Not So Fast Food

By: Cassidy Hobbs
Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
Johnston County Cooperative Extension

According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 37% of adults consumed fast food on a given day from 2013 to 2016. Nearly 45% of those adults were aged 20 years to 39 years of age, and an additional 38% were aged 40 years to 59 years of age. Those statistics are concerning when you consider the extra calories, fat, and sodium consumed from fast food each day.

Health problems in America continue to rise as does the consumption of convenience meals. Fast food contains little to no good nutrition, and it is nearly impossible to find whole grains, fresh fruit, or a full serving of vegetables on the menu. Let’s take a brief look at a few popular fast food items that can be found around our neighborhood.

Most people would tell you that chicken is “healthier” than red meat. According to the nutrition information pulled from the Hardee’s Restaurants website, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich has 440 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat, which isn’t terrible for fast food; however, you can’t ignore the fact that it has 1,290 mg of sodium.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day, but 1,500 mg is ideal- especially for those with high blood pressure. If you ate only a spicy chicken sandwich for lunch, you would use up over half of your sodium budget for the entire day on one entrée for one meal.

Let’s look at another fast food option. A grilled chicken salad from Bojangles has only 290 calories, that’s excellent! Right? Not quite. It also has 7g of saturated fat.

According to the American Heart Association, “Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Americans should consume no more than 13g of saturated fat per day. The 290 calories in the grilled chicken salad contains lots of saturated fat, and the sad part is that nutrition information doesn’t even account for the dressing to go on your salad! Depending on the dressing you choose, you’ll have to use up even more of your calorie, fat, and sodium budget.

The grilled chicken salad alone has 730 mg of sodium- again, that does not include your dressing.

To wrap things up, let’s look at items from Subway. I often thought that flatbreads and wraps were better alternatives to bread. Turns out, that really isn’t the case. They are more dense, compact sources of calories and usually refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are the opposite of whole grains. They are all starch that spike raise your blood sugar with no fiber to help slow it down and keep you full. Basically, you’ll be hungry again in a couple of hours, left to consume even more calories.

A Black Forest Ham Wrap from Subway has 430 calories compared to only 290 in the Black Forest Ham Sub. The sodium content of the wrap is a whopping 1,780 mg compared to 810 mg, which is also still very high in sodium! At least at subway, you are able to top your sub with multiple vegetables to help increase your fiber consumption. That is not something you are able to do at most fast food restaurants.

So what is the solution?

Eat meals that you prepare and cook yourself! Food and cooking technology companies everywhere are developing meal prepping gadgets, cookware, and new appliances. The insantpot seems to be all the talk right now. The instantpot is an electric multicooker that can be used to slow cooking, pressure cooking, browning, steaming, cooking rice, and more. There are also single use appliances such as a crockpot that can make getting dinner on the table a breeze.

You don’t have to wait for pressure to build up or neutralize, and you can throw your ingredients into the crockpot and have dinner ready when you get home. Whatever leftovers you have, you can remake into another meal or take to work the next day. You can also freeze leftovers for another time.

Whatever your method, cooking at home will save you money and help you live healthier. What you put into your body now will make a difference later!

Johnston County Cooperative Extension hosts multiple opportunities to learn how to get quick, healthy meals on the table. If you would like to stay up to date with research-based food and nutrition programming in Johnston County through N.C. Cooperative Extension, please “like” us on Facebook! You can also visit our website at