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Wednesday, May 28, 2008 12:02 am

Healthy fast food

Even chains are beginning to offer organic and meatless alternatives

Fast food doesn’t have to be fattening and unhealthy. Even the major chains are taking steps toward healthier menus by reducing or eliminating trans-fats, offering veggie burgers and other meatless items, and using organic greens and fresh fruits.
Untitled Document Where can people who are constantly traveling and on the go find healthy fast food?
The latest trend in fast food is healthy and organic, and, luckily for conscious consumers, several chains offering just such fare are taking root in different parts of the U.S. One of the leaders of this small but scrappy pack of fast-food upstarts is O’Naturals. The small chain runs two stores of its own in Maine (Falmouth and Portland) and one in Acton, Mass., and franchises out additional locations in Kansas and Florida. O’Naturals’ menu contains lots of vegetarian-friendly items, including build-your-own flatbread sandwiches, salads, noodle stir-fries, and soups. The meat the restaurant does serve is grass-fed and hormone-free; the chickens are free-range and the Alaskan salmon is wild-caught.
Another healthy option is EVOS, which runs five “quick-casual” restaurants in Florida and is planning a major expansion into the western U.S. Vegetarians can rejoice in the chain’s wide selection of vegetarian and vegan items. Although its hormone- and antibiotic-free burgers are still only about as healthy as red meat gets, the chain’s soy burger satisfies without the guilt or the cholesterol. Also, EVOS uses organic field greens in its wraps and salads, organic milk in its milkshakes, and fresh fruit in its smoothies. Additionally, the restaurant air-bakes its fries and other typically deep-fried items to keep the fat content as much as 70 percent lower than that of the same kinds of foods found elsewhere. Meanwhile, Seattle-based Organic to Go, with five locations in Washington and California, lays out a wide array of grab-and-go organic and natural foods so customers can make up their own meals from a cornucopia of healthy choices. Other fast-food alternatives offering lots of healthy (including vegetarian and vegan) options include Au Bon Pain, Bruegger’s Bagels, Noah’s Bagels, and World Wrapps. Subway and Quizno’s alike can be good options for those who are willing to study the menu carefully. Even though many alternatives exist, it is hard to beat the reach of the major fast-food chains, several of which are making small steps toward healthier menus and will undoubtedly continue to do so if consumers bite. McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and Wendy’s have reduced or eliminated trans-fats. Burger King now offers a veggie burger, and McDonald’s is testing one in California. Taco Bell offers many nonmeat options, including a bean-and-cheese burrito, a veggie fajita wrap, and a seven-layer burrito, which can be had without the cheese and sour cream. Carl’s Jr. also has many tasty and healthy vegetarian options despite an otherwise standard fast-food menu. Vegetarians and vegans looking for more ideas about what to eat when time is of the essence should consult any number of Web sites with pages devoted to the topic, including Vegetarian-Restaurants.net, VegCooking, FitWise, and the Vegetarian Resource Group. And remember, nothing beats seeking out local restaurants when you’re on the road to soak up some of the local culture. With trends as they are, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find many that do serve healthy menus — not quite as fast as fast food but probably fast enough.
For more information: O’Naturals, www.onaturals.com; EVOS, www.evos.com; Vegetarian-Restaurants.net, www.vegetarian-restaurants.net; VegCooking, www.vegcooking.com; FitWise, www.fitwise.com; Vegetarian Resource Group, www.vrg.org.

Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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