Speak Your Mind: Most parents are failing in setting a limit on their child’s demands. Eating right is vital to good health. Fast food is cheap and quick that many opt for but with the right guidelines even that can be a relatively healthy option. Image Credit: Illustration by Dana Shams

Dubai: Love fast food, but just can't let the calories pile on? Well, there's some good news for you. Eating fast food doesn't necessarily mean eating unhealthy, according to nutritionists and dieticians in Dubai.

The key is to watch what goes into it, so the first advice to heed is to choose grilled over fried.

Mariam Saleh, the nutrition manager at Abela & Co, which is based at the American Hospital Dubai, said: "If you have no choice, and are going to a fast food restaurant then skip the double patties and go for a single, grilled one on a small bun. That would decrease your fat intake. Grilled chicken burger would be even better, so you would be cutting down on your cholesterol."

While she does not believe there is anything like ‘healthy fast food', Mariam did share some tips on how you can eat fast food in a healthy way.

She said: "You should cut down on the fried food — watch out for dishes labelled deep-fried or batter-dipped. Even if you are taking a salad, be careful with the dressing — avoid mayonnaise-based dressing and always ask for it to be on the side so that you can skip it or put just a teaspoon of it."

And time is never an excuse for you to eat unhealthy. Even supermarkets can offer some healthy and tasty off-the-shelf options.

"Look for sandwiches with fresh vegetables that do not have butter — or mayo-based spreads ... be careful not to be trapped in asking them to ‘put everything'."

Wraps, which are made using flat breads, are also healthier compared to buns and bread, as making them uses little or no oil. And once you decide to eat healthy, the doors to culinary bliss also open up; healthy fast food does not include only dry, grilled sandwiches.

Stephanie Karl, nutritionist at the Dubai London Clinic, recommended zaatar [oregano and thyme mixture with sesame seeds] as a healthy, tasty and easy option.

"Some cuisines are healthier than others, and if you look at the mix in any of the food courts here there are some really good healthy options. The Arabic food is really healthy and one of my favourites is zaatar in toasted bread wraps, which have a wonderful flavour. Mexican food has a range of nutrients and some good oil-based food like avocado."

One of the biggest blocks that fast-food lovers stumble over is the culture of ‘supersizing' your meals.

"People look for value for money and ‘supersizing' has spurred most of the problem of obesity. You have to be a bit more conscious about what your body actually needs and what is available to you. It is really about planning," Karl said.

An easy way to eat healthy fast food is by matching your food groups. Avoid mixing fats and carbohydrates together, instead go for proteins and carbs, as they set off each other in fat storage and fat burning.

Karl added: "Protein boosts your metabolism and insulin basically puts carbs into fat storage. So, a potato with hummus is perfect but not a baked potato with butter in it."

Another faltering point is choosing a fruit juice with your burger or pizza, as it seems healthier than a soda.

Emilie Hartmann, dietician at clinics of the EHL group, said: "Yes, fresh fruit juice has natural sugar but you still add a lot of calories. Sodas also add a lot of ‘empty calories'. So, it's better to take water or milk for children."

The easiest way to make sure your fast food is healthy is to keep it natural and simple. So, processed food goes out of the window and steaks, fillets and fresh fruits and vegetables make it to your plate. "The more simple the food is, the better it is. I always say don't eat anything that your grandmother wouldn't recognise," she concluded.

Healthy tips

When you look at your food tray, this is what it should look like according to Stephanie Karl, nutritionist at the Dubai London Clinic:

  • 1/4 carbohydrates; 1/4 proteins and ½ salad
  • And remember to start with the salad!
  • When stepping into a fast food restaurant here is a list of what to avoid, and what to select:
  • Grilled patties instead of deep-fried fillets
  • Steak or fillet instead of minced meat patties
  • Water instead of soda or fruit juice
  • Baked potato instead of fried chips
  • Garden salad instead of coleslaw
  • A bit of mustard or ketchup instead of mayonnaise