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Check Those Calorie Counts Before You Order

Check Those Calorie Counts Before You Order

By Marcia Mangum Cronin

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The holidays mean we're often in a hurry, rushing here and there to shop, attend holiday events, travel and tend to all the other opportunities and demands of the holiday season. Sometimes we're in such a hurry that we drive through a fast-food place to grab a bite on the run.

Uh-oh. There go the healthy eating habits, right out the window.

But there is good news. Listing calorie counts on menus is paying off, Australian researchers report, based on review of more than 220 studies. Overall, consumers have trimmed 27 calories per meal based on the available calorie counts. Women did even better, choosing meals with 60 fewer calories, and overweight people cut 83 calories per meal.

On top of that, researchers say restaurants are offering more low-calorie items and trimmed 15 calories per menu item. The research was reported in the international Journal of Retailing.

That doesn't give us license to start eating regularly at fast-food restaurants or to overdo it when we do stop in. A McDonald's Big Mac still has 560 calories and a large fries has 570, meaning the two combined supply about as many calories as the average sedentary woman needs in an entire day—and they're not the healthiest, most nutritious calories either.

But, if you do get caught running around and have an attack of "hangry”—when you're so hungry that your nerves are frayed and your temper short—it's OK to grab a bite. Just check those calorie counts.

At McDonald's, you can get an Asian salad with grilled chicken for 260 calories and an additional 90 for a packet of low-fat sesame ginger dressing. If you're really craving something fried and/or salty, six chicken nuggets with small fries has 500 calories. Skip the extra condiments and sodas—choose water or unsweetened tea or coffee.

At Wendy's, you can get a spinach and chicken salad for 450 calories, plus 110 for one packet of low-fat honey mustard dressing. Just don't douse it in dressing and croutons or other trimmings. If the weather is cold, you may want a large chili for 330 calories; add cheddar cheese for 70 more. If you're craving a sandwich, go with the ultimate grilled chicken (370) or a junior cheeseburger (320).

Choosing from fast-food restaurants' children's menus or the value menus can help you limit your calories—just be sure and check the counts, because some things will fool you. Even if you just stop at a coffee shop for a caffeine boost, check the calories. A black coffee has no calories, but that enticing Starbucks pumpkin spice Frappuccino (16-ounce) has 450.

And remember, you don't have to stuff yourself. Order just enough to satisfy your hunger until you can eat a healthier meal.

For an even better option, carry healthy snacks with you when you go out shopping such as a small bag of nuts, an apple or a high-fiber protein bar. And don't forget a bottle of water to keep you hydrated. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger.

If you let yourself get too hungry or too stressed, you're more likely to really overdo it when you do eat. So even when you're busy, remember to take care of yourself and make healthy choices.

The new year will be here before you know it, and you don't want to be faced with 10 extra pounds you mindlessly put on during the busy holiday season.