Do Vegans Eat Junk Food? Part 2: Fast Food

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There is an automatic assumption with veganism that because it is all plant-based foods, that means they are healthier. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Vegan diets have a lot of the same problems as the average American diet. These issues include difficulty finding a balance of all vital nutrients, consuming too many processed foods, and an overwhelming temptation for “junk foods.” This segment is in three parts: Accidentally vegan foods, vegan fast food, and the truth of vegan processed foods.

But there aren’t any vegan restaurants in my area

Despite the increasing evidence that fast food is not only unhealthy but addictive and unclean, we still crave it from time to time. Whenever the group of people we are with insist or on the road and drive-thrus are the only option. Is it possible stay animal-friendly when at a chain fast food restaurant?

More and more fast food restaurants are offering vegan options. With the increase of health-conscious people, many Americans are eating less meat and also looking for more plant-based options. There even phone apps, such as Vegan Xpress, that will help you find vegan options at national chains and fast-food restaurants. (http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/vegan-options-at-popular-fast-food-chains/) Here is a list of vegan options at you favorite fast food place.

Fast Food Facts for Frugal Families

It’s difficult to follow a healthy diet when eating regularly at fast food restaurants. Fast food restaurants typically use the cheapest ingredients possible in order to keep costs down. Foods that otherwise could be considered healthy may not be when ordered from a fast food chain.  At the same time, meals tends to be low in nutrients and almost totally lacking in fruits, vegetables, and fiber.

It’s fine to indulge a craving every once in a while, but to stay healthy it can’t be a regular habit. Consuming fast food regularly will almost certainly have a negative effect on health. The key is moderation. There are always choices to make that are healthier than others. The following tips and menu recommendations can help you to stay on track. However, even the healthiest fast food options often have nutritional drawbacks so try to keep fast food as the occasional treat.

  • Aim to keep your entire meal to 500 calories or less. The average adult eats 836 calories per fast food meal and underestimates what they ate by 175 calories. Most chains post nutritional info both on their websites and at the franchise location. Take advantage of this information.
  • Opt for foods that are lower in fat and higher in protein and fiber. Look for items with more good stuff, like fiber, whole grains, and high-quality protein. Also aim for options that are relatively low in saturated fats—while not all saturated fats are bad for you, most of those found in fast food restaurants are.
  • Steer clear of trans fats. Small amounts of naturally-occurring trans fats can be found in meat and dairy products but it’s the artificial trans fats used to keep food fresh that are dangerous to your health. Avoid anything containing “partially hydrogenated” oil—even if it claims to be trans fat-free—or any foods that have been deep fried. While no amount of artificial trans fat is considered safe, the USDA recommends at least limiting trans fat to no more than 2 grams per day.
  • Keep an eye on sodium intake. The American Heart Association recommends that adults stay under 1500 mg of sodium per day, and never take in more than 2,300 mg a day. That can be tough to do when eating fasting food.
  • Bring your own add-on items if you really want a health boost. Even when you order wisely, it can be pretty tough to get enough fiber and other important vitamins and nutrients from a fast food menu. If you plan ahead, you can bring healthy sides and toppings like dried fruit, nuts and seeds, carrot sticks, apple or pear slices, or your favorite vegan cheeses.
  • Beware of added sugar. One of the biggest problems with fast food is the amount of added sugar. Salad dressings, ketchup, dips, and BBQ sauces are also packed with added sugar. Your body gets all it needs from sugar naturally occurring in food so all this added sugar just means a lot of empty calories that can add inches to your waistline and contribute to diabetes, depression, and even an increase in suicidal behaviors.
  • Keep your eye on portion size. Many fast food meals deliver enough food for several meals in the guise of a single serving. Avoid supersized and value-sized items, and go for the smallestsize. You can also find more reasonable portions on the children’s menu.
  • Pay attention to the descriptions on the menu. Dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, or au gratin are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium.
  • Don’t be afraid to special order. Many menu items can be made healthier with a few tweaks and substitutions. For example, you can ask to hold the sauce or dressing or serve it on the side. Or you can request a wheat bun or whole-grain bread for your sandwich.
  • Don’t assume that healthy-sounding dishes are always your best option. For example, many fast food salads are a diet minefield, smothered in unhealthy dressing and fried toppings. This is where reading the nutrition facts before you order can make a huge difference.
  • Be careful when it comes to condiments and dressings. When choosing items, be aware of calorie- packed salad dressings, spreads, sauces, and sides. Mayonnaise- and oil-based sauces in particular add a lot of calories. Try holding the mayo and asking for mustard or a packet you can add yourself, controlling how much you put on your sandwich.
  • Be wise about sides. Watch menu items that come with one or more side dishes. Sides that can quickly send calories soaring include fries, chips, rice, noodles, onion rings, coleslaw, biscuits, and mashed potatoes. Better bets are side salads with light dressing, baked potato (easy on the toppings), fresh fruit cups, corn on the cob, or apple slices.

What does it all mean?

Just because you have decided to become vegan doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy fast food, but just because you can, you shouldn’t make that regular occurrence. Just like an omnivore diet, fast foods are hardly every nutritious and shouldn’t be a main source of fuel for your body. Nothing can beat a good quality home cooked meal using natural ingredients. Unfortunately, that can’t always be an option. So, make a conscious choice to be smart about it and do your research.

Here are some links to help you find your new favorite vegan fast food treat:

How to Order Vegan Pizza

Vegan Options at Well Known Fast Food Restaurants

Follow this link for more general nutrition information on everything fast food.

 

Sources

“Healthy Fast Food.” : Tips for Making Healthier Fast Food Choices. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.

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