Fast food restaurants have come under heavy criticism in the past few years. Everyone seems to notice all the ways that these restaurants seek to attract customers through preparing appealing but so-called unhealthy food. Yet, few people are prepared to recognize the benefits that fast food restaurants present in this contemporary American society. While these restaurants and foods have the potential to harm persons who make bad choices, the same can be said of all restaurants. What fast food restaurants provide are hot, filling meals that are prepared for the American who is on the go, and this actually facilitates the pace and the lifestyle of many persons today. Fast food restaurants therefore provide a much-needed benefit within a fast-paced society, and can be an asset to nutrition when people make the right choices concerning them.
While it would be irrational to attempt to convince any audience that such foods as fries and onion rings are a healthy choice when taken on a regular basis, it is still true that fast foods contain the nutrients needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. The human body does need fat for several reasons, such as insulation and for the storage of the fat-soluble vitamins without which people would become malnourished (Rinzler 27, 82). The fat contained in French fries contributes to this, and since a small order of fries at McDonalds, for instance, contains only 13% of a person’s daily value (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) then that does leave room for much nutritional planning (McDonalds, 2006). A person who eats fast food, even on a daily basis, can therefore still have a healthy lifestyle.
Another substance indispensable to the proper development and maintenance of the body is protein (Rinzler, 78), and fast food contains generally contains a high level of this. Proteins are the primary building blocks of the muscles and tissues in the body, and the meat contained in hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fish sticks and chicken nuggets provide the body with these things without which it cannot live. Yet one Big Mac contains 25 grams which is 50 percent of a person’s daily value of protein (McDonalds; Netrition). Though this may sound high, after eating this once in a day, the person would still need to eat a good-sized portion of protein-containing foods at other meal times in order to make up the other 50 percent. If this burger is considered a main meal of the day, and cereals and salads make up the bulk of other meals, the protein intake from the Big Mac would not compromise a healthy lifestyle.
When fast-food restaurants are judged based on the caloric intake, even their largest meals do not compromise the nutrition of a person with a normal lifestyle. One of the largest meals at McDonalds, the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, provides only 740 calories toward the 2000 calorie diet recommended for a healthy lifestyle. Other meals at such restaurants contribute even fewer calories to the diet, leaving room for much more food in order to be properly nourished in any given day. Furthermore, when one considers the wide array of choices that exist even now at these fast food restaurants, it becomes clear that eating healthy and eating fast can be achieved simultaneously (Donkersloot, 32). These restaurants provide such foods as yogurt, milk, salads, granola, oatmeal raisin bars, and cereal. McDonalds alone provides 15 types of fresh salads. Another restaurant, Chipotle, “serves fresh food, avoids meat with hormones or antibiotics, looks for organic ingredients when possible and practices transparency” (Gunther, par. 6). The ability of any adult to organize and make proper choices while at fast food restaurants transforms these establishments from nutritional liabilities into assets (Donkersloot, 22).
Fast food restaurants also demonstrate an important attribute that consists in their respect for patrons’ time and finances. These restaurants are able to provide such an important commodity as food to its customers, and this is done in a timely fashion and at a low price. In fact, the service they provide is priceless in that it caters to the needs of several individuals and families that are pressed for time and money. Many families are run by parents who have more than one job and have very little time to prepare meals for their families. The breakfast service that is provided to these families help give children hot meals in the mornings when otherwise they would have had insubstantial meals that leave them hungry long before lunch time. Other families may use the time spent at these restaurants as a special family treat, where eating out at other restaurants might have been too expensive.
Critics of fast food restaurants speak mainly about the high fat, high calorie, high sugar and sodium content of the meals. These issues have already been covered in previous paragraphs, but it is possible to add a few words. Several other fast-food restaurants exist apart from McDonalds. Such restaurants as Arby’s, Subway and Quiznos also serve food on the go (Greene, 54), and these restaurants are known for their healthy sandwiches. Furthermore, other restaurants that do not come under fire, such as TGI Fridays, Chilis, and even IHOP serve foods that are very similar to the ones found at fast food restaurants. Yet these restaurants ask their customers to pay a lot more and are not nearly as time efficient as fast food establishments. Consideration must be made on a comparative level among all restaurants, and when this is done it will be clear that fast food restaurants provide a high value for the money and time spent in them.
In criticizing restaurants, it would be best to take them all into consideration rather than just direct scathing comments at ones that provide the easiest targets. Fast food restaurants are an aid to individuals and families that do not have a lot of time to spare. These restaurants do serve foods that contain high levels of calories, fat and protein—yet so do many other restaurants. Furthermore, fast food restaurants have been bending over backwards recently in their attempts to provide healthy choices for customers. Many now allow baked potatoes to be substituted for fries and juice to be substituted for soda. This demonstrates their commitment to health as well as to serving food in a timely manner. The onus is on the person who patronizes these restaurants to take advantage of the variety that owners have placed on their menus. These restaurants are willing and able to replenish supplies according to the demand they receive, but customers must be willing to consume the healthy foods that are present behind the counter and waiting to be requested.
Donkersloot, Mary. Fast-food Diet: Quick and Healthy Eating at Home and on the Go. New York: Fireside, 1992.
Greene, Bob. The Get with the Program! Guide to Fast Food and Family Restaurants. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Gunther, Mark. “Can Fast Food Be Good Food?” Fortune. CNN Money, 2007. http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/12/news/companies/pluggedin_gunther.fortune/index.htm
McDonalds. “McDonalds USA Nutrition Facts for Popular Menu Items.” Oak Brook: McDonalds Corp. http://www.mcdonalds.com/app_controller.nutrition.index1.html
Netrition. “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” The Internet’s Premier Nutrition Superstore. 2007. http://www23.netrition.com/rdi_page.html
Rinzler, Carol Ann. Nutrition for Dummies. Hoboken: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2006.