Your fridge is stocked with fresh produce, lean meats and low fat dairy products, there’s a whole grain baguette in the bread box, and your pantry has been purged of tempting junk foods. Eating healthy at home is a breeze.
But when you’re out and about in the midst of a hectic day of errands and you have precisely 30 minutes to scavenge and wolf down lunch before your next appointment, squeezing in food of any sort becomes a challenge—a challenge to which fast food restaurants have risen. Tasty, convenient, and cheap, there are plenty of reasons they’re popular. But if you’re watching your weight, or watching your health, a fast food menu is like a minefield! One wrong step and a 2,100-calorie sandwich winds up in your stomach (and later on your thighs). But if you’re careful, you can come out intact, with a meal in your hands, not on your hips.
Dining at a fast food restaurant doesn’t have to be a diet disaster. We’ve scoured the top 10 most popular fast food chains for their healthiest picks, so you don’t throw all of your hard work out the (car) window. Use this list as a guide, or visit the websites provided to tally up totals for your preferred favorites. And remember that these selections are healthier options for the occasional fast-food meal, but they may have other nutritional flaws (like high sodium), so you might not want to make it a regular part of your nutrition plan.
No one can say that McDonald’s isn’t convenient—you can find one on just about every corner in some cities. But can it be healthy, too? Depends on what you choose. Visit www.mcdonalds.com for more healthy ideas.
Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich: When you hold the mayo, you’ll save calories and fat.
370 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 1,110mg sodium, 50g carbs, 3g fiber, 32g protein
Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken: The majority of the fat in this flavorful salad comes from the almonds, and the Asian Blend contains veggies and soybeans, making it heart-healthy.
300 calories, 10g fat, 1g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 890mg sodium, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 32g protein
Fruit and Yogurt Parfait: If you’re looking for a sweet treat, this is a winner. Made with low-fat yogurt and topped with low fat granola, strawberries and blueberries, it’s far less sinful but just as tasty as ice cream.
160 calories, 2g fat, 1g sat. fat, 5mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium, 31g carbs, 1g fiber, 4g protein
Try these best picks for your next lunch on the run. Get more nutrition facts at www.wendys.com.
Mandarin Chicken Salad: A variety of lettuces and toppings, like roasted almonds and crispy noodles, make this salad a flavor-packed meal. Most of the fat is unsaturated.
540 calories, 25g fat, 3g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 1,260mg sodium, 50g carbs, 5g fiber, 31g protein
Ultimate Chicken Grill: Order it with lettuce, tomatoes, and honey mustard sauce.
320 calories, 7g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 70mg cholesterol, 950mg sodium, 36g carbs, 2g fiber, 28g protein
A salad and veggie burger top the healthy list at Burger King. Their website, www.bk.com, offers more nutrition information.
Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad: Hold the cheese and top with the Light Italian dressing:
300 calories, 16g fat, 2.5g sat. fat, 70mg cholesterol, 1,050mg sodium, 13g carbs, 5g fiber, 33g protein
BK Veggie Burger: Say “no mayo” to enjoy this healthy, cholesterol-free vegetarian delight.
340 calories, 8g fat, 1g sat. fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1,030mg sodium, 46g carbs, 7g fiber, 23g protein
When you order it “fresco style”, the regular cheese and sauce are replaced by a flavorful combo of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, all fresh (and much healthier). More nutrition facts are available at www.tacobell.com.
Fresco Style Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco:
170 calories, 4g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 25mg cholesterol, 730mg sodium, 21g carbs, 3g fiber, 12g protein
Fresco Crunchy Taco: This menu item is much lower in sodium but still loaded with flavor.
150 calories, 8g fat, 2.5g sat. fat, 20mg cholesterol, 370mg sodium, 13g carbs, 3g fiber, 7g protein.
Good old Jared and his subway diet brought Subway restaurants recognition as one fast food joint with lots of healthy options. Sandwiches from the Subway “Fresh Fit” menu each have fewer than 6 grams of fat. Visit www.subway.com for more information.
6″ Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast:
310 calories, 5g fat, 25mg cholesterol, 830mg sodium, 5g fiber
6″ Veggie Delite: A great option for vegetarian diners or for those watching their cholesterol. Order it on Italian bread and it’s vegan, too.
230 calories, 3g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 500mg sodium, 5g fiber
Soups: If you’re really hungry, pair your sandwich with one of the healthier Subway Soups. Each restaurant features two soups daily, and the ones listed below each contain 160 calories or fewer: Cream of Broccoli, Minestrone, New England Style Clam Chowder, Roasted Chicken Noodle, Spanish Style Chicken with Rice, Tomato Garden Vegetable with Rotini, and Vegetable Beef.
For the healthiest fare, steer clear of the roast beef sandwiches altogether or visit their website, www.arbys.com to see more choices.
Martha’s Vineyard Salad:
466 calories, 23g fat, 6g sat. fat, 61mg cholesterol, 996mg sodium, 43g carbs, 4g fiber, 22g protein
Although their fried chicken isn’t health food (not even by a long shot), KFC does have some healthy options on their menu. Get more nutrition facts at www.kfc.com.
Honey BBQ Sandwich:
280 calories, 3.5g fat, 1g sat. fat, 60mg cholesterol, 780mg sodium, 40g carbs, 3g fiber, 22g protein
Tender Roast Sandwich: Hold the sauce.
300 calories, 4.5g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 70mg cholesterol, 1,060mg sodium, 28g carbs, 2g fiber, 37g protein
Roasted Caesar Salad: Hold the croutons, and top it with fat-free ranch dressing.
250 calories, 8g fat, 4.5g sat. fat, 70mg cholesterol, 1,240 mg sodium, 14g carbs, 3g fiber, 31g protein
Just because it isn’t beef doesn’t mean it’s always better—especially when the chicken is breaded and fried. Try the items below, or see all the facts at www.chickfila.com.
Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich:
270 calories, 3g fat, 1g sat. fat, 50mg cholesterol, 1,260mg sodium, 37g carbs, 4g fiber, 28g protein
Chargrilled and Fruit Salad: Top with reduced fat berry balsamic vinaigrette.
290 calories, 8g fat, 3.5g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 760mg sodium, 32g carbs, 5g fiber, 22g protein
Jack in the Box
Whole grains, from this fast food joint? Believe it! Visit www.jackinthebox.com for more menu items.
Asian Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken Strips:
160 calories, 1.5g fat, 0g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 380mg sodium, 18g carbs, 5g fiber, 22g protein
Chicken Fajita Pita: The pita is made with whole grains, which are rarely seen at fast food restaurants. Hold the salsa.
300 calories, 9g fat, 3.5g sat. fat,60mg cholesterol, 1,090mg sodium, 33g carbs, 4g fiber, 23g protein
Steer clear of big, meaty burgers and try these chicken options instead. The Carl’s Jr. Website, www.carlsjr.com has lots of nutrition information, too.
Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich:
360 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g sat. fat, 60mg cholesterol, 1,150mg sodium, 48g carbs, 4g fiber, 34g protein
Charbroiled Chicken Salad: Choose the low-fat balsamic dressing.
295 calories, 8.5g fat, 3.5g sat. fat, 75mg cholesterol, 1,190mg sodium, 21g carbs, 5g fiber, 34g protein