Is Fast Food Getting Any Healthier?

Is Fast Food Getting Any Healthier?

Lauren Diffendarfer

by Lauren Diffendarfer

Medical Educator

posted on Mar 4, 2015, at 9:48 pm


IT’S QUICK, EASY, ACCESSIBLE, CHEAP AND TASTY. It’s the world of fast food, and Americans continue to consume the classic combo meals everyday. In today’s hurried society, often a trip to McDonald’s or Wendy’s are the only options during a 30-minute lunch break. While consuming a greasy burger every once in a while won’t kill you, eating abundant amounts of fast food has contributed to the rising obesity epidemic that Americans are currently facing.

image of burgers french fries other fast food itemsAccording to Rashad, the readiness and inexpensiveness of these fast food chains has caused Americans to consume more and has made them less active. The obesity epidemic has increased rapidly, especially during the 1980s, partially due to the expansion of fast food restaurant chains in America. Let’s face it – the majority of Americans are now overweight. So, is fast food getting any healthier?

According to the 2013 Fast Food Facts, children’s meals options have become increasingly healthful since 2010 with the additional options of nutritious sides and beverages. From 2010 to 2013, several restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell added about 70 more menu items to their menu. The ratio of generally healthy vs. unhealthy choices, however, remained around the same compared to the menus of previous years. Furthermore, dieticians found that less than half of the added menu items actually adhered to all nutrition criteria.

According to a study directed by the U.S Department of Agriculture Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, the average caloric, sodium and saturated fat content of 21 of the most popular fast food items remained the same over the past 17 years. On the other hand, levels of unhealthy trans-fats (from French fries specifically) decreased over the course of the study. Why?

Many of the fast food companies are choosing to fry their potatoes in cooking oils containing less saturated fat. Prior to McDonald’s switching their frying oil to pure vegetable oil in 1990, the infamous McDonald’s fries were deep-fried in 7 percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow, giving the fries their distinctive taste. In an effort to reduce the startling amounts of saturated fats, McDonald’s began frying their potatoes in pure vegetable oil in the 90’s, and adding the “natural flavor” of beef to the recipe (Schlosser, 120).

You can certainly still indulge in a side of fries every so often, but which options are the healthiest? According to WebMD, the French fries lowest in calories and fats were from Sonic and McDonalds, while the fries highest in calories were from Carl’s Jr. and Arby’s. Many restaurants offer nutrition menus in-store or online as well to track your caloric and fat intake.

While many fast food chains are beginning to feature more healthy options, researchers argue that the fast food industry can certainly do more to help the obesity epidemic in America by doing little things, such as decreasing portion size and reformulating their foods by incorporating more natural nutrients, which can be done in a variety of ways, such as using lean cuts of meat and cutting down the amount of added salt.

We want to know: What’s your favorite fast food healthier option?


Schlosser, Eric. Fast food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Rashad, Inas, Michael Grossman, and Shin-Yi Chou. The super size of America: an economic estimation of body mass index and obesity in adults. No. w11584. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005.

About Lauren

Lauren works as the Medical Educator for the Disque Foundation and has worked closely with us since 2014. She is a full-time student pursuing a BS in Biology at Indiana University as a recipient of the Chick Evans Caddy Scholarship and hopes to attend medical school to become a physician in the future. She is certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and she is also a certified Basic Life Support Instructor for the American Heart Association. She stays heavily involved with health care in and out of her local community, helping plan and coordinate Disque Foundation events, teaching lifesaving skills to the communities and organizations that we serve and volunteering at her hometown hospital in the Birthing Unit.

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