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HEALTH, NATURALLY: Fast food is not what it used to be

Research shows that calories in fast food meals have increased over the past three decades, mainly due to larger portions.
Research shows that calories in fast food meals have increased over the past three decades, mainly due to larger portions. - 123RF Stock Photo

Preparing meals at home is your best bet for ensuring a balanced, healthy and whole food diet. For many, fast food occasionally fills the role of a treat or a convenient meal when time is of the essence, however, the quality of this meal is slowly changing for the worse.

Although it is widely understood that fast food is less healthy than a home cooked meal, it might surprise you to learn that current fast food is also significantly less healthy than fast food of years gone by.

New research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics analyzed items available on fast food menus in the U.S. over the past 30 years, from 1986-2016. This analysis included the menus from the top 10 most popular fast food restaurants in the U.S.: Arby’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr, Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, Jack in the Box, KFC, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

While items offered at restaurants in USA and Canada may not be identical, there is likely a lot of similarity in the menus from the most popular fast food chains in the USA and Canada.

The results of the analysis showed that over the past 30 years fast food restaurants in the U.S. have begun offering items higher in calories and sodium. On average, desserts increased by 62 kcal per decade and entrees increased by 30 kcal per decade. This increase in calories is due largely to larger portion sizes.

“Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes, and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high,” said study author Dr. Megan A. McCrory, PhD, of Boston University.

Dr. McCrory also mentioned that it is good that chain restaurants display calorie counts on their menus but also that reducing prices for lower-calorie options would help people to make healthier choices.

“We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants. The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at a proportional prices,” she concluded.

A fast food meal of a burger, fries and sugar-sweetened drink can easily reach 1,000 kcal or more. This single meal provides roughly half of the calories required in a given day for a person eating a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Canadians should bear in mind that there is a gradual upwards creep of calories and sodium content of fast foods which do no favours to our waistlines and our health in general.

Do you have questions about making healthier food choices for weight loss and health? Ask your naturopathic doctor.

Dr. Colin MacLeod ND is a naturopathic doctor practicing full-time in Upper Tantallon at MacLeod Naturopathic. His practice focuses on pain management and maintaining health through physical activity and diet. Visit him online at

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