Who flunked?

The Most Popular Chain Restaurants—Ranked!

Find out who flunked and who graduated with top honors as we dish out grades in our ranking of these popular chain restaurants.

Restaurant Guide

The Most Popular Chain Restaurants—Ranked!

Find out who flunked and who graduated with top honors as we dish out grades in our ranking of these popular chain restaurants.

You don’t have to eat at home for every meal when you’re on a diet, but determining which chain restaurant to visit can keep your weight loss success from stalling. Depending on your choice of dining establishment, you may not have the proper tools to navigate through a minefield of belly bombs, missiles that can accelerate aging, and antibiotic-ridden proteins that make you sick and fat.

That’s why Eat This, Not That! put 12 popular chain restaurants under the nutritional microscope. We graded each chain restaurant based on four standard metrics to determine which dining establishment would be safest for your waistline and for your overall health. Did your favorite restaurant make the grade? Read on to find out, and then be sure keep your waistline toned and tight by avoiding these 31 Things You Did Today to Slow Your Metabolism!

How We Graded Them

Here are the four metrics we used to determine each chain’s final grade.

Stance on Antibiotics

We borrowed the grades from an annual report put out by the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Center for Food Safety, and several other organizations. It ranks the nation’s fast-food and fast-casual restaurant chains on “their antibiotics use policies and practices for sourcing meat and poultry.” Advocates say the continual use of antibiotics significant to human medicine in livestock helps create bacteria that’s immune to standard antibiotics. The potential result: The next time you get really sick, there may no longer be a drug that can make you healthy. In fact, the CDC estimates antibiotic-resistant bugs account for 23,000 human deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States every year.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?

You should be able to log onto the restaurant’s website and get the nutrition and ingredient stats on all of your favorite dishes. If there’s information missing from any of their menus, chains received deductions.

Quality of Ingredients

Fast food shouldn’t mean chemical laden. We’d like to see fresh, simple ingredients from real food in these dishes, and any restaurant still using preservatives, artificial ingredients, or bad-for-you additives received deductions.

Healthy Options & Customization

We evaluated the presence (or absence) of healthy offerings, along with the ability to customize your order to fit your diet.

1

Applebee’s

Stance on Antibiotics: F. So far, Applebee’s has not mentioned any plans to reduce antibiotic use.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: C. Yes, but they only started doing it in 2009 after an investigation revealed that many of Applebee’s “healthy” menu items were up to three times as caloric than advertised. They list nutritional information for each dish but don’t disclose the ingredients included in each.

Quality of Ingredients: F. Because Applebee’s no longer discloses the ingredients they use in each dish, we can’t comment on their quality.

Healthy Options: D. Applebee’s does ofter “Lighter Fare” options, but each of these dishes contain more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium, and three out of five contain more sodium than the daily recommended amount. (If you’re not convinced your salt intake matters, consider this: For every extra gram of salt you eat in a day, your risk of obesity climbs by 25 percent, according to a study at Queen Mary University in London.) In our report on Applebee’s nutrition, we found that a significant percentage of their dishes contain more than your entire day’s recommended allowance of fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar.

Final Grade: D

Trying to find a healthy dish on Applebee’s menu is like walking through a diet-destroying minefield. You’ll want to keep your trips to this neighborhood grill to a minimum if you’re watching your weight.

2

Burger King

Stance on Antibiotics: F. At the end of 2016, Burger King announced plans to remove antibiotics from its chicken supply in 2017. However, according to the NRDC, Burger King’s pledge only applies to three classes of antibiotics considered critically important (out of a total of 27). Because this was basically a meaningless pledge, the NRDC assigned BK an F grade.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Yes, they have a customizable nutrition calculator on their website and list all ingredients.

Quality of Ingredients: D-. Hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, preservatives, and inflammatory fats are among the ingredients found in nearly every menu item.

Healthy Options: D+. Almost every sandwich has an extra 90-calorie smattering of fat from a heaping serving of soybean-oil-based mayonnaise. There are only a few salads (many of which come with calorically dense dressings. But there are some simple burger options that ring in at under 400 calories.

Final Grade: D+

The only way you can eat at BK and still wear skinny jeans is a two-word strategy: NO. MAYO. Our favorite picks are in this exclusive guide: Every Burger King Menu Item—Ranked!

3

Cheesecake Factory

Stance on Antibiotics: F. So far, Cheesecake Factory has not mentioned any plans to reduce antibiotic use.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: F. The Cheesecake Factory won’t budge when it comes to revealing what’s really in its food. Aside from the chain’s SkinnyLicious menu, which is made up of 50 dishes with 590 calories or fewer, they’re not saying a word on their website about the nutritional makeup of their dishes.

Quality of Ingredients: D-. We see that they use what looks to be whole food ingredients, but because the Cheesecake Factory doesn’t disclose their ingredient or nutritional information, we couldn’t give them a better grade.

Healthy Options: D-. The Cheesecake Factory prides themselves on having the “world’s largest menu,” and they also happen to have the world’s largest portions. The only redeeming part of the menu is SkinnyLicious—their collection of 50 dishes with 590 calories or less. Even their “Super Foods” section, which touts clean ingredients with superpowers, can topple over 1,000 calories. Because of the super-huge portions, Cheesecake Factory basically fails in this category.

Final Grade: F

The Cheesecake Factory is the least diet-friendly restaurant on the planet because it brazenly refuses to reveal what’s really in its food and its humongous portions could feed a family of five with just one dish. The best strategy for a visit to the Factory? Run the other way before you reach the door. But if that’s not an option, ask your waiter to box up half your meal before it even reaches the table.

4

Chick-Fil-A

Stance on Antibiotics: B. The chicken chain gets a B grade because it has committed to serve only antibiotic-free meat by 2019. Right now, about 20 percent of its chicken is antibiotic-free.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Yes, they have a customizable nutrition calculator on their website and list all ingredients.

Quality of Ingredients: B-. Chick-Fil-A prides itself on its fresh-squeezed lemonade, handmade biscuits, and chicken breaded and seasoned to order. You know some ingredients are fresh, but the chain still uses some questionable ingredients like vegetable oil shortening, “natural butter-type flavor,” phosphates, preservatives and nitrites.

Healthy Options: B-. Chick-fil-A ranks among the best of the country’s major fast-food establishments, thanks to a line of low-calorie chicken sandwiches and an impressive roster of healthy sides like yogurt parfaits and various salads. That said, they’re still purveyors of fried chicken sandwiches and milkshakes which exceed that amount of added sugar you should consume in a day, so we couldn’t give them too high of a grade.

Final Grade: B

Steer clear of the breakfast platters and milkshakes and go for the grilled chicken sandwiches or a classic fried chicken sandwich. And sub in a healthy side—a salad or soup— for the standard fried fare.

5

Chili’s

Stance on Antibiotics: F. So far, Chili’s has not mentioned any plans to reduce antibiotic use.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: C. The chain lists nutritional information for each dish but does not disclose the ingredients included in each.

Quality of Ingredients: D-. We don’t know what Chili’s uses in its food, so we couldn’t give the chain a good grade. That said, there are more whole-food ingredients used in its dishes than you’d find in a fast-food restaurant, so we gave them a passing grade.

Healthy Options: D+. Chili’s has a “Lighter Choices” with menu items of 590 calories or less, and the items are pretty well-rounded. Plus, their large menu contains sides and soups that aren’t exploding with calories. That said, Chili’s has dishes that appear on our lists of salads worse than a Whopper, dishes with more fat than a Big Mac, and even has a salad with more than a day’s worth of added sugars.

Final Grade: D+

Chili’s serves up some of the country’s saltiest, fattiest, and most calorie-laden fare. Plus, their “Lighter Choices” menu is a failed attempt at healthier meals. It has only a handful of options and a sky-high average sodium count. Nothing at Chili’s will make you look particularly hot, so don’t make dining at this restaurant a daily affair.

6

Chipotle

Stance on Antibiotics: A. Chipotle has offered antibiotic-free meat and pork for years (founder Steve Ells has testified before Congress in favor of reducing antibiotics given to farm animals). In response to the report, Chipotle has every right to brag. “While many people are just starting to pay attention to the issue,” they said, “we have known for a long time that it is the right thing to do, and we are pleased to see others taking even small steps to curb antibiotic use in livestock.”

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Not only do they list all the nutrition and ingredient information online, but they also have a calculator that allows you to customize the information to your exact order.

Quality of Ingredients: A. We’ve always commended Chipotle for the integrity of its ingredients. As of March 2017, the chain has eliminated artificial ingredients and preservatives from its menu. (They were lurking in the Mexican restaurant’s tortilla recipe.) In a press release, Chipotle touted that it’s the only “national brand” to introduce a preservative-free menu. On top of being free of nasty additives, Chipotle is GMO-free, most of its dairy products are from “Pasture-Raised” cows, and all of its food is fresh (from farms, not factories). (Anything left over from service one day is tossed or donated.)

Healthy Options: B. Chipotle is all about customization, and its menu is very flexible. You can order one or two tacos instead of having to get three every time, you can leave out calorie-dense add-ons like sour cream, and you have the option to order your burrito in a bowl rather than in a sodium-heavy tortilla. Our only concern is that portion sizes for the bowl and burrito are still fairly large, and smaller options aren’t available.

Final Grade: A

Choose a bowl over a burrito, don’t be afraid of leaving leftovers, skip the white rice and sour cream, load on the lettuce, and you’ll do just fine. For more guidance, check out Every Dish at Chipotle—Ranked!

7

KFC

Stance on Antibiotics: F. Although KFC’s website states that they “work closely with suppliers to minimize the use of antibiotics important in human medicine at the farms that supply our restaurants,” the brand still lags behind its competitors on the antibiotic-free front. In fact, KFC has not announced any plans to go antibiotic-free.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Yes, they have a customizable nutrition calculator on their website and list all ingredients.

Quality of Ingredients: D+. KFC is certainly making an effort: their menu will be 100 percent free of food dyes by the end of 2017, excluding third-party products and beverages. (Right now they’re at 92 percent.) They also expect to remove all artificial colors and flavors from their core products by the end of 2018. It sounds like a step in the right direction, but as of now, KFC is still putting caramel coloring in their baked beans, using soybean oil, preservatives, MSG, liquid margarine, and monoglycerides. So they still have some work to do.

Healthy Options: C-. Surprisingly, KFC has more than a few things going for it. The menu’s crispy bird bites are offset by skinless chicken pieces, low-calorie sandwich options, and a host of sides that come from beyond the fryer.

Final Grade: C-

Avoid the bowls and pot pies, and choose your chicken wisely: The difference between an Original Recipe breast and an Extra Crispy is 170 calories; order Kentucky Grilled and you’ll save another 100 calories. Then adorn your plate with one of the Colonel’s healthy sides.

8

McDonald’s

Stance on Antibiotics: C+. The report assigned this grade with this reasoning: “McDonald’s received fewer points because routine use of antibiotics [important to human health] is still allowed for ‘disease prevention’ in the production of its pork and beef.”

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. McDonald’s lists all nutrition and ingredient information online and provides a calculator that allows you to customize the information to your exact order.

Quality of Ingredients: B-. The trans fats are gone from its oils, the number of calorie bombs has been reduced, the chicken nuggets recipe got a makeover that eschews preservatives, phosphates, and artificial ingredients, and the chain is transitioning to fresh beef for their Quarter Pounders by mid-2018 (but will continue to use frozen beef for the other burgers).

Healthy Options: B-. The world-famous burger baron has come a long way since the publication of Fast Food Nation—at least nutritionally speaking. They’ve trimmed their menu (killing the McWrap, Chicken Selects, and many salad items) and are focusing on improving what’s left. Their breakfast menu (a favorite now that it’s served all day) offers many well-rounded items, and they serve many low-calorie burgers. Still, too many of the breakfast and lunch items top 500 calories, super-sizing has returned via the introduction of the “Grand Mac,” and the dessert menu is a total mess.

Final Grade: B

We’re pleased with the direction of McDonald’s. This isn’t an “avoid at all costs” fast-food joint anymore. See how the entire menu stacks up in our exclusive report: Every Menu Item At McDonald’s—Ranked!.

9

Panera Bread

Stance on Antibiotics: A. Armed with a new tagline, “Food as It Should Be,” Panera touts that it serves chicken that’s antibiotic-free.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A-. Yes, they have nutrition information for every dish and list all ingredients. They improve things with a custom calculator.

Quality of Ingredients: A. As of January 2017, Panera’s menu is 100 percent free of artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources. They were one of the first chains to dispose of artery-clogging man-made trans fats, and they’re pioneers of offering clean food, making healthy choices easy. In March 2017, Panera became the first national restaurant chain to label added sugar alongside calorie information for every beverage it serves.

Healthy Options: A-. Their menu features a roster of mostly great salads and soups, but the sodium count of many of these offerings can soar far beyond 1,250 milligrams per serving (or about half of the recommended sodium intake per day). If you’re watching your sodium, at least Panera always offers the option to get most dishes in a half portion.

Final Grade: A

You can feel assured that your diet likely won’t be thrown off course if you stop at Panera. Find out how your favorite stacks up, nutrition-wise, by checking out our exclusive report, Every Soup, Sandwich & Salad at Panera—Ranked.

10

Subway

Stance on Antibiotics: B. In 2015, Subway announced they were beginning to eliminate antibiotic usage in their chicken, and they set a timeline for acquiring antibiotic-free pork and beef as well as cage-free eggs (2025). In March 2016, Subway began selling a rotisserie-style chicken sandwich made from antibiotic-free chicken.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Yes, they have a customizable nutrition calculator on their website and list all ingredients.

Quality of Ingredients: B. In 2014, Subway removed azodicarbonamide, a plastic dough conditioner also used in yoga mats, from its breads and increased their offerings of whole-grain breads. Although they’ve made some steps to improve their formulas, they still use inflammatory (and cheap) soybean oil in their bread and soybean protein in their chicken. Their deli meats still contain phosphates, which have been linked to accelerated aging, corn syrup (a cheap alternative to real sugar), and nitrites (which are currently under scrutiny for their potentially carcinogenic properties).

Healthy Options: B. The chain offers subs in different sizes (so you can grab a shortie if you’re watching your waistline) as well as a variety of different meats and toppings. Unfortunately, nearly half their offerings exceed 1,000 milligrams of sodium per sub—and that’s without any condiments.

Final Grade: B+

Load up on veggies, steer clear of the saucy chicken sandwiches, and be extra careful about your condiment choices. To find our favorite sandwiches, don’t miss these Every Subway Sandwich—Ranked for Nutrition!

11

Taco Bell

Stance on Antibiotics: C-. Taco Bell—a Yum! Brands restaurant—announced in November 2015 that they would switch to cage-free eggs by the end of 2016, and they expanded that commitment to source 100% cage-free egg ingredients for our core menu by January 2018. As of April of 2016, the Bell announced that its chicken would be raised without antibiotics important to human medicine by sometime in 2017.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Yes. Taco Bell was one of the first quick-service restaurants to post full nutrition information online. Their customizable nutrition calculator makes it easy for you to make an informed decision.

Quality of Ingredients: B-. Since 2008, Taco Bell has reduced sodium across its menu by 15 percent and is now pushing to grow that number to 25 percent. They’ve removed all artificial flavors and colors—replacing them with natural alternatives—as well as removed added trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, and unsustainable palm oil from our food. The only grief we have is that they still use preservatives, additives with known negative side effects in humans, and inflammatory oils.

Healthy Options: C. According to Taco Bell, 60 percent of orders are customized, so the calorie cutting power is in your hands. You can reduce calories and fat by choosing “Fresco style” or up the protein count by adding extra servings of meat. Although you can customize many items, the majority of Taco Bell’s menu is high in calories, fat, sodium, and carbs, and are missing veggies.

Final Grade: B-

Stay away from anything “smothered,” “XXL,” or “Supreme” and be skeptical of the salads. If you want to “Live Mas” without expanding your waistline any mas, check out our guide, Every Menu Item at Taco Bell—Ranked!.

12

Wendy’s

Stance on Antibiotics: C. Wendy’s has committed to stop using chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health by 2017. As of June 2016, they had already transitioned half of their 250-million-pound chicken supply to being raised without medically important antibiotics. The fast-food purveyor also said it would commit to specific goals for the reduction of antibiotics important to humans in pork and beef production in 2017. By 2019, they will only source beef from cattle feeders who are Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified and chicken from suppliers whose farms are part of USDA’s Process Verified Program: a compliance that ensures the best animal care practices.

Do They Reveal Nutrition Information?: A. Their online nutrition calculator lists ingredients for every component and allows you to edit meals to your liking.

Quality of Ingredients: D+. Wendy’s may use fresh—never frozen—beef, but the chain still loads up its chicken patties with phosphates, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, and creepy anti-foaming agents like dimethylpolysiloxane, and their buns are full of trans-fat-contaminated mono and diglycerides, fake fiber, and high fructose corn syrup.

Healthy Options: C-. Scoring a decent meal at Wendy’s is just about as easy as scoring a bad one. It’s great that Wendy’s offers a handful of Jr. Burgers that stay below 400 calories, but there are still many burger and chicken sandwiches that are high in calories and high in fat. They do have the most impressive assortment of salads out of the big three fast food burger joints. Just don’t pick anything served with ranch dressing.

Final Grade: C+

Choose a grilled chicken sandwich—they don’t exceed 350 calories—opt for a small burger, or check out their salads with grilled chicken and ask for a balsamic dressing on the side.