At first glance, health-conscious folks may think that picking up a chicken sandwich from a fast food joint is a safe bet. After all, poultry is known to be leaner than the mystery beef served in those double-stacked hamburgers. But just because chicken holds a star reputation as the low-calorie, low-fat option on your dinner table, it doesn’t mean a chicken sandwich is your best option when dining out or zipping through the drive-thru. You think you’d be able to rely on this star protein, but once it’s injected with solutions of chemicals, preservatives, and additives and then coated, breaded, and deep fried, many of these chicken sandwiches can set you back just as badly as a burger and fries.
The good news is that there are still a fair number of smart picks that can help you keep your diet on track. That’s why we here at Eat This, Not That! scanned through all the nutrition data from the nation’s most popular fast food joints to separate chicken sandwich friends from some clucked-up waistline foes. Don’t want to curb your commitment to eating out? At least make sure you always avoid these Worst Menu Options at 40 Popular Restaurants!
Category: Grilled Chicken
Grilled chicken sandwiches were ranked primarily on calories, sodium, and fat. (Since chicken is a fairly lean protein, any extra fat is likely from globs of high-calorie sauces.) Any ranking ties were broken by taking a closer look at the ingredients.
From Worst to Best…
Burger King Grilled Chicken Sandwich
470 calories, 19 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 850 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 37 g protein
In theory, you’d think you can’t go wrong with a white meat chicken fillet with veggies, but the burger joint smears 12 grams worth of fat in the form of mayo on the bun. In doing so, it bumped BK’s grilled chicken sandwich to the worst spot on our list. Axe the spread to cut fat and 110 excess calories from your meal. Add a bit of mustard if the bun seems too dry for you.
Sonic Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
450 calories, 17 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,240 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 32 g protein
Even though the description reads “light mayo,” the nutritionals don’t appear to agree. The 17 grams of fat is the second highest of all the fast food grilled chicken sandwiches. It doesn’t get much better; The sandwich also boasts the highest sodium levels, so eating it will just add to the list of 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Fat.
Dairy Queen Grilled Chicken Sandwich
440 calories, 15 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,150 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 31 g protein
Like Sonic, DQ serves their grilled seasoned chicken filet on a ciabatta bun, but they manage to save you a couple grams of fat, sugar, and sodium.
McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
380 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,100 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 37 g protein
McDonald’s keeps the calories low by dressing their grilled chicken sandwich in a vinaigrette rather than a sloppy mayo. It’s just too bad the sodium levels climb up to 1,100 milligrams.
Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich
310 calories, 6 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 820 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 29 g protein
Served on a toasted multigrain bun, Chick-fil-A’s protein-packed, low-cal sandwich is one of your best bets in the fast food world and at Chick-fil-A. Note: Although Chick-fil-A serves the sandwich with Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce, it doesn’t include it in the nutritional information. If you want to keep this sandwich as the best, eat it sauceless or ask for the honey mustard or the BBQ sauce instead. Each will only add 45 calories, no more than 10 grams of sugar, and up to 180 mg sodium, whereas Chick-fil-a’s signature Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce packs on a hefty 140 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 6 grams of sugar.
The #1 Best Grilled Chicken Sandwich Is From… Wendy’s!
360 calories, 8 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 820 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 35 g protein
Sure, it’s a little higher in calories and fat than Chick-fil-A’s offering, but Wendy’s new Grilled Chicken Sandwich comes complete with a smoky honey mustard whereas CFA’s is served dry. Like the “eat-more-chicken” restaurant, Wendy’s also serves their grilled chicken sandwich on a multigrain bun: a wheat-based bun that boasts an extra two grams of protein compared to their regular sandwich bun. Unfortunately, to compensate for that sweet taste you’re used to in the refined flour bun, Wendy’s adds an extra 3 grams of sugar to this sandwich bread. Bummer for those who are trying to cut back on sugar. That being said, the extra protein you’ll consume in Wendy’s offering can help slow your digestion of these sugars and keep you from experiencing spikes in blood sugar.
Category: Fried Chicken
Drowned and deep-fried in inflammatory oils, we docked sandwiches that were high in fat, calories, sodium, and carbs. Points were awarded to those sandwiches higher in protein.
From Worst to Best…
Popeyes Chicken Po’Boy
660 calories, 34 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 2,120 mg sodium, 61 g carbs (3 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 31 g protein
Who would have thought that just two chicken tenders, some mayo, lettuce, and tomato on a roll could rack up just 180 milligrams of sodium shy of your entire day’s recommended intake of the blood-pressure-raising nutrient? This button-busting sandwich also rivals our next pick for highest in calories and fat and takes the lead for sandwich highest in saturated fat. (Even worse? It’s the only offering that contains trans fat—an artery-clogging fat that increases your risk of heart disease and stroke and is required by the FDA to be removed from your food by 2018.)
Carl’s Jr. Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich
680 calories, 35 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,360 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 32 g protein
Although we have to commend Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s for switching over to artificial preservative- and additive-free chicken breasts in June of 2016, that doesn’t mean that this sandwich is significantly better for you. (Especially since the breast fillet is still injected with a “natural flavor”-based solution of sodium, extra soy protein to bump up the protein content, and sodium phosphates—an additive whose high intake has been linked to higher rates of chronic kidney disease and weak bones.) That’s not even mentioning the sky-high calorie, fat, and sodium content this sandwich boasts.
Burger King Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich
660 calories, 40 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,220 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (4 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 26 g protein
The difference between the TENDERCRISP® Chicken and the chicken used in the Original sandwich below is that 18 percent of the TENDERCRISP® chicken is actually a water and seasoning solution made with MSG and inflammatory omega-6-laden soybean oil. The description of the sandwich is correct in saying this piece of watered-down chicken is “generously breaded.” It’s that breading that sops up 40 grams of fat and 660 calories.
Burger King Original Chicken Sandwich
660 calories, 40 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,170 mg sodium, 48 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 28 g protein
Despite appearing bigger than the TENDERCRISP, BK’s Original Chicken Sandwich is actually smaller (and weighs nearly 30 grams less). It’s nearly identical in nutrition, but we awarded it a place ahead of its sister sandwich because it contains a couple extra grams of protein and a tiny bit less belly-bloating sodium.
McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
570 calories, 23 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,050 mg sodium, 64 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 28 g protein
You’ll get the same amount of protein as the sandwiches above from McDonald’s offering but with nearly half the fat and 90 fewer calories. But we’re still disappointed this sandwich has over 1,000 milligrams of sodium and somehow manages to pack in 11 grams of sugar.
Arby’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
550 calories, 26 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,480 mg sodium, 52 g carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 29 g protein
Even though Arby’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken sandwich has significantly less fat—10 fewer grams of fat, 2.5 of which are saturated—and fewer calories than our pick below, we had to deduct some points from the fast-food joint’s offering due to their heavy hand in the preservative and chemical department. The chicken is injected with artificial flavors, the bun is glazed with a “shine agent, artificial colors red 40, yellow 5 and 6 are use, and the sandwich is packed with unpronounceable preservatives like propylparaben and sodium benzoate. Pass.
Shake Shack Chick’n Shack
595 calories, 36 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,300 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (3 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 28 g protein
Props go to Shake Shake for using all-natural (meaning no hormones and no antibiotics are used) cage-free chicken and real buttermilk (rather than buttermilk powder and dried cane syrup used in the sandwich above). Our only issue is that this extra crispy chicken breast strip is drowned in frying fats. And with a buttermilk herb mayo, the calorie and fat counts soar.
Jack in the Box Chicken Sandwich
510 calories, 31 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 940 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (2 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 15 g protein
We’d bet Jack couldn’t even make it out of the box if he was only feasting on this high-fat, low-protein sandwich.
Sonic Classic Crispy Chicken Sandwich
580 calories, 29 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 900 mg sodium, 57 g carbs (5 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 28 g protein
That ciabatta roll sure looks good, but it only means more simple carbs for your body to break down quickly and spike a fat-storing insulin response.
Dairy Queen Crispy Chicken Sandwich
530 calories, 29 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 900 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (3 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 23 g protein
Lower in carbs, sugar, and calories than the pick above it, DQ delivers a decent crispy chicken filet. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
Wendy’s Homestyle Chicken Sandwich
520 calories, 21 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,200 mg sodium, 52 g carbs (4 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 30 g protein
This Wendy’s sandwich doesn’t earn the same amount of praise from us compared to their crispy chicken offering. That’s because the breading is made with corn syrup solids (contributing an extra 2 grams of sugar) and more vegetable oil (3 more grams worth), along with double the amount of sodium. So much for being “lightly seasoned.” Still, we’d rather you eat this compared to the picks above it—albeit, just with another glass of water…perhaps one of these detox waters?
Burger King Crispy Chicken Jr.
450 calories, 30 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 780 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 12 g protein
A double layer of mayonnaise means nearly double the fat in the King’s crispy chicken sandwich compared to our top pick.
Sonic Chicken Strip Sandwich
440 calories, 20 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 790 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (2 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 21 g protein
Two little chicken strips pack a big protein punch in this reasonably-portioned chicken sandwich from Sonic.
Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich
440 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,350 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 28 g protein
We love the care that Chick-fil-A takes to make each of their sandwiches from scratch. Each chicken breast is seasoned, dipped into a protein-rich milk and egg wash, hand-breaded, then added to a pressure cooker to be fried in 100% refined peanut oil: a vegetable oil that is lower in inflammatory omega-6s than traditional fryer oils. They miss the ball when it comes to sodium, carb, and calorie stats, though. (Not to mention the sandwich is served dry, whereas the top sandwiches fit in some sauce for fewer calories.) For those reasons, this sandwich got set back to our #4 slot.
KFC Chicken Littles
320 calories, 19 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 590 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (1 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 13 g protein
Made with freshly-breaded tenders, pickles, and a touch of mayo on a sweet bun, KFC’s little chicken sandwiches are perfectly portioned and low in calories, carbs, and sodium. Unfortunately, we had to dock these Chicken Littles for appearing a little too healthy. Because they’re marketed as being little, you’re more likely to order them as a pairing in the $5 fill up.
350 calories, 15 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 600 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 15 g protein
The McChicken’s nutritionals may look identical to the sandwich that’s slotted at number one, but we had to dock the golden arches for using an additive called polysorbate 80 in their bun. A recent Cancer Research study linked the additive to colon cancer in mice. It’s not the first time the additive has been implicated in threats to your health. The same team of Georgia State University researchers had previously linked the emulsifier with low-grade inflammation in the intestine. Besides watching out for it in your sandwich bun, look out for it in your favorite diet ice creams.
And the #1 Crispy Chicken Sandwich Is… Wendy’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich
350 calories, 17 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 600 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 15 g protein
Wendy’s edged out Mickey D’s by creating a tender, breaded chicken patty that’s lower in saturated fat, carbs, and sugar. Topped with crisp lettuce and a touch of mayo, Wendy’s Crispy Chicken sandwich should be your go-to.
Category: Spicy Chicken
The only real difference between spicy chicken sandwiches and original chicken sandwiches is some extra seasoning. Even so, we figured we’d separate the category to keep with our efforts of comparing like-to-like. These sandwiches were judged on the same criteria as above.
From Worst to Best…
Carl’s Jr. Spicy Chicken Sandwich
490 calories, 29 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,330 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 14 g protein
It’s not the highest calorie chicken sandwich here, but it sure has the most amount of sodium and nearly the least amount of protein.
Jack in the Box Jack’s Spicy Chicken
550 calories, 29 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 770 mg sodium, 48 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 26 g protein
It’s not our worst, but it’s still pretty bad considering it’s higher in calories than Carl’s Jr.’s sandwich with the same amount of belly-widening fat.
Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich
510 calories, 21 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,110 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 30 g protein
Even though spicy foods are known to speed up metabolism, eating this sandwich doesn’t qualify. The high levels of refined carbs are anything but metabolism-boosting.
Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich
450 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,620 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 29 g protein
Since Chick-fil-a uses all-natural chicken and the sandwiches are cooked in a better-for-you oil like peanut oil, we awarded them points. Unfortunately, despite being low in fat and high in protein, the sodium levels were too high to take our top spot.
The #1 Best Spicy Chicken Sandwich Is… Burger King Spicy Crispy Chicken Jr.
390 calories, 21 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 740 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 12 g protein
Even with a layer of creamy spicy sauce, Burger King’s Spicy Crispy Chicken Jr. Sandwich isn’t a terrible choice. It’s low in calories, carbs, and sodium, and the only reason it’s low in protein is because BK doesn’t inject their chicken with soy protein isolate. If you’re looking to save even more calories, leave off the 90-calorie sauce and don’t feel guilty about indulging in a small order of fries. Follow these 35 Easy Swaps to Make Every Meal Healthier for more smart substitutes!