Fast Food Facts

From the office of the Minnesota Attorney General

Did you know there are more than 300,000 fast food restaurants in the U.S. Why is fast food so popular? Because it is convienent, predictable, and fast. Fast food has become a part of the busy American lifestyle. But, nutrition experts point out, fast food is often high in calories, sodium, fat and cholesterol. This does not mean fast food is bad. But it does mean you should fit fast food into a balanced, healthy diet.

To help you make fast food choices and be an informed consumer, the Minnesota Attorney General's Office has developed the guide Fast Food Facts, which the Food Finder is derived from. Included are the calorie, fat, sodium and cholesterol counts of menu items from popular fast food restaurants, based on the companies' own nutritional analyses. Below are some basic facts to help you make nutritional comparisons with this guide.


Calories

On the average, to maintain desirable weight, men need about 2,700 calories per day and women need about 2,000 calories per day. It is not well understood why some people can eat much more than others and still maintain a desirable weight. However, one thing is certain -- to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you burn. This means that you must either choose foods with fewer calories, or you must increase your physical activity, preferably both.


Fat

Research shows that eating too many high-fat foods contributes to high blood cholesterol levels. This can cause hardening of the arteries, coronary heart disease and stroke. High-fat diets may also contribute to a greater risk for some types of cancer, particularly cancers of the breast and colon.

While most Americans get more than 40 percent of their daily calories from fat, the American Heart Association recommends limiting fat to less than 30 percent of daily calories. This means limiting the fast you consume to 50-80 grams per day


Percent of Calories from Fat

The category in this guide "% of Calories from Fat" is calculated by multiplying the grams of fat by nine (there are nine calories per gram of fat), then dividing the calories of fat by the total number of calories in the food


Cholesterol

The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. But don't just look at the cholesterol contained in a food item. A product high in total fat or saturated fat can be an even bigger contributor to high blood cholesterol levels. For example, "cholesterol free" potato chips may be high in fat and may contribute to raising your cholesterol level, because high-fat foods cause the formation of cholesterol in the body, even if the food itself contains no cholesterol.


Salt

Everyone needs some sodium in the diet to replace routine losses. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences/ National Research Council has estimated that an "adequate and safe" intake of sodium for healthy adults is 1,100 to 3,300 milligrams a day, the equivalent of approximately 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Americans, on average, consume at least twice that amount -- 2,300 to 6,900 milligrams of sodium daily, according to estimates by the Food and Nutrition Board. For some people, consuming high amounts of sodium can cause high blood pressure.


Fast Food Meals

Fast food meals can be high in calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol. See how easily these red-flag items can add up:

1. Burger
Quater-Pound Cheesburger, Large Fries, 16 oz. soda (McDonald's)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
1,166 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
51 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
95 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
1,450 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


2. Pizza
4 slices Sausage and Mushroom Pizza, 16 oz. soda (Domino's)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
1,000 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
28 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
62 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
2,302 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


3. Chicken
2 pieces Fried Chicken (Breast and Wing), Buttermilk Biscuit, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Corn-on-the-Cob, 16 oz. soda (KFC)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
1,232 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
57 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
157 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
2,276 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


4. Taco
Taco Salad, 16 oz. soda (Taco Bell)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
1,057 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
55 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
80 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
1,620 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


Better Fast Food Choices

This brochure is not meant to scare you away from fast food entirely. Rather, it is intended to provide you with information to help you make better fast food choices.

Realize that it is still possible to eat fast food occasionally and follow a sensible diet. See how these meals stack up against the previous examples:

1. Burger
Hamburger, Small Fries, 16 oz. soda (McDonald's)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
481 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
19 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
30 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
665 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


2. Pizza
3 slices Cheese Pizza, 16 oz. diet soda (Domino's)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
516 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
15 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
29 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
1,470 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


3. Chicken
1 piece Fried Chicken (Wing), Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Cole Slaw, 16 oz. diet soda (KFC)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
373 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
19 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
46 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
943 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg


4. Taco
Three Light Tacos, 16 oz. diet soda (Taco Bell)
This meal: Recommended daily intake:
420 calories 2,000-2,700 calories
15 g fatNo more than 50-80 g
60 mg cholesterol No more than 300 mg
840 mg sodium No more than 1,100-3,300 mg

Fast Food Surprises

Fast-food chains have noticed that consumers are more health-conscious, and as a result many chains are adding healthier choices to their menus. Here are examples of some of these better alternatives:

Arby's Light Roast Chicken Sandwich:
276 calories
7 gr fat
23% calories from fat
33 mg cholesterol
777 mg sodium

Burger King's Chunky Chicken Salad
142 calories
4 g fat
25% calories from fat
49 mg cholesterol
443 mg sodium

McDonald's Vanilla Shake
310 calories
5 g fat
15% calories from fat
25 mg cholesterol
170 mg sodium

Wendy's Chili
210 calories
7 g fat
30% calories from fat
30 mg cholesterol
800 mg sodium

Return to the interactive Fast Food Finder.


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