The 7 Healthiest Fast-Food Restaurants, According to Dietitians
According to the CDC, it's estimated that six in 10 adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease, while four in 10 have two or more. Since poor nutrition is one of the leading causes of chronic diseases like heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, and more, making healthier food choices should be at the top of everyone's mind. This starts with seeking out the healthiest fast-food restaurants in your local area.
Most fast-food choices are incredibly high in fat, sodium, and calories, and too much of any of these nutrients increases the risk of a number of health problems. That double patty burger with bacon, cheese, and medium French fry? It will cost you up to 1,570 calories, 34 grams of saturated fat, and 3,535 milligrams of sodium. That's 154% of the recommended sodium limit of 2,300 mg for one entire day in one meal.
Fortunately, fast-food chains have listened to our desire to eat convenient food and manage our health. At the same time, some fast-food joints have been better listeners than others. Healthier fast-food choices tend to be lower in calories—or at least less than half your day's worth in one meal. These meals also tend to be lower in saturated fat and sodium while including vegetables, fruit, and other high-fiber ingredients.
If you're looking for fast-food options that won't derail your health goals, hop in the car and head to one of these seven dietitian-approved healthiest fast-food restaurants.
"My favorite fast-food restaurant is Chipotle because they offer a nice assortment of meal options with fresh ingredients," says Kimberley Wiemann, MS, RDN, a Long Island, NY-based dietitian. Among the almost limitless combinations, Wiemann recommends packing a salad with veggies and beans and adding a protein option like chicken or steak or keeping it vegetarian with soffrito or beans with rice.
Some dietitian-approved choices you can find on Chipotle's menu include:
- Corn tacos
- Salads or bowls topped with any of Chipotle's fresh ingredients, including beans, brown rice, a protein choice like steak, chicken, or tofu, salsa, and veggies
2. MOD Pizza
A pizza joint may not seem like a healthy fast-food option initially, but it's all about the toppings.
Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN, recommends MOD Pizza. "They have a ton of vegetable toppings all included and vegan cheese on a thin crust," she says.
You can also make your artisan-style pizza any way you like and enjoy one of the many salads they offer.
A few dietitian-approved choices you can find on MOD Pizza's menu include:
- Pizza on the original or cauliflower crust topped with a wide assortment of veggies and proteins
- The garden salad
- The Greek salad
- The Italian chopped salad
Your favorite coffee shop has more than just sugar-laden pastries to accompany your coffee.
"Starbucks offers numerous food options that contain both carbohydrates and protein, which is part of the combination to help keep blood sugar levels steady, especially for people with diabetes," says Toby Smithson, registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, founder of Diabetes EveryDay, and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies.
A few dietitian-approved choices you can find at Starbucks include:
- String cheese
- Perfect Bars®
- Protein boxes
- The spinach, feta, and egg white wrap
- Sous-vide egg bites
4. Jason's Deli
"Jason's Deli is a great option for individuals looking for a quick, healthy meal to enjoy," according to Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD. She recommends the Mediterranean Bowl, filled with chicken, quinoa, hummus, and plenty of fresh vegetables, or the Wild Salmon-wich for a sandwich filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Some other dietitian-approved choices you can get at Jason's Deli include:
- The Modern Mediterranean bowl
- The Wild Salmon-wich
- The Greek chicken wrap
- The Mesa Chicken salad
5. Panera Bread
"Produce is scarce at most fast-food restaurants, and Panera offers a treasure trove of veggie-packed salads, soups, and grain bowls with major customization available for every taste preference or allergy need," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook.
From salads to sandwiches, soups, and warm bowls, and plenty of seasonal options, finding a healthy breakfast or lunch is simple at Panera.
A few dietitian-approved choices you can find on Panera's menu include:
- The Mediterranean Bowl with chicken
- Autumn squash soup
- The Mediterranean Veggie sandwich
- A Fuji apple salad with chicken
- Turkey chili
- Greek yogurt with mixed berries
- Fresh fruit cups
This Mediterranean-style fast-food restaurant makes it easy to eat healthful, veggie-packed Greek- and Mediterranian-inspired dishes on the go.
"You can customize a bowl or pita to fit a plant-based diet and can modify carbs if needed by swapping super greens and amping up the protein with RightRice®," says Alexandria Hardy, RDN, LDN.
Most bowls are under 800 calories and can be loaded with various vegetables and lean proteins for a satisfying and nutrient-dense meal.
A few dietitian-approved choices you can order from Cava include:
- The Lentil Avocado bowl
- A Greek salad
- A Tahini Cesear salad
- A chicken and RightRice bowl
- Roasted eggplant dip
While not everything at this fried-chicken joint is packed with healthy ingredients, there are quite a few nutritious options at Chick-fil-A.
"I love the Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap for a quick meal or even a large snack if I am out and about and know I'm getting too hungry. It's packed with nutrition and delivers a whooping 43 g of protein and 14 g of fiber from the wrap! That's fast food that I can feel good about when I am in a pinch," says Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a Virginia-based dietitian who helps women stop dieting and find confidence with food.
A few dietitian-approved choices you can order at Chick-fil-A include:
- The Cool Wrap
- Grilled Chicken Nuggets
- The grilled chicken sandwich
- Greek yogurt parfait
- The Egg White Grill
- The Cobb Salad
- Fruit cups
- The Kale Crunch Salad