Apples and Oranges: Consider Nature’s Perfect Fast Food

Fresh Oranges and ApplesWouldn’t it be ideal if fast food wasn’t full of inexpensive, fattening, sugar-filled items (not to mention the soaring sodium contents)? It would be even better if the healthier options weren’t so unreasonably priced and limited to relatively fewer options.

You may be hard pressed to find a good quality fresh fruit at most cafe chains, but even when you do, the price may be higher than you’d expect. A banana at a cafe chain may cost you a dollar when you can get the same piece of fruit (and likely a better quality) at a grocery store for much less (59 – 99 cents per lb). Considering how far your dollar may go, you”ll get much better value for a gut-bomb 3 piece chicken nuggets or a hamburger than you will for your heart-healthy choices.

Tired of spending time trying to figure out if something is indeed a healthier choice?:

  • Does it contain real fruits, vegetables, whole grains…?
  • Is it free of added sugars (or very minimal)?
  • Is the fat less than 8g per serving, is it healthy fat (note: 1/5 of a medium avocado contains about 5g of healthy fat).
  • Are the snack packs portioned controlled (or do they contain multiple servings)?
  • Is it under “sodium-control”?: Aim for less than 300mg sodium per serving – sodium does up throughout your daily meals and snacks. A “low-sodium” product should contain 140mg or less; a product containing moderate amounts of sodium contains between 140-400mg sodium per serving.
  • Does it contain whole grain goodness (brown rice, oats, quinoa…)?
  • Are there 3g of dietary fiber or more?

Take a venture into my utopia and discover natures perfect fast food:

  • Fresh produce stands or kiosks would dot the globe just as prevalent as your Starbucks at every corner. Didn’t have time to pack a healthy lunch or snack? You could drive-through for some natural, pure healthy choices. There would be no concern about questionable items that look healthy on the outside but are still full of sugar and sodium, fat and calories.
  • Your choices at these highly convenient produce stands would be just what nature intended, pure unadulterated sources of antioxidants and other heart-healthy nutrients – no high-processing, just the real deal.
  • Real whole fruits and vegetables or simple combinations that remain true to the natural heart-healthy quality of ingredients: Whole-food based snacks or entrees (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds) would contain flavoring from natural sources like lemons, herbs and spices. They’d have little to no additives. (Those added sugars, salts, fats, artificial flavorings can derail the benefits of what could have been a healthy sandwich or salad.)
  • There would be portion controlled packages of whole nuts and fruit nut combinations, perhaps a smoothie bar.
  • Packaged heart-healthy snack items would be devoid of long ingredient lists and confusing labels. You wouldn’t have to consider whether a heart-healthy claim is in conflict with the fact it contains lots of added sugars, excess fat, real fiber or just filler.
  • All the above with low to reasonable prices.

The new deal – grab an apple or orange or follow these tips:

Spend less time looking at the ingredients and deciphering the label. If it’s got 5 or less (real-food) ingredients, no additives, great! This means you don’t have to wonder if Vitamin A Palmitate is good or bad for you. (Nor will you have to wonder if an ingredient is produced in a lab.) And if they are real-food ingredients (fruit, vegetable, whole grains, nuts…) and no added sugars or fats, even better. That would mean the sugars and fats (and healthy fats at that) would be coming straight from your whole foods and not added in. And if its got a little honey, that’s your call – sure it’s an added sugar. But if it’s minimal enough to keep the total sugars within reason, I’d say OK. Better yet, grab a piece of fresh fruit. It’s quick and simple, tasty, truly all-natural and there’s no label.

And if you still want to read labels, here are some pointers.

Until my utopia comes into fruition, here are some heart-healthy “fast foods” you can quickly make at home or buy at a grocery store:

  • Any fresh fruit: apples, oranges, bananas, plums, pears, berries…
  • Try a vegetable wrap: Hummus, sprouts and tomatoes in a mini Romaine leaf
  • About 15 nuts (or 6-7 nuts plus a piece of your favorite fresh fruit)
  • 4-8oz of Greek non-fat yogurt with 1/4 cup of fresh fruit (optional: add in a small sprinkling of nuts or 1/2 shredded wheat biscuit) Tip: You can buy a container of yogurt at the store and a package of trail mix. Grab a to-go spoon and mix in a a Tbsp of trail mix into your yogurt. Many grocery stores have some to-go utensils, napkins and cups – and some actually have a do it yourself salad bar.
 Q: How do you fix up a quick and easy, healthy snack? Q: What are some of your healthier “fast food finds”?
An RD Behind the Plate,