Healthy Tips: Eating Fast Food on a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet

Pita Pocket with Grilled Chicken

Even though you prepare most of your heart-healthy meals at home, you may find yourself in a situation sometimes where you either leave your lunch at home, or just want to snag a quick bite to eat. Fast food restaurants are usually the quickest way to grab your meal and go. Unfortunately, they can also add unwanted calories, sugar, and fat to your diet. If you’re watching your lipids and find yourself in a situation where you need to either eat or starve, try these tips to avoid adding unhealthy foods to your meal that could eventually increase your cholesterol and triglyceride levels:

Avoid fried foods.

When you usually think of fast food, you may envision greasy hamburgers and French fries. These foods are mostly cooked in fat, which can introduce extra saturated fat, trans fat and calories into your diet. If possible, these menu items should be avoided if you are following a cholesterol-lowering diet.

Additionally, other food items that may be deep-fried and should be avoided, including:

  • Fish
  • Hush puppies
  • Onion rings
  • Chicken pieces
  • Potatoes

Some fast food restaurants may have foods that have been baked or roasted - instead of deep-fried. So, it is always good to ask if these options exist. Additionally, if the fried fish or chicken  is the only option you have, you can carefully remove the fried batter before consuming. 

Select sandwiches or wraps.

Some fast food restaurants have adopted a healthier approach to dining, so if you’re looking for more cholesterol-friendly menu options, you have a wider selection at some fast food establishments.

For instance, instead of burgers and fried chicken, you can select foods such as grilled chicken, fresh sandwiches, low-fat wraps, or healthy ingredients stuffed into a pita pocket. However, you should be careful about the ingredients placed on these food items as well, since they can also be high in calories.

If possible, choose whole grain varieties of breads and wraps, which contain more fiber than their more refined counterparts. Lean meats and vegetables are also possible additions to your sandwich or wrap that can provide added flavor.

Ask for sauces and toppings on the side.

Although some toppings, like mustard or vinegar, are very low in calories, fat, and sugar, other toppings - such as cheesy sauces, ketchup, sugary dressings, or mayonnaise - can also contribute more calories to your diet. Many fast food restaurants may automatically add these sauces and dressings to your food in order to save time. Unfortunately, these unhealthy toppings are usually added in excess. To avoid this from happening, you can request that these toppings be placed on the side.

Select salads cautiously.

Salads can be an excellent, filling choice if you are following a lipid-lowering diet. Unfortunately, the types of ingredients that you put in your salad can either make it a healthy dish – or a cholesterol-raising disaster.

Some fast food restaurants have a salad bar that allows you to select your salad ingredients. In other cases, your only choice may be to select a salad that has already been prepared and packaged.

If you are faced with the latter scenario, you should select salads that contain plenty of veggies, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. Try to avoid, or carefully remove, any toppings such as ham, shredded full-fat cheese, or bacon -- all of which can add saturated fat to your meal. Another way to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your salad is to add your salad dressing in a separate cup and lightly dip each bite into the dressing, rather than drenching your salad with it. With salad dressings, you should also check your carbohydrate content, since many of these toppings may be high in sugar.

When in doubt, always check the nutritional labels.

Many fast food restaurants have a listing of each food item along with its nutritional value, including calorie, carbohydrate, sodium, and fat content. These menus can be found onsite at the restaurant (either displayed on the wall or behind the counter) or on their website.

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