While we may try to keep each meal balanced and our overall diet healthy, from time to time you may decide to eat out at a fast food restaurant. So that you can enjoy a cheat meal without worrying too much about how much of an effect it has on your diet, it can be useful to know a bit more about the nutritional content of the food on the menu.
Over recent years this has certainly been an area where many fast food chains have spent a lot of time making their menus as transparent as possible, and even providing apps to help calculate what’s in your meal while you are at the restaurant.
Although the nutritional content may never reach a stage where it’s ok to enjoy these meals on a daily basis, learning how to make the best nutritional decisions can reduce any impact on your diet and help act as an incentive to stick to your healthy meals the rest of the week.
Is fast food nutrition really becoming more transparent?
[one_half]While many fast food restaurants now provide information on the nutritional content of their food, there are some clear differences in how this information is being provided.
Despite the majority of restaurants we looked at providing a downloadable PDF of the information, this isn’t necessarily an effective way of quickly finding information if you are already at the restaurant and making your decision.
With standard menus that you find actually at the restaurant, it will obviously be difficult to provide a clear and attractive display of the choices available, while still providing all of the nutritional info for each item.[/one_half]
This is why a few places have actually designed meal planners on their website to calculate the nutritional content of the different meal combinations, which is a much more helpful way of helping to make an informed decision even if you are already at the restaurant.
Some go even further than this, developing free apps that can be downloaded to your smart phone to quickly find out how many calories, grams of protein, carbs etc. are in your meal.
To provide a clearer idea as to which fast food restaurants provide which of these services, we’ve put together a quick list of some of the most popular restaurants with links to their nutritional PDFs, calculators, and even apps where possible.
We couldn’t find a downloadable PDF of the menu options with their nutritional info or a downloadable app, but their website does feature a very useful nutritional calculator.
Each item on the menu (apart from the sharing platters) has an ‘i’ icon underneath, which when clicked displays all the nutritional information you need, from the amount of salt to the amount of protein.
The only improvement that we would like to see made is the addition of a ‘More details’ or similarly labelled link under the ‘Total Calories’ display in the ‘Calorie Counter’ section. This could expand when clicked to reveal the total nutritional content of the meal, and not just the calories that it displays at the moment.
Apart from this, the nutritional content for each item on the menu makes their online menu very useful for anyone that wanted to plan their meal before arriving, with an excellent level of detail that’s clear and easy to read.
Provider of possibly the best fast food nutrition calculator we came across is McDonald’s.
The features for summarizing the total nutritional content of a meal that we wanted to see in the Nandos nutritional calculator have been included here, with options for switching between different levels of information you want to know about items added to your meal.
As well as providing the detailed nutritional calculator on their main website, McDonald’s have also created an app which can be used to find nutritional information about each of the items on their menu.
Although you can’t put together an entire meal in the same way that you can using their website, this is much more useful if you are away from your computer and want to check the menu on your smartphone, even as you are waiting in line to buy your meal.
Although KFC does provide a very useful and ease to use nutritional calculator for the items on its menu, it doesn’t rank as highly as McDonald’s in our review simply because there isn’t the same information provided for the recommended daily allowances.
Equally as important as knowing the nutritional content of food is knowing how much protein, carbs, and fats you need each day, so that you know when you are exceeding your recommended daily limit.
Generally speaking we found that the pizza fast food chains provided much less than chains such as McDonald’s and KFC in the way of easy to use nutritional calculators, with Dominos being no exception.
Although nutritional information is easy to find on their website, this is only available in PDF form, displaying the information in one big table. While this still provides you with the information you need, it’s certainly not as intuitive as having an online meal planner or app to quickly calculate the nutritional content of your meal.
With pizzas usually being split into fairly even slices, and available in a range of sizes, this should actually be one of the easiest ways to keep track of the caloric intake of your meal. It would be nice to see some form of interactive meal calculator on the Dominos website or even as an app.
The Papa John’s website does much of what we wanted to see on the Dominos site, providing a clear and easy to understand table of nutritional information for each of the pizzas. This is even broken down into the different crust types, pizza sizes and serving sizes.
Although this is a useful site for finding the nutritional information for Papa John’s Pizzas in the USA and Canada, other sites (such as the UK) don’t have the same level of clarity to their menus. In this case the information is stored in downloadable PDFs in a similar way to Dominos.
Unfortunately Pizza Hut are another of the Pizza chains that doesn’t provide an online nutritional calculator for the different menu options, instead providing a number of download links to PDFs that contain simple tables on the information for each of their pizzas.
Although this does provide all of the information you might be interested in, it’s not in a way that most people would find enjoyable to use, and is particularly difficult to read when viewed on many mobile devices.
A much better option would be if there was some kind of calculator where you could build up your choice of meal in stages, from starter to dessert, then make any changes you wanted based on the overall nutritional content of the meal.
We found the nutritional information for items on the Burger King menu to be of a similar standard to the pizza choices such as Dominos and Pizza Hut, in that downloadable PDFs were the only option.
When you have as many menu options as Burger King does, displaying them in a PDF is a simple way to keep all the information in one place, but not an effective way for someone to quickly find out the nutritional content of an entire meal.
Having to scroll through the menu and manually add up all of the protein, calories, carbs etc. for the main, dessert, and drink is a fairly time consuming task that people just aren’t likely to do even once per week. A much better option would have been an online calculator where you can quickly build up your meal and make any changes based on the total nutritional levels.
Finding out the nutritional information for products sold at Subway is actually very simple thanks to the way the website has been designed. The colour of the background changes to a darker colour when you hover over any of the numbers in the nutritional information table, making it easier to compare the amount of calories, protein, fats etc. between products.
PDF downloads are also available for all items on the menu, detailing all the same information as is shown on the main website. Although they do have an app to download, this is more focussed around the Subway store finder and reward points system, rather than providing detailed information about the nutritional content of their menu items.
Is enough being done?
[one_half]With the majority of fast food restaurants now offering detailed nutritional information about the food they serve, this is certainly a step in the right direction towards healthier eating, but is it enough to make us change our choice of meal?
Portion sizes are another area that has received a lot of media attention over recent years, and in particular the ‘Supersize’ option at McDonald’s restaurants.
This was actually removed from their UK menus in 2001 due to the option no longer being popular, which can be seen as an improving trend towards people being more aware of the health implications of fast food.[/one_half]
It’s this controlling of portion sizes and ingredients that makes fast food restaurants such as Subway a more attractive option. You aren’t limited to a specific serving size or list of ingredients, being able to select the healthiest options over those which are not so healthy. This is where having a web site or app with the nutritional information of each product is so important.
If you don’t think enough is being done towards improving access to the nutritional content of fast food, we would love to hear from you in the comments. Who do you think is the best / worst and what do you think will happen in the future?