Fast-Food Fitness: Your food court favorites reviewed and rated

You know it’s bad for you but you do it anyway. You go back, again and again. It’s a reward, a comfort, a guilty pleasure. Fast, filling, and fattening, we’re sure not talking about fine dining. Between convenience and nutrition, the handy and cheap quickie usually wins. But you can make the best of a bad thing. Just for you, Men’s Health spreads out and super sizes, surveying Philippine fast food’s 10 most wanted. Like a punch to the gut, we’ll serve them to you straight.

A selection of value-menu hamburgers from Amer...

A selection of value-menu hamburgers from American fast food chains. Clockwise from left to right: McDonald’s McDouble, Burger King Buck Double, Sonic Drive-In Jr. Deluxe Burger, Wendy’s Double Stack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The usual and ubiquitous suspects of burgers, chicken and fries still won’t be mistaken for wholesome diet fare anytime soon. By and large, fast food meals are high in calories, fat, and sodium, and generally deficient in important vitamins and minerals. But with the rise in awareness regarding fitness and proper nutrition, many chains have started adding healthier menu options, trying to cash in on the boom spurred on by Men’s Health readers like you.

We have a long way to go on lean menus, though. In December 2005 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed 2005-2015 as “the decade of healthy lifestyle.” The result? A coalition of government and non-government agencies, professional and medical organizations, and affiliated academic groups with the Department of Health (DOH) known as the Philippine Coalition for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (PCPCNCD). The PCPCNCD has conducted meetings and dialogues with major fast food chains to encourage the inclusion of healthy alternatives to its traditional menu. Of its long list of partners, only Wenphil Corporation (Wendy’s) has agreed to sign a memorandum of agreement according to a report by Philippine Star online in April 25, 2005.

But there’s tangible headway. Six months after sealing that agreement, Wendy’s has added sugar-free iced tea and low-fat mayonnaise in their dishes. This year they are zeroing in on the promotion of salad menus as main dishes, and more significantly, the provision of nutrition information to you, the average consumer.

DOH research notes that five out of 10 Filipinos who eat out go to a fast food outlet. But in our experience, finding out the nutrition facts from these outlets is still not a straightforward process for Juan dela Cruz. Of the ten fast food restaurants surveyed, none had nutritional information available on site. Neither the counter crew nor the branch managers were informed about or willing to share nutrition facts about their food. Calling local corporate headquarters provoked similar guarded responses. In one case, I was shuffled from one department to another, only to be told in the end that the information could not be made readily available. In another, the nutrition data was said to be confidential. We had better luck going online. For example, McDonald’s Philippines actually has a link for nutritional information on their website (www.mcdo.com.ph). However, this link sends you to a page on their McDonald’s USA website with nutritional info for their American menu. We were also able to find nutritional facts for all the other US-based chains over the internet through their official sites or unaffiliated sites that systematically compile nutrition data provided by these American chains. However, depending on quality control and enforcement of standards, there may likely be some differences with regards to available menu items, portion sizes, and the type and quality of ingredients used from what is served locally and what you can find abroad, and also from branch to branch or from day to day. Thus, the nutrition values here should be interpreted as a rough guide to the estimated nutritional values for a particular food item and not be strictly relied upon as an ideal source of accurate nutritional data.

The Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer database (www.fatcalories.com ) tracks the nutritional data of the world’s most popular fast food restaurant chains. The information in the Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer database has been compiled from the data presented on the official website of each restaurant. We used the database to fill in the nutritional info for McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s

Dietfacts (www.dietfacts.com) started as a pet project by Kelly Stuart, the daughter of a diabetic who was frustrated with trying to locate foods that fit into his newly prescribed diet and not knowing the nutritional content of his favorite restaurant foods. She gathered data from food labels and nutrition guides and in April 2002, decided to turn this project into a website so that her dad and other diabetics could utilize the information she had collected. Dietfacts obtains information directly from product labels and nutritional guides provided by the companies of the respective products and USDA data. We used Dietfacts to fill in the nutritional info for Shakey’s and Kenny Rogers.

For Jollibee, Chowking, and Greenwich, we asked nutritionist Ma. Paz L. Sales R.N-D to do an approximated nutritional analyses of their featured menu items. The items were bought from their respective stores and their ingredients were carefully removed and separated then individually weighed. The amounts were not as accurate as they would have been if each ingredient had been weighed before the actual preparation and cooking. But given this limitation, the values were computed and rounded off to obtain for us consumers an approximate nutrient value of the products. The analysis focused more on calories and % fat calories and no elaboration was made on the other nutrients.

Ted Fajardo, PhD of the Bureau of Food and Drug (BFAD), a fanatical fitness buff with a busy schedule himself, admits to finding himself facing a fast food counter more often than he would like. “They’re an unavoidable choice to eat at because they’re quick and affordable,” he adds. “Besides, some of the food is actually very tasty and the quality is consistent.” But more importantly from a food hygiene standpoint, according to Dr. Fajardo, “you can be sure that they’re following certain standards of cleanliness and preparation as compared to a carinderia, turo-turo, or mobile vendor.”

He has come up with a shrewd trick to supplement his meals. He routinely brings a home-cooked viand to work or class, usually something high protein and low fat, like chicken adobo with no oil and salt. Whenever he has to have lunch or dinner with friends or colleagues at a fast food place, he orders a dish, such as rice or vegetables, to complement his ulam, and politely asks the crew to have the kitchen heat up his baon for him.

So what else is a working guy to do? It’s not impossible to eat well while in a rush and on a budget. Just stick to a few simple rules, and you can work out a battle plan to trim the worst out of those trips to the corner fast food counter, whatever poison they may be peddling.

Stay Small, Split and Share

Say it with us, portion control counts. Shun any serving described with the words large, extra, super, or double. Small and regular, or even kiddie sizes are what you want. A plain, regular burger contains around two servings of grains and 85 grams of protein, just the right amount for a meal. Resist adding on fries or onion rings, but if you got to have them, sacrifice with the smallest serving or better yet, be the generous big-shot and split it with a friend. Do this often enough and ideally, the only thing that’ll need upsizing is your wallet.

Skip the Sauce

Although the main meal item can be unhealthy enough, the condiments or side dishes that they come with often help tip the scales. Hold the mayo and any other high-fat and high-calorie sauces and dressings. Or at least ask to have them on the side and use sparingly, or ask for a low-fat alternative. The less cheese, sour cream, gravy, croutons, or bacon bits you can live with, the better.

Beware of Beverages

Softdrinks, juices, shakes, and iced tea prepared from processed mixes are saturated with sugar, chemicals, and not much else. Avoid sipping on empty calories by opting for diet softdrinks or fresh fruit juice when available. Otherwise, you’re better off with just water or picking up a tetrapak of skim or low fat milk from the nearest convenience store.

Free Yourself From the Frier

Believe us, you really don’t want fries with that. Everything that goes in and comes out of the deep frier is something you should avoid stuffing into your mouth. Chicken or fish may seem healthier than the beef in a burger, but when breaded and dunked in hot oil they end up soaking up more fat. The same thing happens to potatoes, onions, shrimp, chicken nuggets, and those crispy chicken balls they mix into some salads. Always go grilled when you can get it.

Green is Good

It used to be that French fries and the lettuce leaf and tomato slice in your burger were the only plant matter served at most fast food chains. But nowadays almost every fast food restaurant serves some kind of salad, excepting a few holdouts. Here’s where you can go crazy: The bigger the salad, the better. As long as you reduce or pick out the fattening ingredients, like creamy dressings or fried toppings, of course. Salads with dark green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, trumping pale limp lettuce that’s mostly just water and fiber. These will all help fill your stomach, making that small-sized sandwich seem all the more satisfying. Boldly go and ask for extra veggies when you order; it won’t hurt to work those charm muscles while you’re at the counter.

 

Chain of Food

With the invaluable guidance of our nutrition advisor Veritas Luna, PhD, we follow in Supersize Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s footsteps, and try to eat our way through the best and worst of the fast food court. Nutritional information was consulted when available, and well-balanced meals costing around P125 were put together. “Of course, a balanced and healthy diet is relative to the other foods eaten outside these meals,” Dr. Luna explains. “Healthy eating should be taken within the context of the usual total food intake within a day in relation to body needs (including physical activity and basal metabolic rate).” When in doubt, check the fat calories (some nutritional info may be obtained from www.fatcalories.com and www.dietfacts.com).

In the meantime, scan the meal suggestions by Dr. Luna within the P125 budget. If you have more cash in your pocket, treat yourself to what’s on Men’s Health’s menu from these familiar fast food places.

Battle of the Burgers

Wendy’s

Wendy's

Wendy’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pioneer in serving salads to the masses, this is one place that has got its greens down. Dressings are served separately. Wendy’s also draws kudos for its satisfyingly beefy burger and coming up with a sugar-free version of their popular and refreshing Iced Tea.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Spicy Chicken Fillet Sandwich 510 170 33 49 4 55 1,480 29 2 57
Hamburger 320 110 34 13 6 40 810 17 1 34
Big Garden mix salad  180 100 56 11 6 30 220 11 5 11
Ranch lite dressing 100 70 70 8 2 15 550 1 1 6
Chili 220 60 27 6 3 35 780 17 5 23
Side Salad  35 0 0 0 0 0 20 2 3 7

Meal Suggestions

1. Side Salad P23, Chili Rice P29, Iced Tea P30, French Fries P29: Total P111

2. Hamburger P27, Spaghetti P33, Side Salad P23, Iced Tea P30: Total P113

3. Big Garden Salad P75, Hamburger P27, Coffee P16: Total P118

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Big Garden Mix Salad

Baked Potato with Chili (no cheese)

Pass This Plate Up

Double Bacon Cheeseburger

A Hamburger, fries, and a coke from a fast-foo...

A Hamburger, fries, and a coke from a fast-food restaurant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burger King

Famed for their burger’s flame-grilled flavor, Burger King’s local strategy appears to rely on slapping on several different combinations of sauces and toppings on their basic burger then selling the product at a temptingly cheap price. Hopefully, they start bringing in some of the healthier choices they have on their menus abroad.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
BK BIG FISH® Sandwich 630 270 43 30 6 60 1,380 24 4 67
Whopper Junior  370 190 51 21 6 50 570 15 2 31
Chicken tenders 6 pieces  250 130 52 15 4 40 720 14 0 16

Meal Suggestions

Whopper Jr. P55 + Regular size diet softdrink P20 = P75

Blazing Cheeseburger Supreme meal (with drink, skip fries) = P85

BK Beef Steak with drink = P80

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Blazing Burger

Pass This Plate Up

Chicken Tenders

 

McDonald’s

McDonald's fast food restaurant at Kulim, Keda...

McDonald’s fast food restaurant at Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The international Goliath of fast food lags behind in the local market in terms of offering healthier fare. From time to time, a salad or other less meat-and-oil-centric dish gets added to their classic menu, but for the most part, they’re sticking to the fattening favorites.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Big Mac® 560 270 48 30 10 80 1,010 25 3 46
McChicken® Sandwich 420 200 48 22 5 45 760 15 1 41
Chicken McNuggets® (6 piece) 250 130 52 15 3 35 670 15 0 15
Hamburger 260 80 31 9 4 30 530 13 1 33

Meal Suggestions

1 piece Chicken McDo (skin peeled off) with McSpaghetti, diet softdrink = P88

Hamburger P25 + McSpaghetti P36 + mineral water P20 = P81

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Plain Rice

Pass This Plate Up

Filet-O-Fish

 

Jollibee

Jollibee

Jollibee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This beloved homegrown favorite features an ever-expanding ever-changing menu. It’s a good thing, in terms of variety and taste. You aren’t stuck choosing between just burgers and fried chicken anymore. In fact their salads fall into the better-tasting side of the fast food spectrum. We just wish they’d get around to providing nutritional facts about their fare.

Meal Suggestions

Regular Yum Meal P52

Spaghetti with Regular Yum Meal P76

Burger Steak Meal P45

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Fresh Garden Salad

Chicken Sotanghon

Pass This Plate Up

‘Zert Pies

Clash of the Chickens

 

Kenny Rogers Roasters

Kenny Rogers Roasters original logo. A similar...

Kenny Rogers Roasters original logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roast chicken is a great source of lean protein. Kenny Rogers complements this with a wide selection of side dishes, including salads. They do push their sugary muffins a bit too aggressively and some of their sidings are heavy with starch and fat.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Corn muffin 164 54 33.5 6 1 0 244 2.2 0.5 25
¼ Chicken without skin 144 18 12.5 2 n/a n/a n/a 32 0 0
 Steamed Vegetables 48 0 0 0 0 0 n/a 3 n/a 8

Meal Suggestions

Any of the following set choices:

1. Solo A (no drink included) P120 -1/4 chicken, 1, side dish (preferably vegetable), 1 rice and 1 corn, muffin
2. Roast Chicken Sandwich P72, Coleslaw P36, 1 corn, muffin P10, (no drink): Total P118
3. Combo 1 (1 pc Chicken, rice and drink) P71 and Vegetable Side Dish P36: Total 107
4. Combo 5 (chicken tenders, spaghetti & drink) P77 and Vegetable Side Dish P36: Total P113

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Classic Roast Chicken

Steamed Vegetables

Fruit & Vegetable Salad, Italian Dressing

Pass This Plate Up

Macaroni and Cheese

 

KFC

KFC Bandung Supermall

KFC Bandung Supermall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fried chicken may be finger-licking good, but it’s bad to the bone. Aside from their recipe’s secret blend of herbs and spices, one more thing KFC may want to keep from you is that their chicken is fried in a whole lot of fat, and that crisp coating doesn’t help keep things light either. You can peel off the skin from a chicken breast and it’s just about passable.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Chicken Twister 670 340 51 38 7 60 1,650 27 3 55
Original Recipe Chicken – Thigh 360 230 64 25 7 165 1,060 22 0 12
Crispy Chicken Salad without Dressings & Croutons 370 170 46 19 7 65 1,110 29 3 20
Cole Slaw 190 100 53 11 2 5 300 1 3 22
Original Recipe Chicken – Breast without skin or breading 140 25 18 3 1 95 410 29 0 0
Mashed Potatoes with gravy 120 40 33 5 1 0 380 2 1 18

Meal Suggestions

Rice Bowl P60 + bottled water P19 = P79

Salad D’Lite P68 + bottled water P19 = P87

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Mashed Potatoes

Coleslaw

Garden Salad (without dressing)

Pass This Plate Up

Fried Chicken

The Pizza Pit

Shakey's logo

Shakey’s logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakey’s

Their salads are just fine, although availability of ingredients can be rather inconsistent across branches and time periods. A slice or two of pizza is always good for a hearty dose of complex carbs, protein and lycopene. But stay away from the grease-and-starch heavy Mojo potatoes if you value your waistline.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Super Hot Hero Sandwich 810 396 33.1 44 n/a n/a 2688 36 n/a 67
Mojo Potatoes 950 324 34.1 36 n/a 165 3,703 17 n/a 120
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce & Garlic Bread 940 297 32 33 n/a 60 1,904 26 n/a 134
Thin Crust Pizza with Onion, Green Pepper, Olive and Mushroom
12 inch
125 45 36 5 n/a 11 313 7 n/a 14

Meal Suggestions

(Sharing between two people but budget is still P125 per person)

1. Shakey’s Salad P76, Single Serving Meatball, Spaghetti P87, Hawaiian Delight Pepperoni Pizza (solo). P83; Total P246 / 2 = P123 per person
2. Shakey’s or Ceasar’s Salad P76 & Hawaiian Delight, Pepperoni Pizza (regular) P168; Total P244 / 2 = P122 per person
3. Hero and Salad P94 and Raisin Oatmeal Cookie P31: Total P125

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Greek Salad

Vegetarian pizza

Spaghetti

Pass This Plate Up

Mojo Potatoes

Chick ‘n Chips

 

Greenwich

Greenwich Pizza

Greenwich Pizza (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good value if all you want is something filling and warm. Most of their dishes suffer from a starchy, paste-like consistency though. Good place for carbo-loading, not so much for the Atkins crowd.

Meal Suggestions

Baked Macaroni P74 + bottled water P23 = P97

Beef & Mushroom P67 + bottled water P23 = P90

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Greenwich Special Pizza

Garden Fresh Pizza

Pass This Plate Up

Macaroni Salad Plus

Pizza Hut

Their dishes are priced at a premium, but don’t really come out all that much ahead of the competition in terms of taste so you end up paying more for ambiance. At least they have some available nutritional information online. Beware the stuffed crusts.

Pizza Hut located at Schildergasse 83, Cologne...

Pizza Hut located at Schildergasse 83, Cologne, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Super Supreme Stuffed Crust Pizza (14in) 440 180 41 20 9 50 1,270 21 3 45
Veggie Lover’s® Pan Pizza (12in) 250 100 40 11 4 15 440 9 2 28

Meal Suggestions

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce P69 + bottled water P29 = P98

(sharing between 2 people) Chicken Pork Adobo Lover’s Pizza P179 + 2 bottled water P58 = P237 or P118.50 per person

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Roast Chicken

Minestrone

House Salad

Veggie Lovers Supreme

Pass This Plate Up

Stuffed Crust Pizzas

Cooking Chinese, Hidden Dangers

 

Chowking

Chinese-style cooking techniques such as stir-frying and steaming keep the grease levels down. All that soy sauce, bagoong, and MSG up the sodium though. But at what other chain can you get tofu and kangkong 24 hours a day? It’s the desperate vegetarian’s last resort.

Pancit lomi from Chowking.

Pancit lomi from Chowking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meal Suggestions

Any of the following set choices:
1. Kangkong with Bagoong or Stir Fry Kangkong P34, Chowking Ice Tea in Cup P19, Sweet and Sour Pork Rice Topping (M) P52: Total P105
2. Chopsuey Rice P99, Mongo Pao P17: Total P116
3. Spareribs Rice Topping P62, Kangkong with Bagoong P34, Chowking Mango in cup P19: Total 115
4. Kangkong with bagoong P34, Additional 2 pcs dumplings P25, Pork with Chinese bagoong Chao Fan P47, Drink in cup P19; Total P125

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Chicken Mami

Stir Fry Kangkong

King’s Congee

Fish in Tausi Sauce

Fried Tofu

Pass This Plate Up

Buchi

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. You’ve certainly put a lot of work into this, Jude. No wonder it was accepted for publication.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting! This article was months in the making. It took a lot of phone calls and e-mails to people in the fast food industry, and some weren’t very enthusiastic about answering some of my questions. Things have changed since then though and it should be easier to find nutritional info now.

      Reply
  1. The Dieter’s Dilemma – How to Stay Full in a Caloric Deficit | Syatt Fitness | The Kart Chronicles

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