11 Healthiest Fast Food Burgers, According to Dietitians
Oftentimes when you head to your favorite fast food restaurant, you're not thinking of grabbing something healthy. In fact, sometimes the most satiating experience is satisfying your junk food cravings with a burger and fries—maybe even a milkshake—and there's absolutely no harm in this on occasion. However, there are also times when you need to grab a fast food meal because it's what is quickest, cheapest, and most convenient. In these cases, you may be itching for something that isn't going to totally derail your current health goals, which is why we wanted to learn about some of the healthiest fast food burgers available right now.
To do so, we talked with a handful of expert dietitians to get their choices on better-for-you burger options. "You'll notice a trend on the list that isn't surprising—single burgers without all the fixings, cheese, extra meat, etc., because these are best when it comes to keeping calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium in check," say Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, also known as The Nutrition Twins.
Read on to learn which burgers made the list of healthier fast food options. Then, for more tips on eating out while maintaining your health goals, check out 8 Healthiest Dishes To Order at Olive Garden.
Wendy's has plenty of fancy burger options like their Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger or their infamous Dave's Triple. However, you can find some healthier options at this fast food joint, as well.
"At under 300 calories (290 to be exact), the Wendy's Jr. Cheeseburger has less than half of the calories of most burgers, so there's still wiggle room to amp up some nutrients by ordering a side salad," say the Nutrition Twins. "While the sodium and saturated fat in this cheeseburger aren't low, they are lower than you'd find in many other burgers. If you skip the pickles and go light on the ketchup and mustard, you can drop the sodium significantly."
Another healthy hamburger option to try if you're in a rush and need something quick is the Whopper Jr. from Burger King.
"Fairly close in nutrition stats compared Wendy's Jr. cheeseburger, this burger has 334 calories, so it doesn't break the calorie bank," say the Nutrition Twins. "While the calories are slightly higher than the Wendy's burger, the sodium is slightly lower, as well as the saturated fat."
They also add that this burger has "17 grams of satisfying protein," which can help keep you full longer.
"The Jack in the Box Hamburger made it on the list due to its total calories and protein, which is nutritionally comparable to the other options," says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Medical Expert Board.
Another reason this one made the list of healthiest fast food burgers is because compared to other options, it's relatively low in saturated fat. When looking at the recommended daily intake of saturated fat at around 13 grams, having only 4 through your fast food meal isn't too shabby.
"It may not be the most decadent choice on the menu, but the single patty hamburger without cheese is a fast food burger with a solid nutrition profile," says Sydney Greene MS, RDN. "I typically recommend someone aim to have at least 15 grams of protein in their meal and anywhere from 10-20 grams of fat, so this burger is spot on."
According to Greene, you can also replace the hamburger bun with lettuce, to improve the nutritional value even more.
"This hamburger tops the list when it comes calories, saturated fat, and sodium," say the Nutrition Twins. "Add apple slices or a healthy side from your own house to step up the fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients."
However, they add that"this burgers' biggest shortcoming is that it only contains 12 grams of protein, and you want to aim for at least 20 grams of protein per meal."
Sometimes you just need to treat yourself to a burger at Shake Shack with cheese fries and a famous malt shake. However, if you're looking for a lighter option, try a regular Shake Shack Hamburger—and pass on the shake.
"Shake Shack uses fresh ingredients and 100% all-beef patties made in-house with a wide selection of vegetable toppings and a lettuce bun alternative," says Goodson. A downside that Goodson points out is that this burger is still on the higher end of calories and total fat.
Speaking of fresh ingredients from Shake Shack, if you're into a non-meat take on a fast food burger, you'll love the restaurant's Shroom Burger option.
"With all of the fake meats popping up on fast food menus, a burger that is made out of portobello mushroom is a breath of fresh air," says Greene. "This 'burger' also has significantly less sodium than some of the other Shack burgers."
You can certainly find your share of unhealthy options at Burger King, but aside from the Whopper Jr., you can also enjoy a traditional hamburger without going too overboard on your calories and fat.
"This Burger King Hamburger beats out their Whopper Jr., with fewer calories, total fat, and the artery clogging saturated kind," says the Nutrition Twins. "Plus, with 560 milligrams of sodium, which although is 1/3 of the maximum limit that many people should get in their entire day, it's lower than most other fast food burgers."
"The Little Hamburger provides one patty versus the standard two and is made with fresh in-house patties without additives," says Goodson. "You have the bonus of adding any toppings you want, and I recommend lettuce, tomatoes, and grilled onions to add a bit of color and nutrients."
You can also replace the bun with lettuce, which adds even more nutritional value and cuts some of your carbohydrates.
Culver's is arguably most known for its frozen custard, but their ButterBurger is delicious and not too shabby when it comes to nutritional value. Compared to many other fast food burgers, this one is lower in calories, as well as total and saturated fat. It is especially low in sodium and the second lowest on our list, right behind the Five Guys Little Hamburger. Another benefit of ordering this one is the 20 grams of protein per sandwich.
The Steak 'n Shake Steakburger is one of the lower-calorie options on the list, and is also fairly mild in saturated fat compared to most fast food burgers. The famous fries at Steak 'n Shake are obviously what they're most known for (that and their shakes, of course), but to keep this meal relatively "healthy," you may want to pass on those and just stick to the burger.