The Healthiest Dish to Order at 20 Fast Food Chains
by Dana Leigh Smith
Here’s a number you should keep in mind: 43. That’s the percentage of calories you’ll consume this year from restaurants and fast food joints which, unlike you and your mom, don’t care much about your health.
So if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, you’d better plan to be extra-vigilant yourself—which we all know isn’t always easy at a restaurant. Researchers blame this on something called the “special-occasion mentality,” and it sets in whenever we eat out at the local McDonald’s or Arby’s. If we were only dining at fast-food joints once and awhile, a splurge would have only minimal consequences, but that’s not the world we live in. The majority of Americans eat at restaurants every day or two. In fact, in our recent poll, one out of every three respondents said they’d eaten from a restaurant within the last 24 hours. That makes dining out about as “special” as taking a shower.
To help you stay trim, we shifted through the nutrition information at all of your favorite fast-food joints. To ensure our suggestions were truly the best-of-the-best for your waistline and total health, we looked beyond calorie and fat counts and examined each menu item holistically. Ready to eat your burger (and taco and pizza) and have it, too? Read on to discover how to do just that!
Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad with ⅓ Packet Lite Italian Dressing
237 calories, 13.4 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 1,110 mg sodium, 8.7 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 5.7 g sugar, 22 g protein
Get your hit of poultry (one of the 29 Best Proteins for Weight Loss) plus 23 grams of muscle-building protein—minus the trans fats and starchy bread that comes along with most of the other menu items. This is the healthiest order at Arby’s, and one of the most delicious. And bonus, it has bacon! It doesn’t get much better than that!
230 calories, 9 g fat, 3 saturated fat, 460 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 9 protein
It may be hard to believe, but one of the best orders from BK comes served between two fluffy buns. Thanks to its low calorie, fat and sodium count, the King’s classic hamburger is a safe and satisfying bet for anyone trying to maintain their flat belly. In fact, the sandwich is so healthy compared to the competition that it’s one of these 11 Diet Expert-Approved Orders from Burger King.
Turkey Burger, No Mayo
380 calories, 10 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 880 mg sodium, 45 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 29 g protein
Carl's Jr. may have the raciest ads in fast food land, but some of its offerings are downright respectable, starting with its line of 500-calorie-or-less turkey burgers and Chicken Stars, the chain's version of nuggets that clock in at just over 40 calories apiece. But to create a meal with the very best nutritional profile, stick with the classic Turkey Burger and have them hold the mayo. (It also comes slathered in their Special Sauce, so you won’t even miss it!) This easy alternation will save you more than 100 calories and 12 grams of fat.
Whatever you wind up ordering, be sure to steer clear of the chain's menu item that makes our list of the Worst “Healthy” Fast Food in America.
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
320 calories, 5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 800 mg sodium, 40 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 30 g protein
Choosing this protein-packed, low-cal sandwich over the chain’s Chicken Salad variety saves you 180 calories and 15 grams of fat—leaving plenty of room for a healthy dessert if you’re still hungry. We recommend grabbing a 50-calorie fruit cup to fill your belly and add immunity-boosting vitamin C to your meal.
For more healthy menu options from the fast-food chain, check out these Chick-Fil-A Items Nutritionists Order.
Chicken, Pinto Bean and Veggie Salad
365 calories, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 1,160 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 14.5 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 42 g protein
“When I eat salad, I use it as an opportunity to get some of my carbohydrates from beans. [At Chipotle] I ask for double the veggies so I'm fully satisfied and getting the most nutrients I can,” says registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White. To recreate White’s go-to order, ask for a romaine lettuce base with one scoop of chicken, two scoops of fajita vegetables, one scoop of pinto beans and tomato salsa.
And for 150+ more delicious belly-filling ideas—and to lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days—check out the delicious, quick and easy recipes in the all-new Zero Belly Cookbook]!
Grilled Chicken and Jalapeno Pepper Pizza on Brooklyn-Style Crust
Two medium slices, 390 calories, 15 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 1,090 mg sodium, 4 g sugar, 18 g protein
Indulging in a slice or two of pizza doesn’t have to come with a side of guilt. In fact, we give you permission to dig into not one, but two, slices of this create-your-own pie. The grilled chicken is the leanest meat on the menu and toppings like jalapenos add a kick of metabolism-boosting fiery flavor without provolone-sized calories. And to discover the health factor of all of your favorite dishes, check out our exclusive report: Every Menu Item at Domino’s—Ranked!
Chicken Fajita Pita
360 calories, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 1,117 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 24 g protein
This Fajita Pita is one of the best entrees in the entire fast-food universe. Low in calories, packed with protein and fiber, this is one meal that would be hard to top—even in your own kitchen.
And speaking of cooking, be sure to check out these 20 Delicious Kitchen Hacks Slim People Follow.
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast with Sweet Kernel Corn and Green Beans
340 calories, 7 g fat, 990 mg sodium, 25 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 44 g protein
A Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is a solid option to turn to any time you find yourself at KFC. Enjoy a side of green beans and corn alongside the poultry for a light, 340-calorie meal that’ll keep you full and satiated for hours without derailing your weight loss efforts.
Trim It 1/4 lb. Low Carb Little Thickburger
220 calories, 15 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 590 mg sodium, 6 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 15 g protein
When it comes to fast-food burgers, it doesn’t get much healthier—or lighter in carbs—than this. To whip up this mouthwatering creation, Hardee’s takes a Black Angus beef patty and wraps it inside iceberg lettuce leaves, along with pickles, onion, tomato, ketchup and mustard. If you don’t see this offering on the menu board at your local restaurant, fear not. Just ask your server for the “1/4 lb. Low-Carb Little Thickburger” from the “Trim It menu,” and he’ll be able to hook you up. To discover more low-cal on-the-go meals, check out our guide to Fast Food Burgers Under 300 Calories.
Panda Express Broccoli Beef with ½ Order Mixed Veggies
230 calories, 7.5 g fat, 1,060 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 13 g protein
Panda Express actually has several options with reasonable calorie counts. As with any Chinese food meal, the key is to skip the greasy mound of fried rice and oily tangle of noodles. Pair a low-calorie entrée such as the Broccoli Beef with a side of veggies, and you wind up with a fairly nutritious meal that has plenty of protein to keep you full.
300 calories, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 730 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 17 g protein
Thanks to the chain's new all-day breakfast initiative you can now get your hands on this flat-belly, protein filled dish around the clock. Though you might assume the egg-white version is the better bet, the whole egg sandwich contains carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals making it the smarter pick, explains dietitian Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND. The yellow center also contains choline, a nutrient that helps boost metabolism.
For more ways to boost your calorie burn, check out these 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.
Classic Salad with Chicken and Balsamic Vinaigrette
300 calories, 13 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 320 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 27 g protein
This simple-yet-delicious salad has a near-perfect ratio of calorie, fat, carbs and protein, making it a go-to pick for health-minded Panera fans and diet experts alike. “[When I order the classic salad with Chicken] I know that I’m getting nutrients from the vegetables and lasting energy from the protein,” says Ilyse Schapiro MS, RD. “Sometimes, if I’m on the hungrier side, I pair it with an apple or a whole-grain roll, which you can ask for instead of chips.”
Looking for more healthy Panera options? Check out these 5 Panera Secret Menu Items You’ve Got to Try.
1 slice, ⅙ small pizza, 140 calories, 4.5 g fat, 2 g saturated, 0 g trans fat, 350 mg sodium, 19 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 5 g protein
We’re typically apprehensive about using “garden” and “pizza” in the same sentence, but this slice, packed with onions, green peppers, portobello and olives, turns a nutrient desert into the top choice at Papa John’s. If you’re prone to overindulging, invite a friend to go halfsies with you to keep the meal under 500 calories even if you go for that second—or third—slice.
Loaded Chicken Wrap
310 calories, 13 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 890 mg sodium, 33 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 14 g protein
This wrap is the best of both worlds: fried chicken and the chain’s signature Red Beans & Rice all rolled into one. In fact, it’s hard to believe that it contains a mere 310 calories while packing in 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of satiating fiber.
Thinking of adding a diet soda to your order? Read up on these 30 Top Diet Sodas—Ranked!
Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
450 calories, 17 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 1,240 mg sodium, 44 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 32 g protein
A soft ciabatta bun and breaded chicken join together with a host of veggies and light mayo to create this flavorful diet-friendly order.
Curious how Sonic’s fries stack up to the competition? Check out our exclusive report: The Best and Worst Fast Food French Fries—Ranked! to find out.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
230 calories, 6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 560 mg sodium, 28 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 13 g protein
Lean protein from the bacon and egg meets its perfect accompaniment in the relatively low-carb English muffin. That’s a powerful nutritional punch for a mere 230 calories. This is another all-day breakfast item we’re proud to get behind.
STEAK ’N SHAKE
Single Steakburger, no cheese or fries
280 calories, 11 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 310 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 4 g sugar 12 g protein
In the restaurant world, “specialty” means excess calories and fat, and that rule certainly holds true at Steak ‘n Shake. Steer clear of the chain’s Specialty Steakburgers—the souped-up options with extra fixings—and order the Single Steakburger instead. It’s the only burger on the menu that isn’t laced with trans fat—the dangerous man-made chemical that has been shown to increases the odds of dying from any cause by up to 24 percent. Word of warning: Make sure your server holds the cheese. That’s where the trans fat appears to be hiding out.
6" BLT on 9-Grain Bread With Lettuce, Tomatoes, Onions, Green Peppers
320 calories, 9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 650 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 15 g protein
The health halo surrounding Subway is a boon for the sandwich chain, but for everyone else, it’s quite problematic. The numbers Subway advertises are only for a 6-inch sub and don’t account for cheese, mayo, olive oil, or any extras most people get on their sub. Order a 12-inch sandwich with a couple of extras, and your “healthy” sub suddenly becomes an 800-calorie, diet-sinking torpedo. To be fair, though, there are many nutritious sandwich combinations at Subway, and this is one of them. Just make sure to go with 6 inches (not 12), mustard (not mayo), and take advantage of Subway’s best option: unlimited veggies.
Chipotle Chicken Loaded Griller
350 calories, 16 g fat (4 g saturated), 810 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 15 g protein
Meet the Best Burrito at Taco Bell, containing the lowest calorie, carbohydrate and salt count, plus 15 grams of protein. And you know who’s a fan of chicken? Insanity star Shaun T. Learn how to slim down—fast—with these 20 Weight-Loss Secrets from Insanity’s Shaun T.
Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich
370 calories, 7 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 580 mg sodium, 43 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 34 g protein, 9 g sugar
Going to the Wendy's drive-thru doesn't mean tossing your nutrition plan out the car window—just stick with the Ultimate Grill and steer clear of the ever-tempting Frosties and fries. The sandwich comes with a grilled chicken breast, tomato, lettuce and a drizzle of honey mustard, a combination that’s heavy on flavor and protein but light in the fat and sodium department.
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