Friday, May 08, 2009

The Lure of Easy

My car has learned how to steer itself to Burger King. Tonight, I was running some errands after work and wasn't in the mood to make dinner. The car magically turned toward the nearest heart-attack-inducing burger joint. I resisted, but the wheel turned ever so slightly that it won me over. As I neared the parking lot entrance, a final scream from the little angel on my shoulder warning me against the yummy fries caused me to firmly grasp the steering wheel and yank myself out of the wafting grease fumes.

I was hungry and lazy. I still am hungry and lazy. But the chicken is baking in the oven, and I'm going to cut it up and put it on a salad. My arteries are smiling. :)

A little thinking on the drive home had me musing. Is it the actual fast food that is bad for us, or is it simply the way the fast food gets prepared that makes it so bad? I decided to do a little digging. Using the coolest nutrition website I've encountered, I worked some figures. Mind you, I kept the recipe the same for each burger ('cuz that's all I eat there).

Home-cooked 1/4lb 90%-lean hamburger with 1 slice american cheese, ketchup, and bun:
359 Calories
16g Fat
85g Cholesterol
1764mg Sodium
28g Protein
24g Carbohydrates

Homemade french fries, baked (who really has a deep fryer at home anyway?):
134 Calories
6g Fat
0g Cholesterol
194mg Sodium
2g Protein
28g Carbohydrates

Burger King cheeseburger, ketchup only:
360 Calories
17g Fat
50mg Cholesterol
790g Sodium
19g Protein
31g Carbohydrates

Small fry:
245 Calories
13g Fat
0 Cholesterol
337mg Sodium
3g Protein
31g Carbohydrates

McDonald's cheeseburger, ketchup only:
330 Calories
14g Fat
45mg Cholesterol
800mg Sodium
15g Protein
35g Carbohydrates

Small fry:
224 Calories
11g Fat
0g Cholesterol
161mg Sodium
3g Protein
28g Carbohydrates

As you can see, the best choice for fries is the ones made at home and baked. The fat content and total Calories makes the home-baked option a no-brainer. Given the option, though, it appears that McDonald's fries are a better choice compared to Burger King's.

The homemade hamburger was fairly similar to the fast food burgers, but the protein content was dramatically higher while the overall carbohydrate content was much lower. That's good: healthy protein is great for the muscles and brain, and the leaner meat means less risk of heart disease (but who are we kidding, it's a burger). The homemade burger seems to have much more sodium, but I'd attribute it to the cheese. If you substituted a favorite gourmet cheese, a low-sodium cheese, or left that off entirely, the sodium content could drop considerably. I should also mention that it's totally okay to doctor up a homemade burger with tons of veggies! That increases nutritional content without tossing on carbs, fat, or even more calories.

Most nutritionists agree that eating fast food like that listed here isn't a good idea. However, a broiled burger and a small fry order with water or a diet beverage won't kill you. Burgerville, a chain of burger joints in the Pacific Northwest offers locally-grown options. I'm promoting the homemade route, but I'm the kind of person that likes to know where her beef comes from.

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