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Fast Food Foraging

At Lake Highlands Acupuncture, we believe in following a common sense diet based on the way humans have eaten since the beginning of time. To understand what that means, think back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They ate mostly plants, especially wild greens, berries, and nuts, and some meat and fats, like eggs. They didn’t have ready access to sugar, except for the occasional honey from a highly guarded beehive! Further, they didn’t binge on processed grains, which add on excess calories with little nutrition to speak of.


But eating fresh, unprocessed, low-sugar foods isn’t always an option during our fast-paced, 30-minute-lunch-break kind of lives. So we must learn to forage for real foods the way our ancestors did, except what once were lush forests and rivers are now golden arches and concrete drive-throughs. In our modern jungle, we’re looking for vegetable- and protein-heavy meals made out of real, fresh ingredients. That means no buns, no batters, and no weird oils. It also means high quality meats and organic veggies, which, let's be honest, you're not going to find in a fast food joint. But let's act like our foremothers and fathers and make do with what we can. Prepare your own high-quality food anytime you can, but in a pinch, these fast food options won’t derail the healthy patterns you’ve already set in motion.

Chick-Fil-A Grilled Market Salad

This gorgeous salad features baby greens, cabbage, carrots, blue cheese, and berries. As with most fast food salads, this chain gets you with the dressing. We love good fats, but these dressings are riddled with soybean oils, sugar, and fake colors. Their Light Italian Dressing most resembles real food, so go with that—unless you keep your own olive oil and vinegar in your car, which these days, is not a bad idea. You’re a modern-day forager after all!

Subway Make Your Own Salad

Their marketing doesn’t lie! Subway is one of those few gems where you really can “eat fresh.” Still, forego the processed buns (your other buns will thank you), and order a plain salad loaded with veggies, and stack it high with plain chicken. Top it off with a little olive oil and vinegar. Subway does offer real oil and real vinegar, so hug your sandwich artist.

Carl’s Jr. Low Carb Six Dollar Burger

Carl’s Jr. was among the first to market a bun-free burger. Made of the standard 100% black angus beef patty, two slices of cheese, tomato, red onions and dill pickles wrapped in a romaine lettuce leaf, the burger, which boasts just 6g of carbs, is a great fast food option. And as if we needed to remind you, say no to the fries and soda.

Wendy’s Chicken Caesar Salad

The Wendy’s Chicken Caesar Salad has just 180 calories and 8 grams of carbs. As with the other salads on this list, ditch the dressing they offer and forage for your own real oil and vinegar. And those “homestyle croutons”? Throw them to the pigeons. On second thought, don’t. Pigeons shouldn’t eat them either.

KFC Oven Roasted Chicken with Green Beans

Most chicken joints offer some sort of grilled option, so this tip isn’t just for your next visit with Colonel Sanders. We’re not worried about the fat in the fryer (assuming it’s real fat, not chemical soybean garbage) or the skin (yummy and healthy). It’s the floury, sugary, processedy batter. Pair your batterless chicken with some green beans, mustard greens, or other non-potato veggie, and you’ve got a delicious lunch ready to go. You don’t even have to run to your car for salad dressing!

Chipotle Burrito Bowl

At Lake Highlands Acupuncture, we’re often too busy (and too lazy) to make our own lunches. So we have Chipotle at least once a week. It’s the best of the fast food world hands down. The company actually cares about the quality of its food and offers hormone-free meats and cheeses, and some locally sourced vegetables. Still, the only way to go is the burrito bowl with no rice and beans. (Okay, you can have a few beans… and light on the mucus-producing cheese.) Stack the bowl high with grilled veggies, meats, fresh salsa, and guacamole. But their sugary salad dressing? Off to your car…

Boston Market Healthy Buffet

We know you’ll want some potatoes and gravy, but focus on what you can have at Boston Market. How does some delicious Roast Turkey Breast sound? Or some Tuscan Herb Rotisserie Chicken? Pair these forager-friendly options with fresh steamed vegetables or the broccoli with garlic butter sauce. You’ll be so satisfied, you won’t sweat the missing starch.

Panda Express Mandarin Chicken

Nearly all of the entrees at Panda Express are trans-fat free, which means no chemists in the kitchen. So they’re doing something right. The Mandarin Chicken has 250 calories and just 8 grams of carbs, making it a tasty, healthier choice for Chinese take-out. (Don’t confuse this with the Orange Chicken, which is a sugar bomb with 42 grams of carbs.) A second good option for Texans is the Broccoli Beef, which gives you a nice dose of your cancer-fighting cruciforms as well.

Taco Bell’s Fresco Tacos

Taco Bell’s Fresco or “Fresh” menu sounds promising for us fast food foragers! Well, it almost is… if you skip the two Fresco burritos. A single burrito packs a whopping 48g of carbohydrates—over one-third of what an average person needs each day. The tacos, however, are only about 13-17g per taco and feature meat and fresh salsa made in-house. While we don’t like the refined grains in the tortilla, foraging is about compromise. It’s also about moderation, so stick to only one or two tacos (or ditch the tortillas and order more). And skip those weird Styrofoam cinnamon things they call dessert. What are those anyway?

Five Guys Bunless Burgers

We love that this beloved Northeastern chain has taken root in Texas. Null on sugar and refined carbohydrates, the bunless burgers pack a big protein punch. Still, moderation is important. The Little Hamburger has 16g of protein, whereas the regular hamburger has 32g. Adults need around 45-60g of protein per day, depending on body type and activity level, so plan your daily protein intake accordingly. Admittedly, the vegetable offerings are slim-pickings at Five Guys, but load up where you can on grilled mushrooms, green peppers, jalepenos, tomatoes, and pickles. High fives for Five Guys!

McDonald’s Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken

Do you detect a pattern? What does a healthy meal look like in the fast food world? A grilled chicken salad! No complaints here. We’ll take it, especially with 3 cups of veggies, jack and cheddar cheese, and thick cut Applewood smoked bacon, as this tasty salad boasts. As a bonus, McDonald’s does offer Newman’s Own brand dressings, which are historically health-minded (hello, pronounceable ingredients!). Use Newman’s balsamic or Italian dressing, and you really will have a happy meal!

Burger King’s Chicken Caesar Garden Fresh Salad

Second verse, same as the first… batterless chicken, veggies, use their dressing if you daremust. Word to the wise: skip the “Real Fruit Smoothie.” Poor BK’s heart is in the right place, but these sugar bombs aren’t doing us foragers any favors. Stick to your veggies and protein, and you will have earned that paper crown.

Long John Silver’s Baked Cod and Shrimp and Seafood Salad Side

The baked cod contains only 120 calories, 21 grams of protein and is carb free. All this makes for a particularly tasty meal when paired with a shrimp and seafood salad (carrots, cherry tomatoes, salad shrimp, shredded cheese, no croutons) for just 15 grams of carbs. Shiver me timbers, if you can eat healthy here, you can eat healthy anywhere!

Inspired and adapted from 10 Ways to Forage in a Fast Food Nation

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