With that said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that every year the U.S. crowns its favorite chain eateries based on data from The American Customer Satisfaction Index’s Annual Restaurant Survey—and the 2015 results are in. Stealing this year’s top spot is Chick-fil-A, a chicken chain that offers everything from healthy soups and sandwiches to 500+ calorie milkshakes. The other top-ranked restaurants also serve a mixed bag of delicious weight loss foods and greasy calorie bombs. But that doesn’t mean you have to steer clear of your favorite restaurants to lose weight; you just need to tread carefully and stick to the healthiest pick on the menu—which we reveal below. These are the best orders for your waistline from the top five most loved fast-foods spots America:
#1 FAST-FOOD JOINT IN AMERICA: CHICK-FIL-A
Grilled Market Salad & Half Packet of Light Italian Dressing
212 calories, 5.75 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 805 mg sodium, 18.5 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 23 g protein
Though not everyone likes Chick-fil-A's politics, a lot of people seem to like the food. If you find yourself at the bird baron, opt for this low-cal nutritionist-approved pick. “This salad features dark leafy greens, which are excellent sources of heart-protective folate and immune system-supportive vitamin A,” says nutritionist Michelle Loy, MPH, RDN, CSSD. “The berries in the salad contain disease-fighting antioxidants that help ward off chronic conditions, like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Each serving of salad also boasts a good amount of protein, fiber and fat that will help keep you satisfied."
#2 FAST-FOOD JOINT IN AMERICA: CHIPOTLE
Secret Menu Cheese Quesadilla with Chicken
265 calories, 8.5 g fat, 5.5 g saturated fat, 250 mg sodium, 31 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 12 g protein
Although quesadillas aren’t an official menu item for adults, Chipotle has all the ingredients on hand, so they’ll make one for you if you ask. (If you recall, this dish is one of the chain’s healthy secret menu items we revealed earlier this year). By default, your server will start to build your dish on a 300-calorie burrito tortilla folded in half—you don’t want to let that happen. Instead, request that they make yours with two 70-calorie corn tortillas and ask for chicken along with the cheese for a 265-calorie meal filled with muscle-building protein. Go ahead and also ask for an addition of fajita veggies (20 calories), which serves up a hit of vitamin C in addition to plenty of filling fiber. If a salad is more up your alley, a combination of romaine, barbacoa, fajita veggies, and tomatillo green-chili salsa is the most filling, low-calorie option (210 calories, 26 grams of protein).
#3 FAST-FOOD JOINT IN AMERICA: PANERA
Whole Classic with Chicken Salad with Low Fat Thai Chili Vinaigrette
325 calories, 14 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 410 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 16 g sugar, 27 g protein (calculated with 1.5 tablespoon of dressing)
Not only is this one dish one of the best picks at Panera when it comes to calories and sodium, but it’s also overflowing with nutrients that will help keep your body healthy—something most fast-food dishes can’t claim. “The Classic Salad with Chicken is filled with wonderful leafy greens and cucumbers that provide vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, fiber and additional phytonutrients and antioxidants that prevent chronic disease,” explains nutrition consultant, Dana Kofsky. What’s more, “the cucumbers in the salad are 95 percent water, which keeps the body hydrated and eliminates toxins, and the protein in the chicken aids muscle growth.” Pair it with water with lemon (you can ask for both there), or a homemade detox water for a natural cleansing effect.
#4 FAST-FOOD JOINT IN AMERICA: PAPA JOHN’S
Garden Fresh Pizza, two slices
280 calories, 9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 700 mg sodium, 38 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 10 g protein
Though Papa John’s is home to the Fritos Chili Pizza, a 360 calorie-a-slice seasonal concoction of pizza, beef chili and Fritos, they do have some healthy picks, too. Choose the Garden Fresh Pizza, for example, and you can down two slices of the pie, (which is topped with onions, peppers, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes) for less than 300 calories—a rarity in the fat-filled world of pizza chains.
#5 FAST-FOOD JOINT IN AMERICA: PIZZA HUT
Skinny Beach Pizza, 2 slices
400 calories, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 880 mg sodium, 54 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 20 g protein
Made with a thinner crust (read: less dough) than their traditional pies, Pizza Hut offers a smart slice without breaking the calorie or sodium bank. They sprinkle their seasonally inspired Skinny Beach Pizza with crushed tomato sauce, grilled chicken, red onions, cherry peppers and fresh spinach. Is your mouth watering yet? Yeah, ours, too. Coming in at 360 calories for two slices, Pizza Hut’s Thin N' Crispy Veggie Lover's pie is another smart choice, but it carries a bit more salt — 1,140 milligrams — so it’s not the best bet if you have high blood pressure or don’t regularly sweat out excess salt at the gym.