I mean, not just the calorie savings and nutrient boosts, but an actual comprehensive breakdown of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc in each meal?
Well, today's your lucky day!
It's time for a serious look at the meal makeover. Let's walk through each substitution and added nutrient, step by step. We'll leave no stone unturned, no switch unexplored. Are you ready?
Meal Makeover: Fast Food vs. MyPlate
We'll start with the fast food meal. Say you order a double quarter pounder with cheese, a medium fries, and a medium soda. That comes to a total of 1,280 calories, with 22 grams of saturated fat, 1,490 milligrams of sodium, and 65 grams of sugar. The nutrients are few and far between, with only 6 grams of fiber and 10% of your daily value (DV) for vitamin A. Let's break it down, shall we?
Fast Food Meal: Calories and Elements to Reduce
- 1280 Calories
- 22 Grams of Saturated Fat
- 2.5 Grams of Trans Fat
- 165 Milligrams of Cholesterol
- 1490 Milligrams of Sodium
- 65 Grams of Sugar
Fast Food Meal: The Nutrients
- 51 Grams of Protein
- 58 Grams of Fat
- 143 Grams of Carbohydrates
- 10% DV Vitamin A
- 50% DV Vitamin C
- 35% DV Calcium
- 40% DV Iron
Some of these stats are impressive, but if you compare them to the total calories, they tend to fall short. After all, this meal has more than half of the calories that people should eat in an entire day! If that's the case, then the daily value for these nutrients should be at at least 50%, if not higher.
Let's zoom in on sodium for a minute. MyPlate asserts, "Everyone, including kids, should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). Adults age 51 and older, African Americans of any age, and individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should further reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day." About half the population needs to stick to that limit of no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, yet this single meal contains 1,490 mg of sodium. That's pretty darn close to the sodium ceiling, leaving only 10 mg of wiggle room for the rest of the day. With this meal, it's very easy to go over the daily limit for sodium.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, "A healthy eating pattern limits intake of sodium, solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains and emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and beverages —vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds." This meal has too much sodium, solid fat, and added sugars. Let's give it a nutrient makeover!
- Baked Turkey Burger with Whole Grain Toast instead of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
- Oven Fries instead of Regular Fries
- Seltzer instead of Soda
- Added Quick Slaw
Let's take a closer look at how these replacements stack up. Each one offers a calorie reduction and a boost of nutrients! Specifically, these new options will offer more fiber, more nutrients, and way fewer calories. Plus there is way less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar in the made-over meal. Let's take an in-depth look at each substitution.
Baked Turkey Burger with Toast:
Turkey burgers are still pretty high in sodium, but they don't hold a candle to the shocking levels that you can find in fast food. Plus, these burgers are way lower in saturated fat. A single 4-ounce turkey burger contains 160 calories, 7 grams of fat (only 1 of those is saturated), a mere 60 milligrams of cholesterol and 85 milligrams of sodium. It's a great source of protein, with 24 grams in a single serving. Plus, it's got 6% of your daily value of iron. According to the National Institutes of Health, "Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, an erythrocyte protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. [...] Iron is also necessary for growth, development, normal cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones and connective tissue."
The whole grain toast is a great replacement for that processed bun too! One slice of toast has 100 calories, only 1.5 grams of fat (less than a single gram is saturated), no cholesterol whatsoever, and 105 milligrams of sodium. Plus, there are 4 grams of fiber in that same serving, along with 5 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbohydrate. It even offers 4% of the daily value of calcium and 6% of the daily value for iron. Let's zoom in on those nutrients for a moment. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise people to "Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets."
You can either serve the burger on the toast or keep the toast on the side. Feel free to dip the burger in a nonfat greek yogurt sauce with a bit of salt and garlic powder for a calcium boost of 20% of the daily value for calcium. Since calcium is a nutrient of concern in the American diet, and MyPlate advises people to include a bit of nonfat dairy with their meals, this is a fantastic addition to the made-over meal.
Have you tried this recipe for oven fries yet? If not, you should! It serves 4, and each serving has 169 calories and 3 grams of fiber. There's also 23% of the daily value for vitamin C and 11% of the daily value for iron! Plus, the fries come together in under 30 minutes, allowing you plenty of time to get the other meal components together. Potatoes are a wonderful source of potassium, yet another nutrient of concern in the American diet. By replacing the fast-food French fries with oven-baked potatoes, you add more potassium while saving almost 100 milligrams of sodium and several grams of saturated fat. What's not to love?
No calories, no sugar, no problem! This replacement cuts out a significant portion of the empty calories in the fast food meal. By replacing a medium soda with seltzer, you save 200 calories and 55 grams of sugar! How great is that?
All right, this one is just an addition. Throwing in a quick apple slaw makes this plate fit more closely with MyPlate's recommendations and brings some fruit into the mix. Plus, the savory crunch of slaw fits perfectly with this meal. And it's chock-full of nutrients to boot! A single serving of this slaw packs 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, along with 93% of the daily value for vitamin C. It's a home run for healthful and quick cooking!
Now let's get down to the nitty gritty. Why make these substitutions? Well, the reason this makeover is called a MyPlate makeover is because it helps bring the meal in line with what MyPlate recommends. MyPlate advises people to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Another quarter of the plate is dedicated to lean protein and the remaining quarter should contain whole grains. Finally, there should be some nonfat dairy foods on the side. MyPlate offers this advice in order to help people improve their health and eat more balanced, nutrient-rich meals. According to MyPlate, following its guidelines leads to better health. For example, "Dietary fiber [...] as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods [...] help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories." By following MyPlate, most people add more fiber to their diets, and "Diets rich in foods containing fiber, such as some vegetables and fruits, may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes."
But that's just one example. Let's look closely at the health impact of replacing this fast food meal with a MyPlate version.
- 612 Calories (Save 668 Calories)
- 2.5 Grams of Saturated Fat (Save 19.5 Grams)
- 0 Grams of Trans Fat (Save 2.5 Grams)
- 67 Milligrams of Cholesterol (Save 98 Milligrams)
- 429 Milligrams of Sodium (Save 1064 Milligrams)
- 25 Grams of Sugar (Save 40 Grams)
MyPlate Meal: The Nutrients
- 57 Grams of Protein (Bonus: 6 Extra Grams)
- 10.5 Grams of Fat (Save 47.5 Grams)
- 80 Grams of Carbohydrates (Save 63 Grams)
- 5% DV Vitamin A (The fast-food meal has 5% more)
- 116% DV Vitamin C (Bonus of 66%)
- 45% DV Calcium (Bonus of 10%)
- 28% DV Iron (The fast-food meal has 12% more)
Now let's talk nutrients. This makeover offers significant reductions in the realms of both saturated fat and sugar. As mentioned above, these are both cited as food components that most people should reduce. The sodium savings are out of this world as well. By making the MyPlate meal instead of picking up the fast-food meal, you will save 1,024 milligrams of sodium. Since half of all Americans need to keep their sodium intake to below 1,500 milligrams a day, this is huge news!
There are 2 nutrients that are actually present in larger quantitates in the fast food meal, but here's the catch. The fast food meal has 668 more calories -- that's practically a whole additional meal. In fact, 2 MyPlate meals still have fewer calories than the single fast food meal featured here. So given the proportion of calories to the whole day's calorie allotment, proportionally the nutrient profile of the fast food meal is coming up short. There should be far more than 5% more vitamin A in a meal that has over twice the calories of the meal that has slightly less of that nutrient. And anyway, the MyPlate meal has way more vitamin C than the fast food meal, and more calcium to boot!
The bottom line is that the MyPlate meal is more balanced and healthful, with increased fiber and nutrients and decreased levels of added sugars, solid fats, and sodium. Make over your meals today!
Stephanie Ronco has been editing in a professional capacity for the past 10 years. In addition to her work as an editor, Ronco has also served as a ghostwriter and writing tutor. A voracious reader, Ronco loves watching language evolve and change. When she’s not delving into her latest project, Ronco can be found teaching acting classes, performing in community theater, or sailing with her husband.