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Fast Food Facts

For lots of us, the holiday-shopping routine includes grabbing a quick bite in the mall's food court.

But as today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column notes, fast food is not necessarily your friend, particularly when you're trying to avoid gaining weight during the holidays. (Check the column for experts' tips for navigating the food court.)

There's no denying the allure of fast food. A study in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that, of 605 people who said they eat at fast-food places at least once a week, 92 percent said "quickness" was the main reason for their choosing that dining option. Eighty percent (respondents were asked to choose all answers that applied, so these numbers add up to more than 100 percent) said they ate in fast-food places because they were easy to find; and 69 percent said they did so because the food tastes good. Nearly 64 percent reported choosing fast food because it was inexpensive, while only 21 percent said they sought fast-food places because they offer nutritious food options.

As the study, led by Sarah Rydell of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, concludes, shifting consumers from fast food to more consistently healthful eating-out options means making good-for-you places as ubiquitous, quick and tasty as, say, McDonald's.

That's not likely to happen unless we consumers demand that it does -- and then patronize those places the way we do Mickey Ds.

If you need added incentive to steer clear of some of the worst fast foods, have a look at this report from the nonprofit Cancer Project organization. That group (an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates a vegetarian diet) analyzed "Value Menu" fast-food offerings according to the cancer risk they pose: Char-grilled meats scored low, for instance, as the charred bits are believed to be carcinogenic. The worst offender: Jack in the Box's Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, which costs but a dollar but includes 23 grams of fat, 860 milligrams of sodium, and bacon. The report notes that "processed" meats such as bacon are associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer.

All in all, the report finds that the cheapest menu items at five leading fast-food chains (including Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King) tended to be full of fat, sodium, calories, and cholesterol, which contribute not only to cancer risk but also to heart disease and diabetes. Better to buy a bean burrito, the report suggests.

Does knowing this kind of information help steer you toward eating more healthfully? Or is it hard to put knowledge into practice when it comes to making food choices?

Answer to last week's Holiday Challenge Quiz:

A whopping 64 percent of you rightly said that the macadamia nut had more fat than the walnut or pecan. But only 10 percent guessed the pecan, which has almost as much fat as the macadamia. According to, an ounce of macadamia nuts has 21 grams of fat, while an ounce of pecans has 20 grams. Walnuts weigh in at 18 fat grams per ounce.

Take This Week's Holiday Challenge Quiz:

The answer will appear in next Tuesday's The Checkup blog.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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Come on...Quoting PCRM? At least you mentioned they are a pro-vegan group. The PCRM Cancer project has been totally and completely debunked. Repeatedly.

Talk to me about nutrition, obesity and high blood pressure, but don't hit me with fake "I want to make you eat less meat" scares.

Posted by: byte1 | December 16, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Goodness -- The Cancer Project is "an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine" ... which IS AN AFFILIATE OF PETA.

Why even quote these crazies?

Next month they'll claim that mozzarella cheese gives you cancer of the big toe.

Posted by: Regular_Omnivore | December 16, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

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