With obesity rates rising among both adults and children, Americans have been forced to reevaluate what they’re eating, and fast-food restaurants have been forced to take a hard look at what they are serving. Most fast-food restaurants have lightened their menus and provided customers with healthier options – but just how healthy are these new menu items? Just reducing calories and/or portion sizes isn’t always the best way to make a meal healthier. Sodium levels must be evaluated as well as high levels of saturated fats. Many ‘healthy’ fast-food options are extremely high in fat and sodium. Over time, these kinds of unhealthy food choices can lead to obesity and eventually heart disease.
So what are we to do when the only food option we have is fast-food? For starters, remember a few things about eating out. Fried food is usually higher in calories than grilled food. Opt for the entree size instead of the full meal; french fries and high sugar drinks will add a lot of calories to your meal. Finally, skip the mayonnaise; it will save you a ton of unwanted fat in your meal.
If you’re really being careful, though, which fast-food restaurant meals are truly lower in sodium, calories, fats, and provide better nutrients for diners? The following ten are the top picks for healthy options in the unhealthiest diners.
10. KFC Grilled Chicken Breast and Sides
Most of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s menu items are filled with grease and a lot of sodium. Not surprising, since the word fried is in the fast food restaurant’s name. So if you’re swinging through a KFC drive thru your main goal will be to find something that isn’t fried in tons of grease or drenched in butter.
Your best chance of meeting both those requirements is to go with the grilled chicken breast. As the name implies, it is grilled instead of fried, which saves you a lot of calories. If you’re really serious about limiting fat in your diet you should remove the skin from your chicken breast before eating it. In addition to the chicken, you can get a small serving of mashed potatoes as well as green beans or corn on the cob. Just remember not to drown your potatoes in gravy or melt a stick of butter over your green beans or corn on the cob. The entire meal, without extra gravy or butter, will be around 390 calories.
9. Burger King Flame-Broiled Hamburger
If you’re unable to resist the taste of a fast-food burger, the best way to keep from eating your entire daily allowance of calories in one meal is to stick with a plain hamburger from Burger King. The burger has a total of just 230 calories and nine grams of fat. The sodium in the flame broiled burger is significantly less than the sodium in most other Burger King burgers and quite a few of their salads. If you do opt for the hamburger, skip the mayo and get a garden salad instead of fries.
8. Baja Fresh Wahoo Fish Taco
At just 230 calories, the Wahoo Fish Taco is a great way to get a little seafood in your diet. You can add avocado to the taco or even a few spoonfuls of Baja Fresh’s signature salsa for extra flavor. The fish taco is so low in calories that you can get a half order of rice and beans too. The fiber in the beans will keep you full for a very long time without adding a lot of unnecessary calories. Just steer clear of fried tortilla chips – a small serving will add over 200 calories to your meal!
7. Wendy’s Ultimate Chicken Grilled Sandwich
While many of Wendy’s burgers are very high in calories, their ultimate chicken grilled sandwich is relatively low in calories. At 380 calories, the sandwich packs just seven grams of fat; much less than the asiago ranch club sandwich, which has over 650 calories!
The sandwich comes with tomato and lettuce. Instead of mayonnaise, the ultimate chicken grilled sandwich is topped off with tangy honey mustard. Opt for just the sandwich instead of the meal to keep your calories from going sky-high with the addition of large fries.
6. Taco Bell Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco
Aside from its strange love of combing tacos with Doritos and layers of melted cheese, Taco Bell is lightening their menu and adding ‘healthier’ options for customers. The healthiest of these options is the Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco.
Each taco is just 150 calories, has only 4.5 grams of fat and is filled with steak and vegetables. If you order two of the Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Tacos you will stay at 300 calories and add 24 grams of protein to your diet.
5. Starbucks Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box
The mega coffeehouse chain known for its oversized pastries and piping hot coffee is turning over a healthy leaf. In addition to several deli sandwiches, Starbucks has added bistro boxes to its menu. There are several variations of bistro boxes, but the healthiest is the chicken and hummus bistro box.
With just 270 calories and 4 grams of fiber in every box, the chicken and hummus bistro box is a great option for the health conscious consumer. The bistro box comes with grilled white chicken strips, hummus, cucumber, grape tomatoes, and a wheat pita. With so few calories in the bistro box you can afford to add a little creamer to your coffee as a sweet treat.
4. Chipotle’s Salad Bowl
Chipotle has quickly made a name for itself as the ideal fast food restaurant to find healthy eating options. They are known for their attempt to use organic meats and vegetables as well as their build your own meal options. From burritos to salads, customers can choose vegetarian, chicken, steak, rice, beans, and salsa as fillers for their meal. With each filler added the calories go up and so does the sodium content. In order to keep sodium and calories levels low, diners should opt for the Chipotle salad bowl. All fillers are added on top of a bed of romaine lettuce. Pick either the chicken or steak, beans, fajita vegetables, and green chili salsa and you will get a meal that sits at around 250 calories.
3. McDonald’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfait: 150 Calories
In the past year, fast food chains like McDonald’s have seen a decrease in the amount of consumers who are willing to indulge in their high-calorie meals. McDonald’s has taken steps to provide lighter food choices by creating a “Favorites Under 400” menu. There are several sandwich choices and a few salads that are lower in calories, but they still carry a high amount of sodium.
The Fruit and Yogurt Parfait, however, is very low in calories, filled with fresh fruits, and low in sodium. The parfait has a total of only 150 calories and ten percent of your daily calcium needs. Each parfait comes with low fat granola, vanilla yogurt, and fresh strawberries and blueberries.
2. Subway’s Six-Inch Turkey Breast
If you’re looking for a fast meal that packs a lot of nutrients, then Subway is the place for you. There are several types of subs that you can choose from, but the six-inch turkey breast is the lowest in calories – 280 calories – with the highest amount of good carbohydrates and protein. Subway makes it very easy to customize your subs, by providing a huge spread of veggies to add to your sub. From lettuce and tomato to pickles and olives, the selections are pretty much endless. You can make your sub even healthier by choosing the nine-grain bread and opting for light mayonnaise instead of full-fat mayo.
1. Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad
Chick-fil-A has a variety of healthy options that most people would enjoy, but the healthiest option on their menu is the Grilled Market Salad. The romaine lettuce filled bowl is topped with delicious grilled chicken, strawberries, blueberries, apples, and blue cheese. Each salad comes with a side of your choice of dressing, which you should remember to use sparingly since dressing can add calories very quickly. Without drowning the salad in dressing, the entire meal will be close to 200 calories with 230% of your daily dose of vitamin A.