Fast Food 411

All salads are not created equal. Salads loaded with dressing, bacon bits, croutons, cheese, and crispy noodles may deliver close to a day's worth of saturated fat, sodium and calories — the nutritional equivalent of eating a cheeseburger. Practice "damage control" when ordering salads. You can't go wrong with a fast-food salad comprised mainly of fresh vegetables (skip any vegetable that is fried, marinated in oil or drowned in mayonnaise). Ask for dressing on the side and use the fork method for calorie control. (Dip your fork in the dressing and then into your salad). Skip the cheese and croutons. Many fast food restaurants offer nutritious salad toppings, such as nuts, which deliver fiber, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and a satisfying crunch!

Skip high calorie beverages. Soft drinks, sweetened iced tea, and fruit punch are nothing more than "sugar calories." Calories from beverages don't register the same feeling of satiety as the calories from food — that means drinking a jumbo soft drink does not make you eat less. If you consume an extra can of soda every day for a year beyond your calorie needs, you can gain up to 15 pounds!

If you are attracted to vitamin water as a nutritious choice, think again. An average bottle of vitamin water contains over 100 calories, and is loaded with sugar for flavoring. It's not a calorie-saving or cost-saving substitution. You are much better off drinking regular water which has zero calories and downing a multivitamin like Centrum instead. You'll stay hydrated, and get the nutritional boost you're looking for without the added calories.

Order sandwiches your way. Sandwiches offer a perfect solution for a compact, convenient and inexpensive meal. Don't be fooled by nutritionally deceiving ingredients. Sandwiches that are stacked high with salty cured meat or slathered with cheese and mayonnaise will expand your waistline and clog your arteries. The good news is that sandwich shops such as Subway have revised their menu to offer low fat options featuring items prepared in light mayo and sandwiches featuring more vegetables. Look for "7 subs with 6 grams of fat or less."

Here's some quick sandwich tips:

• Your best bet for sandwich breads is sliced whole-grain varieties instead of heroes, rolls or bagels which weigh more and contain more calories. A slice of bread weighs about 1 ounce and is approximately 80 calories. A New York City bagel can weigh up to 5 ounces and provide up to 400 calories!

• Turkey, ham, and roast beef sandwiches are usually the least fatty, especially if you skip the cheese and select mustard over mayonnaise. If you opt for a sub, select the six-inch versus the foot-long size.

• Skip the side of chips if possible. If you are really craving a crunchy accompaniment, share a bag of baked chips or pretzels with a friend or enjoy a fresh fruit for a nutritious dessert.

Eat slowly. I know this may contradict the basic notion of fast food, but it's a good idea to designate even a little time to sit down and enjoy a meal rather than scarf it down in a hurry. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. If you are a "speed eater," you may consume more calories than your body actually needs for that meal. Instead, eat at a slower pace and allow your brain to clue you in when to put down the fork.

Keep checking iMag for more back to school tips!