6 ways to make smart fast-food choices

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Almost all of us have found ourselves in a fast-food restaurant at some point in our lives. And there are even people who, dare I say, frequent them. Is this a "bad" thing? Not necessarily. Here's how to make healthier choices when you walk in the door:

1. Watch your portion size.

Everyone knows a small serving of fries is a healthier choice than a large order. And, if something comes in size variations – say, "double," "triple," "extra-long" or "whole" versus "half" – portion sizes are probably getting larger. But not everyone orders the smallest version. Why? Perhaps because they want more or because the larger size seems like a better deal. But it's not worth the hit to your health. So, going forward, let's make "small" the new norm.

2. Don't waste calories on beverages.

Another obvious tip here: Just say "no" to soda (unless it's diet). Wasting precious calories on sugar-sweetened beverages with absolutely no nutritional value just doesn't make sense – at least to me. Smoothies aren't always a smart choice either – even if they do include some fruits and veggies. A smoothie from McDonald's could cost you around 210 calories, and one from Panera clocks in around 270 calories – definitely a lot for a beverage accompanying a meal. If you want to enjoy a smoothie for a snack, go for it. But what's almost always the smartest beverage choice around? You guessed it: water.

3. Keep in mind the "best" ingredients aren't always the lowest in calories.

I love that many fast-food restaurants are promoting their use of "the best ingredients available." The only problem? Even those ingredients have calories. Yes, it's simply scandalous. And, if you create a dish with too many ingredients, the calories are going to add up. Take, for example, a burrito bowl from Chipotle. If you add chicken, brown rice, black beans, tomato salsa, cheese and guacamole, the meal adds up to 760 calories and 7.5 grams of saturated fat. Granted, everything in this bowl is "good for you," but it's way too many calories and saturated fat for an average person's lunch. In this instance, it would be wiser to choose black beans or brown rice; cheese or guacamole.

4. Remember: A salad might not be the healthiest choice.

I know, it's shocking! So often, people think if they are making a healthier choice, it has to be a salad – especially for lunch. However, that isn't always the case. The full size of Wendy's BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad is 600 calories, for example, while its Grilled Chicken Wrap is 270 calories. (The average woman's lunch, meanwhile, should be around 400 calories.) A 6-inch turkey sandwich (with mustard, not mayo) from Subway is 290 calories, while a turkey salad with ranch dressing is 430 calories. Granted, a salad will give you more veggies, but this sandwich will leave room for an additional side salad and piece of fruit, which can be way more satisfying for around the same amount of calories.

5. Customize your order.

Most people don't realize that almost every fast-food restaurant can customize orders. No cheese? Yes, they can do that. Dressing on the side? Done. Skip the bacon, please? Why not? The thing is, you have more control than you think – you just have to ask. Too bashful? Get over it. It's your health we're talking about.

6. Know that cooking style always counts.

Plain and simple: If you want to choose healthier foods, nine times out of ten (if not more), grilled is a better choice than fried. This should be a no-brainer. But, because too many patients still tell me that all bets are off when they go to fast-food restaurants, it's worth repeating. No bets should be off – unless you frequent a fast-food restaurant very infrequently.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

See more of fast-food around the world:

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Fast food from around the world
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6 ways to make smart fast-food choices
McDonald's Japan serves rice cheese balls! A crispy outside with a warm, gooey inside -- YUM.
McDonald's India features the McAloo wrap. Aloo is a type of potato curry and McDonald's put its own spin on it by wrapping a flour tortilla around an aloo patty garnished with lettuce, onions, vegetables, and sauce.
Pizza Hut Russia serves an Oktoberfest seasonal pizza with Bavarian sausage, pepperoni, vegetables, sauce, and mustard. You like?
At Burger King Argentina you can order a Churrasquito. It's grilled over hot coals and served with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
At select Wendy's locations in Australia, you can order a Brekky dog -- a breakfast style hot dog. GOOD MORNING to that!
Taco Bell Japan serves a shrimp and avocado burrito. This exclusive item has only been on the menu since April 2015!
Known as 'Maccas' in New Zealand, McDonald's menu there includes 3 savory pies. This one is the Mince 'N' Cheese pie stuffed with ground beef and cheese. 
At Pizza Hut in Saudi Arabia you can order a seafood pizza, including shrimp, calamari, crab, and vegetables on a thin crust.
McDonald's serves porridge in Thailand! 
You can order chili cheese nuggets from Burger King in Hungary. Bits of jalapeño peppers and a spicy kick.
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