Nutritional Value of Fast Food

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The National Restaurant Association reports that the average American family buys four meals each week at a restaurant. They estimate that 30 percent of all the children in the nation eat a meal at a fast food restaurant every day. This statistic, combined with the growing number of obese children, makes it very important to know the nutritional value of fast food.

Considerations

  • There are various ways to measure nutritional value. Total calories is one; girls and women need to consume an average of 2,200 calories every day, while boys and men need an average of 2,800 calories. One Big Mac sandwich from a McDonald's fast food restaurant has 590 calories. When this is added to another 230 calories for a small order of fries and 150 more for a 12-oz. soda, the meal contains a total of 970 calories.

Fat

  • One of the most problematic nutritional aspect of fast food is the large number of calories that come from fat. Women should eat no more than 25 g of fat per 1,000 calories and men should eat between 20 and 35 g of fat per 1,000 calories. In the fast food meal described above, there are 45 g of fat; 14 of these are from saturated fat, which is more than the 10 percent that the government's Food and Nutrition Information Center has established as the maximum.

Sodium

  • Another problem with eating a lot of fast food is the amount of sodium it contains. The meal describe here contains a total of 1,830 mg of sodium. While this is less than the recommended daily allowance of 2,400 mg set by the United States government, it is more than the recommended daily allowance of 1,600 mg set by the British government (see Resources below).

Size

  • The total number of carbohydrates in this sample meal is 120 g; the recommended daily allowance of carbohydrates for women is 130 g. The meal also contains 27 g of protein; women need 46 g and men need 56 g of protein every day.

Prevention/Solution

  • While here we used a Big Mac, French fries and a soda to illustrate how to consider the nutritional value of fast food, you can find the nutritional value of any fast food menu item by going to FastFood.com. After you click on the name of a fast food restaurant, its entire menu will display. Each menu item is described by the total number of calories, the calories from fat as well as the total grams of fat and saturated fat. It also lists the cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate and protein count (see Resources below). This should help you decide in advance what to order, a strategy that helps when you value healthy nutrition and also have to eat at a fast food restaurant out of necessity.

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