Center for Young Women's Health

Fast Food Facts



  • Fast food is food from a take-out restaurant that is quick, convenient, and usually cheap.
  • Fast food is usually high in fat, calories, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Too much fast food can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity.

What is fast food and why is it so popular?

Fast food refers to food that can be prepared and served quickly. Fast food restaurants usually have a walk up counter and/or drive-thru window where you order and pick up your food without having to wait long. They're popular because they serve filling foods that taste good and don't cost a lot of money. However, the food is often made with cheaper ingredients such as high fat meat, refined grains, and added sugar and fats, instead of nutritious ingredients such as lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.


Is fast food bad?

There is no such thing as a "bad" food, but there are some foods you should try not to have on a regular basis. Because fast food is high in sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, it isn't something you should eat often. Eating too much over a long period of time can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. People also often drink soda when they eat fast food which adds "empty" calories (calories that do not make you feel full) to the meal. It's helpful to remember that with fast food, moderation is important.


Is some fast food healthier than others?

Many fast food chains are changing their menus so there are more healthy options to choose from. For example, some chains no longer serve foods with trans fat, and many have menu items that contain fruits and vegetables. If you're having fast food more than once a week, try to make healthier choices. Here are some tips:


Go light on the toppings


Added toppings usually mean more sodium or unhealthy fats. To lighten up your meal without taking away flavor:

Know how your food is made


The way a meal is made says a lot about how healthy it will be. In general, follow these rules:

Practice Portion Control


Meal portions today are almost twice the size that they were 30 years ago. Because of that, we end up eating much more food than we need. Try to follow these tips:

Make the Swap


Look for healthier side options for your meals:

Pick This, Not That

Here are a few specific tips to make healthier choices when ordering fast food:


Enjoy Your Meal


Sit down while you eat. Fast food is known as a meal on the go. Many people eat in their cars or while doing another activity. If you are distracted, you may not pay attention to how much food you are eating, and you may eat much more than you need. Sit down at the restaurant you visit and pay attention to your meal. If you can't sit, eat just a little and save the rest for later. That way you won't be starving once you have the chance to sit and finish your meal, and you'll be less likely to overeat.


Where can I find nutrition facts about fast food?

Soon you may be able to see the calorie content of foods posted on the menu. The FDA has proposed labeling requirements for all fast-food restaurants (some states have already passed laws like this). You can use these calorie amounts as a guide to see how much you're eating at a meal. Remember that just because something might be lower in calories than another item, that doesn't necessarily mean that it is "healthier." For example French fries might be lower in calories than a grilled chicken sandwich, but you'd be better off picking the sandwich because it is lower in fat and has more protein.


Most fast food and restaurant chains also offer free nutrition information online. Use a search engine to find the company's web page. There is usually a link to the nutrition section on the home page where you will find nutrition facts, including fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, calories, and more. Many of these menus are now interactive as well, so you can preview your plate and modify it to be more nutritious. Take a look at this information to help you make healthier choices when eating out. If you don't have time or access to a computer, many restaurants offer nutrition pamphlets in the restaurant or have a way of pointing out healthier options on their menus.


Remember: Balance fast food with nutritious foods throughout the day and make healthier choices whenever possible. There are many healthy food choices that are easily available, tasty, and don't cost very much that can be eaten on the go. If you like fast food, try to limit it to once a week and choose healthy options.


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 12/5/2013


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