You’re on the road, you’re eating with friends or you’re left with few options: sometimes you have no choice but to stop for fast food.
But depending on what you pick, you could be dining on a calorie bomb packed with your entire day’s calories.
“Fast food is high in calories, salt and fat, it’s universally something we know. But there are a few ways we can swap and strategize to help us eat healthier when we need to eat on the run,” Andrea D’Ambrosio, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, told Global News.
“Now, many chains have healthier offerings but many of these healthy-sounding dishes can be misleading. You have to look at your choices,” Jessica Tong, a registered dietitian with Medisys Corporate Health, said.
READ MORE: 5 healthy fast food swaps
Tong and D’Ambrosio go over simple swaps that shave hundreds of calories from your fast food meal.
Watch portion sizes
Do you really need a second or third burger patty or to supersize your fries and drink?
A double cheeseburger with all the fixings, fries and a soft drink clocks in at 1,570 calories, according to D’Ambrosio. But downsizing to a single patty, small fries and a soft drink reduces your meal to about 620 calories.
A double cheeseburger clocks in at 660 calories with 830 milligrams of sodium. Opt for a single patty cheeseburger and you shave off 360 calories.
Choose wisely when it comes to condiments
Some sauces and toppings are worse than others, adding hundreds of calories to your meal.
“Salad dressings, sauces, mayonnaise, gravy – these all add fat, salt and calories to your meal, especially if they’re thicker and creamier,” D’Ambrosio said.
Your best bet is to stick to condiments that are lower in fat, such as ketchup, mustard, relish and salsa.
If you’re grabbing a burger or sandwich, choose options that are roasted or grilled, instead of being coated in sauce.
Whenever possible, choose dressings on the side, too.
These simple tweaks to your meal could save upwards of 200 calories.
Tong said you won’t even notice that your burger is missing mayonnaise, for example. Omitting it saves about 80 calories, though.
Trim the fat
Load up on vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes and onions, but pass on extra cheese or bacon, Tong said.
“People think they need more protein than they actually do. If they’re ordering pizza with pepperoni and cheese on it, they don’t need meat lover’s,” she explained.
You typically don’t need more than 30 grams of protein per meal, D’Ambrosio said.
Try to forgo the bacon the next time you order a burger. You may not notice the difference but that move will save you at least 100 calories.
If you’re grabbing a rice bowl for lunch, for example, ask for half the rice and load up on vegetables instead, Tong said. That’ll also shave hundreds of calories off of your meal and fill your plate with more nutrition-packed greens.
“Instead of half of a sandwich, go for a vegetable soup or a side salad,” Tong said.
Watch the preparation
Is the protein in your sandwich a fried chicken cutlet or a grilled chicken breast? That choice alone is tied to a caloric difference of a couple hundred.
“Grilled or roasted proteins are better than fried options and deli meats,” Tong said.
A tuna sandwich that’s swimming in mayonnaise isn’t better than a filet of grilled fish, either. Pay attention to how your meal is being prepared.
Sip on water or unsweetened tea
A can of soda has about 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. Milkshakes are about 300 to 500 calories.
Skip the sugary drink and save yourself hundreds of calories, too.
“There are a lot more beverage choices that are high in calories and sugar or have other negative implications versus the better choices,” Tong said.
Try water, club soda, unsweetened iced tea or milk, she suggests.
“It’s better to eat our calories than drink them,” she said.