I don't eat fast food often, but sometimes the McDonald's McDouble cravings are too strong to resist. It's after downing one, a medium fries, and a fountain drink that heartburn reminds me why it's been so long since my last drive-through trip.
Once the burning chest pain is a distant memory, those cravings never fail to swing back around — but next time, I'm going to be prepared. Dr. Soma Mandal, MD, a board-certified internist and women's health specialist at Summit Medical Group, is helping me indulge smarter by picking out the least heartburn triggering menu items from my three go-to fast-food joints: McDonald's, Chik-fil-A, and Taco Bell.
Don't be discouraged that Burger King, Wendy's, or Arby's didn't make the list — she went one step further by offering up some general tips for avoiding heartburn while eating at all chains.
Late night is often the most alluring hour for a greasy box of nuggets, but Dr. Mandal recommends planning fast-food meals two to three hours before bedtime, since laying down usually worsens heartburn pain.
And try limiting more triggering fast-food staples like fried dishes, cheese, high-fat dressings and sauces, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, and citric foods, she adds.
"If you develop heartburn symptoms after a fast-food meal and the symptoms are mild, antacids can help, but they only work for a short period. Histamine blockers are stronger and last for a longer period of time."
Don't hesitate to speak to your doctor before finalizing a Grubhub order, though — it's always best to get an expert's input if you're unsure how a food will make you feel or conflict with preexisting medical conditions.
Ask your physician about Dr. Mandal's recommendations ahead, too. Although fast food isn't always great for your health, treating yourself every now and again could be OK for some — especially if you can avoid agitating your digestion.
If McDonald's Egg McMuffin is your go-to breakfast order, Dr. Mandal has some good news. The expert says that as long as you opt out of the cheese add-on, it can be one of the healthier menu options — it packs a good amount of protein without being too high in fat.
The Fruit and Maple Oatmeal has a good amount of fiber, too, and is less triggering for heartburn, she adds.
Breakfast aside, Dr. Mandal notes that the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad and Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad are lower in fat, but you might want to use less (or none!) of the salad dressing to keep that fat count low.
And if you're craving a sandwich, Dr. Mandal says the Artisan Grilled Chicken order is probably your best bet for avoiding heartburn: "It has six grams of fat and is filling for the stomach without making its acidity rise."
As for dessert, consider adding the Fruit N' Yogurt Parfait to your order. Dr. Mandal explains that the dish has less fat, more fiber, and is less likely to ignite heartburn.
Dr. Mandal does recommend you skip the fountain drinks, though. "Plain water is always the best option for a drink. It has zero calories, it's good for the body, and it does not trigger heartburn."
Your Taco Bell options are more limited, but there is hope if you suffer from heartburn. Dr. Mandal says the Grilled Breakfast Burrito has adequate lean protein and less fat than other breakfast items.
For lunch and dinner, the Power Menu Bowl Veggie is protein packed and has a lot of fiber — Dr. Mandal just recommends you skip the high-fat sour cream.
"Chik-fil-A's Grilled Chicken Sandwich is a very tasty option and has the same amount of fat as a Grilled Chicken Sandwich at McDonald's. Just avoid pouring high-fat dressing and sauces on the sandwich to decrease the risk of heartburn," Dr. Mandal says.
Other grilled options got the go-ahead from Dr. Mandal, too, like the Grilled Nuggets and Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap.
Two salads — the Superfood Side and Market Salad — also got the thumbs up. The first is low in fat and offers plenty of vegetables, while the latter has a fair amount of fiber, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and isn't too high in fat, Dr. Mandal explains.
"Just avoid putting too much of the Maple Vinaigrette Dressing on if you tend to have heartburn."