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The Healthiest Dish to Order at 20 Fast Food Chains

How to eat at all the popular restaurants—while dodging calorie bombs.
The Healthiest Dish to Order at 20 Fast Food Chains

Here’s a number you should keep in mind: 36.6 That’s the percentage of calories you consume each year from fast food joints, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, you’d better plan to be extra-vigilant yourself and choose the healthiest fast food meal you can find—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 in a while, 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 sifted 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 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 fast food order at Arby’s, and one of the most delicious. And bonus, it has bacon! It doesn’t get much better than that!


Burger King

240 calories, 10 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, .5 g trans fat, 380 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 13 g 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 diet expert-approved orders from Burger King.


Carl’s Jr.

Turkey Burger, No Mayo
480 calories, 21 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 1,250 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!) 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
310 calories, 6 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 820 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 29 g protein

Choosing this protein-packed, low-cal sandwich over the chain’s Chicken Salad variety saves you over 100 calories and 10 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, 1,225 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 5 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.



2 Slices Grilled Chicken and Jalapeno Pepper Pizza on Brooklyn-Style Crust
540 calories, 20 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 1,640 mg sodium, 58 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 30 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 ranking of every menu item at Domino’s!


Jack In The Box

Chicken Fajita Pita
346 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 delicious kitchen hacks slim people follow.



Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast with Sweet Kernel Corn and Green Beans
320 calories, 8 g fat, 970 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 3 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, 320-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 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 an 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.



Egg McMuffin
300 calories, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 730 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 18 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 best ways to boost your metabolism.



Seasonal Greens Salad with Chicken and Balsamic Vinaigrette
310 calories, 13 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 320 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 29 g protein

This simple-yet-delicious salad has a near-perfect ratio of calorie, fat, carbs, and protein, making it the healthiest fast food pick at Panera. “[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.”


Papa John’s

Garden Fresh Slice on Thin Crust
230 calories, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated, 0 g trans fat, 460 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 8 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, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 790 mg sodium, 35 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 top diet sodas—ranked!



Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
480 calories, 22 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 1,190 mg sodium, 39 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 about 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
210 calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 560 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 18 g protein

Lean protein from the bacon and egg whites meets its perfect accompaniment in the relatively low-carb English muffin. That’s a powerful nutritional punch for a mere 210 calories. This is another all-day breakfast item we’re proud to get behind.


Steak ‘N Shake

Single Steakburger, no cheese
310 calories, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 830 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 15 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. Word of warning: Make sure your server holds the cheese. That’s where the trans fat appears to be hiding out.



Subway turkey sandwich Molly Donovan

6″ Turkey Breast on 9-Grain Bread With Lettuce, Tomatoes, Onions, Green Peppers
280 calories, 3.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 760 mg sodium, 46 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 18 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.


Taco Bell

Chipotle Chicken Loaded Griller
340 calories, 16 g fat (4 g saturated), 770 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 14 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 weight-loss secrets from Insanity’s Shaun T.



Wendys grilled chicken sandwich Wendy's

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
360 calories, 8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 820 mg sodium, 38 g carbs, 3 g fiber,11 g sugar, 35 g protein

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 healthiest fast food sandwich at Wendy’s 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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