Every day millions of Americans pull in under the "golden arches" and other fast foods restaurants across the country to order their favorite meal. What they consume is a mixed bag of helpful nutrients and harmful calories, according to the experts.
A person having a McDonald's Big Mac, french fries, and a chocolate shake will take into his body nearly 1,100 calories, according to a study of the caloric content of fast foods compiled by leading nutritionists.
A chicken dinner at the Colonel's, with three pieces of chickens, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, gravy and a roll, adds up to 980 calories. Add a large soft drink at 200 calories to wash it all down and the grand total shoots up to 1,180 calories at one sitting.
A person choosing these meals would be getting more than his daily requirement of nutrients, but probably many more calories than he needs, according to nutritionists.
It is, however, possible to go into a fast foods establishment and get a nutritionally balanced meal, according to Richard Stalvey, vice president of The Nutrition Foundation, which supports nutrition research and education.
"Fast foods can be worked into the diet without much difficulty," said Stalvey, who estimates that nearly a third of all meals in America are eaten outside of the home and increasingly at fast foods shops.
"A person on a 1,400 calorie diet can safely go to a fast food restaurant and have a regular hamburger, with lettuce, tomato and onions, a half cup of fruit or vegetables and a small glass of milk without going off their diet."
Stalvey said that at most fast food restaurants a person can select foods from the four basic groups without an inordinate amount of calories.
One problems with the whole fast food motif is that it is "fast," according to Dr. J. Charles Sterin, research director of the Wholistic Health and Nutrition Institute, of Mill Valley, Calif., a nonprofit health organization.
"Fast foods are prepared fast and they are eaten fast," said DS. Stein. "This poses two problems. The preparation process often destroys a lot of the nutritional content of the food. Much of the food is not cooked properly and, in addition, is prepared hours before it is eaten, causing further nutritional destruction."
"In some instances, the restaurant should probably hand out vitamin tablets with the food to replace what has been lost in preparation," he added.
Dr. Stein said that the eating of fast foods also can pose hazards. Most people dash into a fast foods restaurant and choke down their food in a matter of minutes. They get a bloated feeling. Soon after, they've eaten and the bloat goes away they have this strange feeling they interpret as hunger and they'er ready to eat again."
Food, including fast foods, should be eaten slowly, thoroughly chewed and each bite savored. The slower pace would give the teeth, tongue, salivary glands and stomach opportunity to fully play their individual roles in the digestion process, Dr. Stein said.
The following are approximate caloric values of some foods that can be obtained at quick foods restaurants from coast to coast:
At Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips, an order of fish and chips (containing two pieces of fish and four ounces of chips) contains 275 calories.
The Burger King "Whopper" has 606 calories; the "Whaler," 744 calories; and a hot dog, 291 calories.
The Diary Queen banana split has 547 calories, while the "Super Brazier" hamburger contains 907 calories.
Hardee's "Huskee Deluxe" contains 525 calories; the apple turnover, 290 calories, and the eight ounce shake, 320 calories.
Arby's regular roast beef sandwich has 429 calories; while the Arby's "Super" has 705.
Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream: one scoop (or 2 1/2 ounces) with sugar cone. Chocolate fudge, 229 calories, french vanilla, 217 calories, rocky road, 204 calories, butter pecan, 195 calories, jomoca, 182 calories, fresh strawberry, 168 calories and banana daiquiri, 129 calories.