Tips for navigating the fast-food menu board
Credit: Photo by Randy Mayor

Buckets of fries and mammoth burgers are realities in the United States today, as fast-food chains compete to offer the largest portion size at the lowest cost.

In its Nutrition Action Healthletter, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has documented just how far (and wide) some fast-food offerings have come. In the 1950s, for example, McDonald's original two-ounce serving of fries totaled about 200 calories, but by 2000 the restaurant offered a seven-ounce "super size" sibling that packed 610 calories. A single bottle serving of Coca-Cola has increased from 6 1/2 to 20 ounces in nearly the same timespan. "Americans, over the years, have started feeling like the more you get for the money, the better value it is," says

Tammy Baker, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "But we have to look at what we need rather than what we could have." Baker offers these tips for making a fast-food meal a more healthful fit:

• Beware of value portions that contain more food than you need; the value meal may cost the same as a small beverage, small fries, and a plain burger, but it has many more calories.

• Keep nutrition analyses from your favorite fast-food places in your car for reference. (They're available at most restaurants or at their Web sites.)

• Ask for preparation details when you can't get nutrient information. What oils are used? Can sauces go on the side?

• Put half your meal back in the bag, or share half with a friend.

• When in doubt, think small.