College students are constantly on the go. Whether you are hurrying to class, cramming for finals, or driving home for the weekend there is going to be a time when fast food is the easiest option. While you shouldn’t eat fast food on a daily basis, there are times when it is unavoidable. I’ve chosen some of the most popular fast food restaurants and compared the nutritional value of their burger, chicken nuggets, and french fries. The below chart is meant to help YOU decide which chain will have the better option. In addition, there are six hacks at the end of the post.
Before we get into the nutritional content of the food lets talk about Daily Values. Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your caloric need will vary based on age, gender, and level of physical activity but 2,000 is a great guideline (you can calculate your suggested needs here). Chronically exceeding these daily values could result in weight gain or negative health effects. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about diet and health concerns.
In the chart below, for easy reference I have focused on calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein. These components must always be listed on food labels.
From the chart above you can see that the better burger comes from McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A (I realize Chick-fil-A isn’t a burger but I wanted to include it because of the popularity), the better chicken nuggets are from Chick-fil-A, and the better fries are from McDonald’s. The worst options for burgers is Sonic, chicken nuggets are Sonic and Whataburger, and the worst fries are at Burger King and Wendy’s.
There are several hacks you can use to reduce calories, fat, and sodium when you order food.
- Order your burgers without condiments. Mayonnaise can add 18 grams of fat and 160 calories. Likewise, ketchup can add 4 grams sugar, 130mg of sodium and 20 calories.
- Cut the cheese! No really, cut out the cheese. By getting a hamburger instead of a cheese burger you can reduce your sodium intake. One slice of cheese can add 360mg of sodium and 80 calories.
- Ask for extra lettuce and tomatoes. The extra lettuce and tomatoes will ensure your meal is fresh and will add bulk to your burger. Lettuce is low calorie but, can be full of micronutrients.
- Take off the bun or hallow it out. If carbohydrates are of concern take off the bun or use lettuce in place of a traditional bun. (Do not forget carbohydrates are good for you. It is more important to have good carbohydrates than it is to reduce carbohydrate intake. The carbohydrate found in fast food are likely to be )
- Instead of French Fries get fruit. Many establishments will offer apple slices or fruit cups that can be substituted for fries.
- Try a kids meal or Jr. sized item instead. Sometime you just need a little snack instead of a full meal. You are less likely to over eat if the portion sizes are smaller.