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ARTICLE Fast food: The hidden cost of speed-eating

Fast food: The hidden cost of speed-eating

With back-to-back meetings and hectic family schedules, it's no wonder our food has gotten on the fast track, too. Fast food lives up to its name, giving us quick meals on the go. It can also be affordable and, let's be honest, tasty.

But, these inexpensive meals often come with a hidden cost. They can raise your risk of serious health conditions that are also expensive to treat.

Supersized risks

You don't have to look hard to find a culprit in fast food: too many calories. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, portions sizes in restaurant meals have doubled over the past 20 years.

These huge meals now seem normal. Besides an overload of calories, some fast food also delivers more of these unhealthy ingredients:

  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Excess sodium

These all add up to extra pounds, health risks and health-related expenses. For example, being overweight or obese makes you more likely to develop serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. This hits close to home for African Americans, who have an increased risk of both diseases.

Invest in your health

You don't have to close the door on all fast foods to avoid their downside. Instead, follow these tips from the American Dietetic Association and other experts:

  • Check out the calories of meals you're ordering rather than gauging by labels such as small, medium and large.
  • Look for nutrition information on the menu to help you make the most healthful choice.
  • Don't supersize anything. If you do, share half with a friend. Even a regular portion can often be shared – which is easier on your wallet, too.
  • If you order chicken, get it broiled or grilled.
  • Replace a beef burger with a veggie burger smothered in mushrooms and onions.
  • Add a salad and low-fat dressing.
  • Drink water instead of a sugary drink.
  • Ask for condiments on the side so you can control the amount.
  • Expand your food horizon. Wraps and Asian soups can be good alternatives to fried foods.
  • Be picky about pizza. Choose veggie toppings, and go light on cheese.

Get the inside story

You can get a head start on a healthy meal by checking out the food ahead of time. Some restaurants post their menus online. That way, you can consider your order before you arrive. Look for nutrition information on the menu to help make your choice.

If you choose fast food with care, you can make healthy, convenient choices that are budget-friendly, without the hidden costs.

The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for your doctor's care. Please discuss with your doctor how the information provided is right for you.