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In Lean Times, Fast Food Industry Cuts Fat

The trend in the fast food industry towards healthier eating has shifted into high gear with several fast food chains planning to make more changes to their menus.

But are these new, re-tooled whoppers and lattes really good for you?

Nutritionist Tanya Zuckerbrot, founder of Skinnyandthecity.com, shared the latest trends in the fast food world with Early Show co-anchor
Harry Smith.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, also known as KFC, has introduced a brand-new chicken.

According to Zuckerbrot, KFC is actually baking the chicken, instead of frying it, "but they're keeping all the inherent taste of those seasonings on the chicken, so the taste is somewhat similar. But the caloric difference is really staggering."

Although the baked chicken is not skinless, Zuckerbrot says that you can peel off the skin to save calories. Two pieces of the baked chicken is 360 calories and 8 grams of fat, which is "very reasonable" when compared to 740 calories and 42 grams of fat.

"Now that's a huge savings of over 380 calories. You could practically have double the amount," she added.

Fast food is consumed more often during tough economic times because it's cheaper.

"I think what we're going to be seeing in the downturn economy, a lot of people are turning to fast food for a few reasons," she explained. "One, it's comfort food. And we all like to feel comforted during these times.

"But the other thing is, is that there is an economic incentive because it's low cost and a lot of food. But we're paying a price. It's very short-sighted. So I think the fact that the fast food companies are now offering healthier options is doing a great public service."

Zuckerbrot also pointed out that a lot of people take their kids for fast food, especially moms on the go; therefore, healthier items are "great alternatives" for the entire family.

McDonald's has brewed up the McCafe, to keep up with espresso and latte lovers.

"We have a sugar free vanilla ice latte made with skim milk, only 110 calories," she said. "If you want something cold, this is a great option, because the triple thick chocolate shake you're talking 1,060 calories. This is a 1,000 calorie saving here."

According to Zuckerbrot, a giant chocolate shake has 1,160 calories and 29 grams of fat, versus 110 for the McCafe.

Burger King is also getting on the healthy-eating bandwagon by introducing the "Whopper bar."

"At their Whopper bar they have over 22 different toppings," she said. "So this is really make-your-own-kind of fast food. It's really ... elevating fast food into something that you could tailor to your specific taste."

Zuckerbrot says that by taking advantage of the whopper bar, people can have 575 calories versus the triple whopper, which is 1,250 calories. The difference is 675 calories and 61 grams of fat. Some of the toppings include grilled onions, guacamole, spices and jalapeños.

Pizza Hut has also introduced a pizza they call the "Natural."

The natural pizza doesn't have any artificial flavors or preservatives. You have a multi-grain crust and an extra gram of fiber.

Zuckerbrot says that it's "actually pretty good" and although the calories are "surprisingly somewhat similar" with only a 10 calorie savings, you are getting an extra gram of fiber.

"For people who want to eat naturally, this is definitely the way to go," she said.