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Can fast food be healthy?

Taco Bell plans to revamp its menu to

Taco Bell plans to revamp its menu to include healthier options by 2020. (Credit: AP)

Fast food is one of the first things people give up when they decide to get healthy, but probably also the first bad habit to return. We love it even though we know we shouldn’t. But will it ever be healthy?

There seems to be a definite shift in that direction.

Last week, Taco Bell announced a revamp to its currently cheese-heavy, Dorito-loving menu in order to offer more “balanced choices,” according to an article in The Huffington Post.

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The article quotes Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed as saying that products are currently being tested, and existing items could also be altered to be healthier. No details yet on what that menu might look like, just that 20 percent of its meals will meet federal nutritional guidelines for calories and fat by 2020.

Of course, this is in addition to steps Taco Bell has already taken – Cantina bowls boast fresh, simple ingredients, and the “fresco” menu nixes the cheese and sour cream.

And it’s more than just Taco Bell. Mark Bittman writes about “healthy” fast food – and his fond memories of getting Taco Bell with his daughter – in the cover story for The New York Times Magazine annual Food & Drink issue. 

He says as the healthy food revolution waves on, society’s relationship with fast food chains has changed:

“Twelve years after the publication of ‘Fast Food Nation’ and nearly as long since Morgan Spurlock almost ate himself to death, our relationship with fast food has changed. We’ve gone from the whistle-blowing stage to the higher-expectations stage, and some of those expectations are being met.”

But despite their efforts, Bittman takes issue with most of the healthy offerings at fast food chains, and he classifies fast food restaurants into three sectors: Junk Food (Subway, McDonalds, Taco Bell), Nouveau Junk (Shake Shack, Five Guys, Starbucks), and Improved Fast Food (Chipotle, and others we don’t have on Long Island including Chop’t, Maoz and Freshii).

What puts restaurants in the Improved category is a dedication to fresh, whole foods, and sourcing, producing and cooking of a higher standard. The problem is the price rises high above your McDonald’s cheeseburger and the result can still be laden with calories and fat.

In a worthwhile read, Bittman goes on to explain the emerging category -- Good Fast Food – and the eateries around the country he considers contenders. (He even shares his own business plan for a healthy fast food joint.)

It’s definitely a hot topic as fast food seems to be the next takeover (after gourmet restaurants and supermarkets) for the health-conscious (dare I even say vegan/vegetarian) crowd. Another food expert, Michael Pollan, also mentioned fast food this week in an interview with New York magazine, citing Chipotle as the one and only fast food place he likes.

Do you consider some of the fast food you eat healthy? Where do you go and what do you choose when you’re looking for a quick meal you won’t feel bad about later?

Tags: Erin Geismar , fast food , Taco Bell , McDonalds , Subway , Chipotle

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