Search IconSearch

Surprising or No? New Survey Finds Americans Eat Fast Food Every Single Day

The problem's not just what it contains — but what it doesn't

group of people eating pizza and wings

Sure, we get it. You forgot to pack your lunch (again). Or your day was so frenzied that you simply didn’t have an ounce of energy left come dinnertime to broil some chicken — or assemble a salad out of all those lonely veggies sitting patiently in the fridge.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But according to a survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 1 out of every 3 Americans are eating fast food every single day.

What’s the real harm?

“If you’re eating fast food with any sort of regular frequency, you’re typically going to be getting more saturated fat, more sodium, and more sugar than you would if were cooking at home,” says dietitian Lindsay Malone, MS, RD, CSO, LD.

Too much fast food is problematic, she says, not only because of what it contains — but also because of what it’s lacking in nutritional value.

“Typically, you’re not going to get a lot of fruits or vegetables, and what’s available will be lower in nutritional value,” she explains. “For example, iceberg lettuce has less nutritional value than some darker greens, like red leaf lettuce or kale.”

Most of the meals offered at fast-food restaurants are also quite a bit larger than the amount of food that most people would regularly eat, she notes. This typically leads people to eat more, simply because the portions are available to them.

Also, most fast foods are carbohydrate-rich with white, refined flours. This cause spikes in blood sugar, leading us to crash later in the day.

And then there’s what you’re drinking along with it. Many times, Malone says, the the biggest problem with fast food isn’t so much about what we’re eating. Rather, it’s what we’re drinking. For instance, a large soda can easily contain a couple hundred calories with zero nutritional value.


Here’s how to pick healthfully, if you must

If you’re in a situation where fast food is your only option, Malone suggests a few tips for making healthier fast food choices. Try a smaller portion size — like a children’s meal, swapping those fries for a side salad or baked potato. Choosing water or unsweetened iced tea instead of soda also helps limit the damage.

Plus, Malone says it’s important to realize that if we’re eating fast food all of the time, our bodies don’t function optimally.

“You’re going to have that after-lunch slump where you feel like you don’t want to do a whole lot, or you don’t have the energy to play with your kids,” she says. “So, you want to think about food as fuel for your body.”

Smart alternatives to the drive-thru

Of course, we all get into situations where we don’t have a lot of time. But Malone says the best way to avoid the pitfalls of the drive-thru convenience is to plan ahead and bring food items from home when we know that we’ll be running around.

And remember that when it comes to quick and convenient, there are other options available.

“Go into a local grocery store. Utilize their salad bar or their prepared foods section,” she suggests. “They’re going to have some healthier options that provide more nutritional value for the calories that you’re consuming.”

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

A closeup of a mix of different kinds of candy, all thrown together.
November 20, 2023/Nutrition
Candy Crush: Why You’re Craving Sweets and How To Stop

Stress, lack of sleep and not eating enough all contribute to sugar hankerings

Closeup of sugar substitute in granulated and pill form on a blue background.
July 18, 2023/Nutrition
Do You Need To Cut Out Aspartame?

Moderation is important for lowering risks

Scoops of vanilla ice cream on marbled plates with strawberries and syrup.
June 23, 2023/Nutrition
Are ‘Healthy’ Ice Creams Really Healthy?

Some types of ice cream may be healthier, but that doesn’t make them a healthy food

2 glasses of diet sodas with ice
May 19, 2023/Nutrition
Sad but True: Diet Sodas Are Bad for Your Health

Diet sodas are associated with weight gain, and may even cause insulin confusion

Lunch tray of processed foods.
March 23, 2023/Nutrition
What Ultra-Processed Foods Are (and Why They’re So Bad for You)

They’ve been altered to include fats, starches, sugars and hydrogenated oils

Girl eating cookie dough while cooking with mom
November 23, 2021/Digestive
Is It Safe To Eat Raw Cookie Dough or Cake Batter?

WARNING: Bacteria could be present due to raw flour and eggs

child with pail full of halloween candy at night
September 15, 2021/Nutrition
How Much Halloween Candy Should Kids Eat?

Manage that sugar high with these tips

Person eats potato chips while watching television in a dark room
July 1, 2021/Nutrition
Late-Night Snacks That Wreck Your Diet (and Sleep)

These foods sabotage weight loss and rob you of rest

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims