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By Heidi McIndoo

Environmental Nutrition Newsletter

While fast-food dining isn’t something to indulge in on a daily basis, once in a while it’s OK – because of a time crunch or just a craving – to belly up to the drive-thru. You may have decided on your entree even before arriving, whether you’re going the healthy path with a grilled chicken sandwich or succumbing to a juicy burger.

But what side dish will you choose to go with your sandwich? Fries, and maybe onion rings, used to be the only options, but now there are green beans, baked potatoes, mozzarella sticks, and more.

You may think it doesn’t matter much which side dish you pick. Actually, it can make a huge difference. In searching for healthy choices, we reviewed the nutritionals on dozens of sides, looking at only the information for the small- or regular-size orders. Yet even for the smallest size available, some sides provide more than two-thirds of a day’s worth of sodium or saturated fat, and as much fat as 1½ super deluxe burgers!

Helpful hints

1. Share the wealth: If you’re just dying for some deep-fried, salty fries, share a small order with a friend. You’ll end up with a side of approximately 150 calories and 7 grams of fat – much closer to recommended guidelines.

2. Look for the produce: More and more quick-service restaurants are offering fruits and vegetables. Sure, green beans don’t really compare to chili cheese fries, but they’re a great way to fit in a vegetable and help satisfy your appetite, while keeping calories and sodium to a minimum.

3. Pass on the cheese: A plain baked potato or an order of simple beans can be a good source of fiber and help fill you up. Skip the shredded cheese or cheese sauce to save calories, saturated fat and sodium.