When the students in Mrs. Blumer’s health class at La Costa Canyon High School in California were asked about junk food, reactions were mixed. “Eating junk food leaves me feeling sick and unsatisfied,” says Marty Megowan, age 16.
Tommy Silcocks, age 16, disagrees. “Of course you can live on junk food. I’ve been doing it my whole life!”
Hanni Stuckenschneider, 15, comments, “You can’t live off junk food. There is no protein, fruit, or veggies. It’s just junk!”
Miriam Raz, 16, from Israel, says, “At home we served fruit and vegetables with every meal. I was surprised when I came to America and saw a McDonald’s on every street corner!”
Fast food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of healthy eating.
Just what is meant by junk food and fast food? Fast food–such as hamburgers, fries, shakes, tacos, tostados, or fish ‘n’ chips–is high in fat, calories, salt, and cholesterol. The typical fast-food meal is low in calcium and other essential nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin A, iron, and zinc.
Junk food–such as pies, cakes, cookies, sodas, and candy–is mostly fat and sugar. These foods are high in “empty calories,” which means they don’t supply the right fuel and nutrients for a body to thrive.
Hillary Soule, 15, says, “There is a difference between fast foods and junk foods. Not all fast food is junk, because you can ask for salads or pasta or veggies, and burgers on whole-wheat buns. But junk food gives you no nutrients.”
Obviously, not all fast foods are junk foods.
Are Fast Foods Getting a Bad Rap?
Every second about 200 people in the United States order one or more hamburgers. Does this reliance on fast foods mean, more Americans will get cancer, become obese, or die of a heart attack sooner?
Many excellent organizations such as the American Heart Association, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Research Council teach us what constitutes a healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a wide variety of foods from the Food Guide Pyramid are foremost. Nutritionists recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat (no more than 30 percent of total calories), and keeping sodium to a minimum (less than 2,000 mg/day, or one teaspoon salt). Some burgers can contribute as much as 58 percent of the total calories and half of a day’s allowance of salt. The fat content of one fried chicken-patty sandwich is equal to about 1 1/2 pints of ice cream. A medium order of fries can supply up to 4 teaspoons of fat.
So do we stop eating fast foods? Let’s get real. With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, deadlines, and commitments, it seems fast foods–and junk foods–are here to stay.
If you plan ahead and give some thought to what you put into your body, it is possible to get a good meal at a fast-food restaurant. It’s also possible to achieve good nutrition in spite of a frenzied lifestyle. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods.
So how can you “have it your way”? Simply ask for what you want. To make a fast-food meal or vending machine snack more nutritious, here are a few tips:
* Hold the mayo. And while you’re at it, hold the tartar sauce and other salad dressings on sandwiches and salads. (You can save about 10 to 15 grams of fat, and about 125 calories.)
* Ask for a whole-grain bun instead of white bread. No savings in calories, but a big plus in nutrition.
* No cheese, please. One piece adds about 50 calories and 3 to 4 grams of fat.
* Skin the chicken. Yes, it’s embarrassing to be skinning the chicken at a meal when you’re trying to be cool with your friends, but skinning the chicken cuts about one-third of the calories and almost all the fat.
* Order a small, extra-lean hamburger instead of a large one.
* Baked potatoes have no fat (if you stay away from the sour cream, butter, and cheese), but fries do (about 4 teaspoons). Use fat-free salad dressing or yogurt on your baked potato, along with your favorite veggies.
* Try skim or low-fat milk instead of a soda or shake. Or low-fat frozen yogurt.
* Choose fruit juice or a vegetable from the menu, if available.
* The salad bar is a sure bet. Most salad bars now have low-calorie or fat-free dressings and a variety of veggies and fruit.
* Look for broiled rather than fried anything.
* Further reduce the number of calories by passing up the gravy, guacamole, sour cream, and dessert.
Vending machines sometimes have snacks that are low in fat. Look around. Good bets are fresh fruit or juice, raisins, dry cereal and low-fat milk, pretzels, popcorn without butter, and low-fat crackers.
Katrina Bond, 16, says, “I think it’s really important for teens to learn about what they’re eating and what it’s doing for their bodies.” According to a recent study, the trend today is: Junk food, meat, and fat are on the way out; fruits and vegetables are in. The study reports today’s teens actually care about nutrition. Teenagers are still scarfing down soft drinks, salty snacks, and sweets; but now they favor “healthy” versions such as “niche” soda brands that are less sweet than regular sodas. Carbonated drinks and fruit juices are gaining in popularity, too. Less salty and fatty pretzels and potato chips are in. And many fast-food chains have slimmed down their menus for the health-conscious consumer.
You don’t have to give up eating fast foods. Foods in the fast lane can still be nutritious. It only takes a little nutrition savvy and applying a few basics to get the most mileage for your money and body. Geny Erwin, 15, sums it up: “Kids don’t eat as bad as everybody thinks. We make responsible choices. Give us a little credit.”