart disease, limit your daily intake to less than 200 milligrams.

High sodium intake is a major risk factor for hypertension (high blood pressure). The Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Intake (ESADDI) for sodium is approximately 1,100-3,300 mg per day.

THE MAIN THING

Hamburgers

It’s the quintessential take-out food and the hamburger has stood the test of time. If you must indulge, here’s a comparative look atsome of your favourite burgers:

The Big Mac from Mc Donalds comes in first place for the highest kilojoule content of the traditional beef burgers, at 2340kilojoules and 25g fat (9g of which is saturated. The Quarter Pounder with cheese will give you 2187 kilojoules and 29g fat (13 saturated). Minus the cheese and you’ll save yourself 425 kilojoules and 9g fat. The Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder pack up to 113mg cholesterol and 1000mg sodium.

Perhaps the most fat dense of them all is the KFC burger. A traditional Zinger packs 2200 kilojoules and 32g fat (7g saturated). Because it’s a chicken burger, the Zinger has less saturated fat than beef burgers, but it’s deep fried, so it’s full of damaged oils. It will also give you 85mg cholesterol and 830mg sodium per burger.

The grilled chicken burger at Mc Donalds is not much lower in kilojoules or fat compared to beef burgers (1936kj and 25g fat), but only 4.5g of the fat is the harmful saturated type and its also lower in cholesterol. So it’s not too good for the waistline but it is a heart-healthier choice than the beef burgers.

In comparison, a Nando’s chicken burger will give you 1804 kilojoules and only 7.7g fat (1.9g saturated). It contains 69mg cholesterol and 711mg sodium.

A typical burger is not a significant source of vitamins and minerals and are generally low in fiber (less than 3g per serving).

To lower the kilojoule and fat content of your burger favour grilled chicken over fried chicken or beef and order it minus the mayonnaise, butter or margarine.

Chicken

When it comes to chicken, there are basically 2 options- fried or grilled.

Just one Kentucky Fried Chicken breast will cost you 1596 kilojoules, 19g of fat and 1150mg sodium. For the same kilojoule content you can get a quarter grilled chicken at Nando’s and take in only 15g fat and 420mg sodium.

Chicken nuggets are battered and fried and probably one of the fattiest things you could eat. Nine pieces of McNuggets is worth 1680 kilojoules and 27g fat. The same goes for KFC’s Popcorn Chicken.

Chicken that’s cooked on a rotisserie (like Fontana’s) allows the fat to drain off, so it’s a leaner option. It’s still cooked with the skin on- so to be extra diligent about fat content, you’ll need to remove the skin before indulging. Nando’s chickens are flame-grilled, which also allows for some excess fat drainage. No butter or shortening is used on the grills. Skinless alternatives at grilled chicken outlets include chicken breasts, chicken strips or chicken shwarma meat.

Sandwiches and wraps

The Mc Donalds Chicken Foldover contains 2450 kilojoules and 36g fat, so it’s not really a healthier option to the traditional burger.

The Nando’s Chicken Wrap without mayonnaise will give you 2310 kilojoules and 13g of fat, while their Chicken in Pita is only 1770 kilojoules and 7g of fat, if ordered without mayonnaise.

Kauai Juice has a vast range of nutritious hot and cold sandwiches and wraps on offer. They’re not low kilojoule or low fat options as most are over 2000 kilojoules and 20g fat per sandwich. They do, however contain less saturated fat and arerich in healthy unsaturated fats. They come with the added bonus of being packed with 7-14g of fiber per sandwich.

Pizza

Sometimes perceived as a healthier option, a typical medium-sized cheese pizza 2500 kilojoules, 27g fat, 35mg cholesterol and 1200mg sodium, and that’s before you’ve ordered any toppings.

Order small pizza’s and couple with salad to lower the kilojoule content. Pizzas can also be ordered without cheese or with less cheese. You could also try lower fat cheese options like feta or ricotta. Avoid fatty toppings like mince meat, salami and bacon. Rather go for grilled chicken and top with lots of veggies. Make pizza less starchy by ordering thin based.

Salads

Why not ditch the heavy stuff and go for a salad as a meal instead? Kauai Juice offers a great range of salads that will give you loads of nutrients and fibre and contain a little over 1000 kilojoules and less. The fat content will vary depending on the type of salad and whether you add a dressing.

A Nando’s chicken salad is also a good choice at 1300 kilojoules and less than 8g fat for a large portion, when ordered without dressing. Beware of adding dressings too liberally. Just four teaspoons of oil-based dressing can bump up your intake by 1200 kilojoules and 30g fat.

ON THE SIDE

French fries

Almost everyone loves them, and for some a take-out meal isn’t complete without them. But truth be told, they are amongst the most fattening and unhealthy foods around. The kilojoule and fat content of different chips is pretty standard across the board. The smaller the fry, the higher the fat content, because there is an increased surface area for oil absorption. Most fast-food joints use partially hydrogenated vegetables oil that is cholesterol-free but contains harmful trans fatty acids. Vegetable oil is rich in healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids but when the oil is heated (and re-used over and over again) it becomes rancid.

A portion of chips will cost you anywhere between 650 and 1900kilojoules and 7-18g fat, depending on the size of your order.

Coleslaw and potato salad

They may seem like better options, but a regular 130g portion of coleslaw or potato salad from KFC packs 798 kilojoules and 10g fat. It’s the hefty dose of mayonnaise that does it. Nando’s has recently lowered the fat content of their mayonnaise from 37% to 11% fat. The same amount of coleslaw at Nando’s is slightly lighter at 722 kilojoules and 8g fat.

Rice

If rice is on offer as a side dish, it’s a much wiser option. A regular portion at Nando’s contains 980 kilojoules but only 2.6g fat.

Salad

If you’re looking for a starch-free lower kilojoule and fat option, salad should be your first side dish choice. A regular side serving with cheese contains only 353 kilojoules and 2.6g fat. A green salad without the cheese would be fat-free. Use salad dressings sparingly.

AND TO DRINK

Fizzy drinks

Fizzy cold-drinks are not your healthiest choice. High in sugar and caffeine and low in nutrients, they have absolutely no health benefits. An extra large Coke contains about 1300 kilojoules. “Diet” or “Light” varieties may be a better option if you’re counting kilojoules, but the safety of taking in large amounts of artificial sweeteners is questionable.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice is packed with vitamins, so it’s a more nutritious choice. However, because fruit juice is very concentrated, it’s high in natural sugars and is not ideal for slimming. In addition, many fast food chains don’t offer fresh juice- it’s usually loaded with added sugars and preservatives. Kauai juice offers a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable juices as well as fresh fruit smoothies that make an excellent choice as a compliment to a meal or as a breakfast or snack.

Water

Without a doubt, water is your best choice to compliment your take out meal. It’s pure natural refreshment and will also help counteract the high sodium content of your meal.  Pure, un-carbonated, unflavored water is best.It’s a fast-paced world we live in, and between keeping up with it all, who has time to think about food? The resulting desperation for convenience has led to a booming fast-food industry. A few take-out spots scattered throughout the country only ten years back has mushroomed to the point that we rarely need to drive more than a few kilometres to our favourite fast food haven. But are we sacrificing our health by resorting to quick and easy food? Is convenience killing us? And are there quick but nutritious alternatives for people on the run?

For the most part, fast-foods are not health foods. Fast-food menu’s are not only kilojoule bombs waiting to explode, but also come with the added bang of being laden with disease-causing harmful fats. Take your typical hamburger: saturated fat sandwiched between processed carbohydrates, with lots of added salt and a small sliver of tomato with a side order of deep fried potatoes and a fizzy, caffeinated, sugar-laden beverage is not by any means a healthy, nutritious meal. And to make matters worse, we’re being “super-sized”. Portion sizes of common foods have steadily increased. According to a report in the February 2003 Journal of American Dietetic Association, portion sizes offered by fast-food restaurants today are two to five times bigger than they were just a few years ago.  

The situation is not all-bad though. The rise in obesity and diseases of lifestyle has led to a consciousness shift towards health and wellness, which has forced many fast food chains to at least offer some healthy alternatives. So there is some opportunity to make healthier food choices. It’s important to realise too that junk foods do not on their own cause obesity and disease- but they are certainly part of the equation. If you’re going to eat junk-food, do so in moderation but don’t follow a “junk-food lifestyle”. Small indulgences here and there are unlikely to jeopardise your health to any great degree, especially if you indulge within the context of a healthy balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

We examined nutritional data from 3 major fast food chains (Mc Donalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Nando’s) and 1 health food chain (Kauai Juice) and came up with a comparative look at what’s on offer and weighed them up in terms of health. The choice is yours.

Putting it into perspective

The daily kilojoule requirements for weight maintenance for a 56kg moderately active woman would work out to about 8500 kilojoules

For health, fat intake should be kept at below 30% of total kilojoule intake, so that’s a maximum of 67g fat per day. Saturated fat intake should be kept as low as possible and should not exceed one-third of the total daily fat intake.

Cholesterol is an independent risk factor for heart disease. It is recommended that for good health dietary cholesterol intake should be less than 300 milligrams/day. If you have heart disease, limit your daily intake to less than 200 milligrams.

High sodium intake is a major risk factor for hypertension (high blood pressure). The Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Intake (ESADDI) for sodium is approximately 1,100-3,300 mg per day.

THE MAIN THING

Hamburgers

It’s the quintessential take-out food and the hamburger has stood the test of time. If you must indulge, here’s a comparative look atsome of your favourite burgers:

The Big Mac from Mc Donalds comes in first place for the highest kilojoule content of the traditional beef burgers, at 2340kilojoules and 25g fat (9g of which is saturated. The Quarter Pounder with cheese will give you 2187 kilojoules and 29g fat (13 saturated). Minus the cheese and you’ll save yourself 425 kilojoules and 9g fat. The Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder pack up to 113mg cholesterol and 1000mg sodium.

Perhaps the most fat dense of them all is the KFC burger. A traditional Zinger packs 2200 kilojoules and 32g fat (7g saturated). Because it’s a chicken burger, the Zinger has less saturated fat than beef burgers, but it’s deep fried, so it’s full of damaged oils. It will also give you 85mg cholesterol and 830mg sodium per burger.

The grilled chicken burger at Mc Donalds is not much lower in kilojoules or fat compared to beef burgers (1936kj and 25g fat), but only 4.5g of the fat is the harmful saturated type and its also lower in cholesterol. So it’s not too good for the waistline but it is a heart-healthier choice than the beef burgers.

In comparison, a Nando’s chicken burger will give you 1804 kilojoules and only 7.7g fat (1.9g saturated). It contains 69mg cholesterol and 711mg sodium.

A typical burger is not a significant source of vitamins and minerals and are generally low in fiber (less than 3g per serving).

To lower the kilojoule and fat content of your burger favour grilled chicken over fried chicken or beef and order it minus the mayonnaise, butter or margarine.

Chicken

When it comes to chicken, there are basically 2 options- fried or grilled.

Just one Kentucky Fried Chicken breast will cost you 1596 kilojoules, 19g of fat and 1150mg sodium. For the same kilojoule content you can get a quarter grilled chicken at Nando’s and take in only 15g fat and 420mg sodium.

Chicken nuggets are battered and fried and probably one of the fattiest things you could eat. Nine pieces of McNuggets is worth 1680 kilojoules and 27g fat. The same goes for KFC’s Popcorn Chicken.

Chicken that’s cooked on a rotisserie (like Fontana’s) allows the fat to drain off, so it’s a leaner option. It’s still cooked with the skin on- so to be extra diligent about fat content, you’ll need to remove the skin before indulging. Nando’s chickens are flame-grilled, which also allows for some excess fat drainage. No butter or shortening is used on the grills. Skinless alternatives at grilled chicken outlets include chicken breasts, chicken strips or chicken shwarma meat.

Sandwiches and wraps

The Mc Donalds Chicken Foldover contains 2450 kilojoules and 36g fat, so it’s not really a healthier option to the traditional burger.

The Nando’s Chicken Wrap without mayonnaise will give you 2310 kilojoules and 13g of fat, while their Chicken in Pita is only 1770 kilojoules and 7g of fat, if ordered without mayonnaise.

Kauai Juice has a vast range of nutritious hot and cold sandwiches and wraps on offer. They’re not low kilojoule or low fat options as most are over 2000 kilojoules and 20g fat per sandwich. They do, however contain less saturated fat and arerich in healthy unsaturated fats. They come with the added bonus of being packed with 7-14g of fiber per sandwich.

Pizza

Sometimes perceived as a healthier option, a typical medium-sized cheese pizza 2500 kilojoules, 27g fat, 35mg cholesterol and 1200mg sodium, and that’s before you’ve ordered any toppings.

Order small pizza’s and couple with salad to lower the kilojoule content. Pizzas can also be ordered without cheese or with less cheese. You could also try lower fat cheese options like feta or ricotta. Avoid fatty toppings like mince meat, salami and bacon. Rather go for grilled chicken and top with lots of veggies. Make pizza less starchy by ordering thin based.

Salads

Why not ditch the heavy stuff and go for a salad as a meal instead? Kauai Juice offers a great range of salads that will give you loads of nutrients and fibre and contain a little over 1000 kilojoules and less. The fat content will vary depending on the type of salad and whether you add a dressing.

A Nando’s chicken salad is also a good choice at 1300 kilojoules and less than 8g fat for a large portion, when ordered without dressing. Beware of adding dressings too liberally. Just four teaspoons of oil-based dressing can bump up your intake by 1200 kilojoules and 30g fat.

ON THE SIDE

French fries

Almost everyone loves them, and for some a take-out meal isn’t complete without them. But truth be told, they are amongst the most fattening and unhealthy foods around. The kilojoule and fat content of different chips is pretty standard across the board. The smaller the fry, the higher the fat content, because there is an increased surface area for oil absorption. Most fast-food joints use partially hydrogenated vegetables oil that is cholesterol-free but contains harmful trans fatty acids. Vegetable oil is rich in healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids but when the oil is heated (and re-used over and over again) it becomes rancid.

A portion of chips will cost you anywhere between 650 and 1900kilojoules and 7-18g fat, depending on the size of your order.

Coleslaw and potato salad

They may seem like better options, but a regular 130g portion of coleslaw or potato salad from KFC packs 798 kilojoules and 10g fat. It’s the hefty dose of mayonnaise that does it. Nando’s has recently lowered the fat content of their mayonnaise from 37% to 11% fat. The same amount of coleslaw at Nando’s is slightly lighter at 722 kilojoules and 8g fat.

Rice

If rice is on offer as a side dish, it’s a much wiser option. A regular portion at Nando’s contains 980 kilojoules but only 2.6g fat.

Salad

If you’re looking for a starch-free lower kilojoule and fat option, salad should be your first side dish choice. A regular side serving with cheese contains only 353 kilojoules and 2.6g fat. A green salad without the cheese would be fat-free. Use salad dressings sparingly.

AND TO DRINK

Fizzy drinks

Fizzy cold-drinks are not your healthiest choice. High in sugar and caffeine and low in nutrients, they have absolutely no health benefits. An extra large Coke contains about 1300 kilojoules. “Diet” or “Light” varieties may be a better option if you’re counting kilojoules, but the safety of taking in large amounts of artificial sweeteners is questionable.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice is packed with vitamins, so it’s a more nutritious choice. However, because fruit juice is very concentrated, it’s high in natural sugars and is not ideal for slimming. In addition, many fast food chains don’t offer fresh juice- it’s usually loaded with added sugars and preservatives. Kauai juice offers a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable juices as well as fresh fruit smoothies that make an excellent choice as a compliment to a meal or as a breakfast or snack.

Water

Without a doubt, water is your best choice to compliment your take out meal. It’s pure natural refreshment and will also help counteract the high sodium content of your meal.  Pure, un-carbonated, unflavored water is best.


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