Fast Food 'Healthy Options' Don't Mean Fewer Calories

We at Healthy Living have long known that the 'healthy' items on fast food menus can be anything but. And now, a new study has confirmed that observation: although menus grew between 1996 and 2010 to include 53 percent more items, the average number of calories in each item hasn't changed significantly.

The major growth area on menus during this 14-year period has been toward "healthy" salads, yogurt parfaits and other lighter-seeming fare. Unfortunately, these items aren't rendered less caloric merely by the addition of iceberg lettuce or apple slices.

"Entree salads, which are increasing in number, can be bad, too. With fried chicken on top and regular dressing, they can have more calories than a burger," lead researcher Katherine Bauer, an assistant professor in the department of public health at Temple University, told HealthDay.

As part of their study, which appeared in the latest issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Bauer and team analyzed the menus of eight national fast food restaurants -- McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, KFC, Arby's, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen -- using the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center Food and Nutrient Database. They found little difference in the average calorie value of entrees, which clocked in at an average 453 for things like salads and sandwiches. Side dishes like fries, soups and bread maintained an average 263 calories. The researchers did find a slight increase in the caloric values of drinks and condiments.

One limitation of the study: since 2010, the last year of study, many restaurants have made strides to reduce slash calories -- and to post calorie information in order to educate consumers. Though research has shown that posted calorie counts, which will soon be implemented in restaurants countrywide as part of federal health care legislation, does not affect the number of calories consumers buy.

Bottom line? Just because a menu item is labeled "healthy," doesn't make it so. And if you truly want to eat healthfully, you're better off eating at home.

Read on for some healthy-sounding Burger King menu items that are worse for you than their traditional fare:

Before You Go

Chicken Caesar or ... Chicken Tenders?

Which Fast Food Option Is Healthier?

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