Instead of adding fries to that order, you might want to consider a second burger.
While conventional wisdom might tell you that eating a second anything is a bad choice from a nutritional perspective, there's something more important to consider: balance.
Registered dietitian and nutritionist Emily Field encourages her clients to think about that word before a meal, rather than labelling certain foods "bad" or "good."
To do this, she encourages people to think about three components of a food – fat, carbohydrates, and proteins. Protein fuels your muscles and keeps you feeling full, carbohydrates provide energy, and fat helps us absorb vitamins and minerals while keeping cells healthy.
Keeping those nutrients roughly even means you'll have fewer cravings, less desire to binge, and more control when you do eat, Field told Business Insider. So if a meal has a good balance of those three things, it's an okay choice.
"I want people to be able to approach any food, any situation, and know that they can still make a responsible choice for their body," she said.
A recent study published in the journal Nutritional Metabolism suggests balance is important because of the role different macronutrients play in regulating our blood sugar levels – the energy our cells carry and distribute throughout the body after a meal.
In the body, fats and proteins slow the breakdown of carbs into sugar, acting as a sort of buffer against sharp dips and spikes in insulin levels. So when you eat a meal that's high in carbs and low in protein, such as a bowl of cereal, you're more likely to see rapid spikes and falls in blood sugar.
That can translate into a short-lived burst of energy followed by hanger and fatigue, symptoms that typically manifest between one and three hours after a meal, Field said. However, adding some protein and fat to the same bowl of cereal — such as a protein-rich Greek yogurt or some nuts — can help avoid that crash.
Field advises her clients to keep this in mind when planning a meal by asking, "How am I going to feel two hours after I eat that?"
Applying that wisdom to fast-food could mean opting for two burgers instead of an order of fries, she said.
Think about a typical fast-food burger. Two small pieces of bread (the bun) plus a slab of meat. Without cheese or sauce, most burgers like this have about 300 to 400 calories. Those calories come from carbs in the bread (roughly 40 grams or 1.4 ounces), protein in the meat (around 17 grams or 0.6 ounces) and fat (around 10 grams or 0.35 ounces).
An order of fries, on the other hand, is just a tray of fried potato. It has a lot of fat and carbs (which give it about the same number of calories as a burger) but very little protein.
By swapping the fries for a second burger, then, you're nearly doubling your protein intake while reducing the amount of fat and carbs you're eating. Since fast-food is already high in fat and carbs and pretty low in protein, this simple switch could help steady your blood sugar levels.
Don't take my word for it, though.
"Try it out and see how you feel," Field said.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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