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Research confirms that fast food is still bad for you

Category: Heart Health and Cholesterol

Research confirms that fast food is still bad for you

For years, fast food was known as the worst type of food a person could consume, since it is so packed with fat and sugar. In recent years, there has been an effort within the fast food industry to offer healthier options on their menus. However, this doesn't mean that people who eat these foods regularly aren't in need of blood tests to check their cholesterol levels. According to recent research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Eating Research program, fast food menus are only slightly healthier than they were years ago, and much improvement is still needed.

The report also discovered that more than 25 percent of American adults eat fast food two or more times a week. Clearly, it's important for people to know what they are putting into their bodies when they consume these potentially unhealthy foods.

Improvements are slow and small
Researchers from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. set out to examine nutritional trends at eight of the major fast food restaurants in the U.S. They used data from 1997 to 2010 to come to their conclusions. While looking at the data, the scientists used the Healthy Eating Index to determine the quality of the food. This index was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for determining how healthy a food is.

The researchers discovered that over the 14-year period, the HEI scores of the restaurants improved, but only slightly. This is not enough, especially considering that many fast food places have been advertising much "healthier" options for years now, so people may be under the impression that they are eating food with higher nutritional quality when they are not.

"Given the role of fast food in Americans' diets, restaurants are in a unique position to help improve the diet quality in the U.S. by improving the nutritional quality of menu offerings," said researcher Mary Hearst, Ph.D. "Modest improvements in average nutritional quality of menu offerings across eight-fast-food restaurant chains were observed, which is consistent with both legislative efforts (e.g., banning trans fat) and the industry's own statements about creating healthier menu options. However, considering that fast food is ubiquitous in the U.S. diet, there is much room for improvement."

What are healthier options?
There are ways to consume fast food without having it completely ruin a diet, people just have to be smart about it. For example, the Cleveland Clinic recommends that when ordering a hamburger from a fast food place, people should choose a single patty rather than a double, refrain from ordering cheese or bacon on their hamburger and choose from the children's menu if possible. Individuals who prefer fast food chicken over hamburgers should make sure the chicken is baked, broiled or grilled, rather than fried. They should also skip cheese, mayonnaise or special sauces.

What about people who love Mexican food? The Cleveland Clinic recommends that these individuals skip tortillas or taco shells whenever possible and opt for burrito bowls instead. Also, people should try to get as much salsa and veggies as possible, so that there will be less meat and rice and therefore less calories.

Finally, people shouldn't forget that sandwich shops, while usually a healthier option, still contain items that are high in fat and calories. When ordering from these places, people should be sure to get plenty of vegetables on their sandwich, skip the mayonnaise and other high-fat dressings and go for lean meats like turkey and grilled chicken rather than meatballs.

Following these simple guidelines can help people stay fit while getting food from any establishment.

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