A new study shows that people eating out at those fast food joints are porking down twice as many calories as they think they are. In some cases, one fast food lunch can exceed the guidelines for your whole day in calories, fat and sodium.
Still, fast food is a way of life for many of us on the go. We did a little research with some of the local restaurant chains to help you make the best choices from this world of get-it-to-go temptation. Some of the results will surprise you - what sounds healthy... sometimes isn't.
Before you enter the fast food fray, you need some basic training.
How much should you eat? Medical experts are now saying that a 180-pound adult should eat no more than about 2,160 calories a day. For a growing child, up to around 2,200 is okay. The average adult should consume 60 grams of fat or less, and an absolute max of 2,400 mg of sodium.
Your strategy? If anyone mentions the word "Supersize," turn and run. Watch the sauces that add hidden calories, especially salad dressings and mayo.
Sluuuuuurp: stop the pop?
Watch the habits - people order a large Coke with every meal because they are used to doing it. Here's a chiller for you - the biggest cups of pop in many restaurants will cost you 410 calories! If you do that three times a day, you just found over 1,200 calories to trim without even touching your grub.
Try a new habit - order a water or ice tea. Choose 1% milk or orange juice where it is available - those calories are nutritional "friends with benefits." If you must have pop, choose a diet brand (experts warn against drinking too many of these too), or choose a small regular, which checks in around 140 calories.
Above all, dodge those milkshakes.
A small vanilla fast food shake can pack up to 600 calories!
The worst of the worst
Unless you are trying to commit suicide, don't touch these.
The very worst offender I could find in Storm Lake was the Hardees Monster Thickburger - an incredible 1,417-calorie sandwich with 107 grams of fat and 2,650 mg of salt. Save time and just rip your arteries out by hand.
The Burger King Double Whopper with cheese weighs in at a bloated 1.060 calories, 69 grams of fat and 1,540 mg sodium.
Think all subs are slimming? Quiznos large Honey Bacon Club packs 1,011 calories.
McDonald's heftiest is almost sveldt in comparison - the Double Quarter Pounder with cheese has 770 calories, 47 grams of fat, 1,1440 mg sodium.
KFC's worst is the Zinger sandwich, 680 calories and 40 grams of fat.
Just about every fast food place is town has added healthier choices and smaller portions to their menus - but you have to pick them out.
Some general rules - grilled or broiled foods will usually serve you better than fat-fried and breaded models. Wheat buns are usually a better diet and nutrition choice. And skip those french fries - a big portion will hit you for 500 calories or more, even those new McDonalds reduced trans fat fries.
Look for the side salad, veggies or fruit where you can.
Fast-fooding Storm Lake: The Do's and the Don'ts
Here's a run-down of some of the most popular local chains.
* McDonalds - Don't: the Big Mac (600 calores). Do: Chicken McGrill (no mayo), 305 calories. Be wise - a plain small burger runs 260 calories, while four Crispy Chicken strips are a leaner 160. And feel no guilt for adding on the Fruit and Yogurt Parfait - this little beauty has under 160 calories, the vitamins of berries and fiber of granola, and just two grams fat.
* Burger King - Don't: Whopper with cheese value meal (1,800 calores - nearly a whole day's worth). Do: Grilled Chicken Whooper Jr., 350 calories. Your guilt-free pleasure here may be the fire-grilled chicken garden salad, just 280 calories and 7 grams fat if you go with the honey mustard dressing.
* Subway - Don't: Meatball Marinara with double meat 12" (over 1,500 calories!) Do: Honey Mustard Ham 6" (about 325 calories and 6 grams of fat). Don't think your eating healthy if you pile on the chips, cookies and pop. Instead, heap your hoagie with free and nutritious veggies, no such thing as too many. Turkey, roast beef, ham and chicken teriyaki are the lean choices, and go with oil and vinegar instead of mayo.
* Pizza Hut - Don't: Meat Lovers Stuffed Crust (900 calories in two slices, imagine if you ate the whole pie!) Do: Chicken and Veggie (a miserly 208 calories for two slices, and you will save 16 grams of fat per slice.) The trick here is to think thin crust instead of pan, and your love handles will thank you.
* KFC - Don't: Belly up to the fried food on the buffet line. Do: the Marinated Chicken Breast original (without skin, just 140 calories and 13 grams of fat). Watch the side dishes here - you would think that coleslaw or potato salad would be slimming, but a tiny cup is 190 calories, way more than a friend drumstick! Mashed potatoes with gravy is better at 120. Baked beans will hit you with 230 calories and macaroni and cheese 130 calories for a little dab - while a small ear of corn is a healthier 70-cal. choice, and green beans just 50.
* Taco Johns - Don't: Taco Salad (770 calories - don't let that word "salad" fool you.) Do: Chicken Softshell Taco (190 calories, 6 grams fat.). Watch those Potato Oles - the smallest order is over 360 calories and almost 23 grams of fat. Try the Mexican rice and save 120 cals.
* Quiznos - check this out... the regular Sierra Smoked Turkey is 350 calories, the Turkey Ranch and Swiss a weighty 944. A Honey Bourbon Chicken on wheat is a skinny 227 calories, a Honey Mustard Chicken of the same size, 747. Just goes to show - dressings matter. Check out the broccoli cheese soup, 147 calories.
Why should I care?
I don't have to tell you that eating too much fat-laden food leads to obesity - it can also greatly increase risk of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.
Every restaurant we looked at has some very decent choices, and some awfully terrible ones. The choice is up to you.
* Don't pick the largest serving size just because it's there.
* Mix in some grilled fish or chicken, and salads.
* Skip the dressings or choose low-fat ones.
* Avoid the fried potato or onion ring sides.
* Cut back on the sugary pop.
If you keep those things in mind, you can live the fast food lifestyle some of the time without having the fast food waistline to show for it.