McAlister's Deli is the face of fresh, offering a huge menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, and spuds. There's plenty to choose from that can fit into a healthy diet and satisfy any lunch craving, but the menu is studded with less than healthy foods as well. Like most fast-food restaurants, sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars add up quickly, with some menu options including more than two times the recommended daily amount.
While no one food can make or break your health, finding healthier options that are still incredibly satisfying can help you stay on track with your health goals without feeling deprived. We talked to registered dietitians to learn what McAlister's Deli menu items they love and which they recommend skipping.
Best: Garden Fresh Turkey
"The Garden Fresh Turkey Sandwich includes lots of colorful veggies, avocado for healthy fats, and a good source of protein from turkey," says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD. Andrews recommends putting the sauce on the side to reduce fat, sodium, and calories.
Best: Harvest Chicken Salad Sandwich
"The McAlister's Harvest Chicken Salad sandwich is one of the lightest in calories, saturated fat, and sodium sandwich options on the menu," says Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for Health Insiders. This sandwich also has 4 grams of fiber and 22 grams of protein to help keep you full.
Best: The Veggie
Loaded with veggies like peppers, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and spinach on 9-grain bread, you'll get 12 grams of fiber from The Veggie sandwich. Even without meat, this sandwich packs 15 grams of protein and 37 grams of fat, mostly from avocado, contributing plenty of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and only 4.5 grams, or 23% DV of saturated fat.
Best: The Grilled Chicken Sandwich
The high-protein Grilled Chicken sandwich includes grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, and Swiss on a croissant, topped with honey mustard sauce. It's a balanced choice with 45 grams of protein, 47 grams of carbohydrates, and 28 grams of fat.
Worst: McAlister's Club Wrap
We often think of wraps as a healthier option than sandwiches, but this isn't the case, especially with the McAlister's Club Wrap. By choosing the wrap instead of the sandwich, you add 560 milligrams of sodium and 2 grams of saturated fat while only saving 40 calories.
Worst: Orange Cranberry Club
The Orange Cranberry Club isn't the highest in sodium or even the highest in saturated fat, although it does contribute over 50% of the DV for both. This sandwich has 21 grams of sugar, thanks to the sweet sauce slathered on top. The orange cranberry sauce adds 14 grams of sugar, most of which comes from high fructose corn syrup and table sugar.
Worst: The Italian
The Italian has plenty of nutrient-dense veggies, like peppers, onions, tomatoes, and leafy greens, but the ham and salami pack too much sodium into this sandwich to make the "Best" list. Processed meats are high in sodium as well as nitrites, which have a strong link to colon cancer.
With 172% DV of sodium, the Reuben isn't a recommended choice. We often associate too much sodium with high blood pressure, but that's not the only effect of high-sodium diets. Eating this much sodium can have a negative impact on bone health, as excess sodium can cause calcium to leech out of bones, contributing to diseases like osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Worst: Black Angus King Club
With 2,000 milligrams more sodium than you should have in one day, you could feel the short- and long-term effects of regularly eating the Black Angus King Club and other high-sodium foods. "Excessive sodium intake can lead to several health problems, including high blood pressure, fluid retention, and stomach problems," says Bonnie Newlin, MS, RD, CLT, founder of Crave Nourishment.
Worst: Jalapeno Turkey Crunch Sandwich
The Jalapeno Turkey Crunch is a sandwich with chips all in one. Not only is it high in calories, adding 1,050 calories to your day, but it also has 75% DV of saturated fat and 126% DV of sodium.
Worst: The New Yorker
Corned beef, pastrami, and Swiss on marbled rye sounds like a basic sandwich, but these ingredients make the New Yorker a sodium bomb. With 3,720 milligrams or 162% of the DV, this sandwich has almost two times the amount of sodium you should have in one day.
Worst: Grilled Chicken King Club
The Grilled Chicken King Club includes twice the ingredients as the regular Grilled Chicken Club, which adds a substantial amount of calories, fat, and sodium. The extra bacon and cheese help bring the sodium content of this sandwich up to 2,900 milligrams, or 126% of the DV in just one sandwich.
Best: Pecanberry Salad
Fresh greens topped with blueberries, strawberries, pecans, and grilled chicken breast make the Pecanberry Salad a low sodium, lower fat, and high protein salad to fill up on. While this salad has lots of natural sugars from the berries, it also packs 6 grams of fiber. Keep things simple with a basic dressing like olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette to avoid adding a large amount of added sugars to this salad.
Worst: Southwest Chicken and Avocado Salad
While a salad that's loaded with chicken and avocado sounds like a healthy choice, the Southwest Chicken and Avocado Salad is loaded with sodium (94% of the DV, to be exact), and while it has plenty of healthy fats from the avocado, it also adds 55% of your DV of saturated fat. And that's before you add dressing on top.
Best: Veggie Chili
"McAlister's Veggie Chili is a great meatless soup option that is full of fiber and plant-based protein from a variety of beans," says Wan Na Chun, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition consultant for Health Insiders. While this soup is higher in sodium, with 70% of your DV in one bowl, it's high in fiber and protein to keep you full. You can pair it with a low-sodium option like a plain baked potato and steamed broccoli for a balanced and nutrient meal, encourages Chun.
Worst: Broccoli Cheddar Soup
The Broccoli Cheddar Soup has a good amount of protein, considering it's a vegetarian option with no meat, but it's low in fiber and adds 75% DV of saturated fat and 76% DV sodium to your day from just one bowl. If you're craving soup for lunch, there are better choices on the menu.
Best: Tomato and Cucumber Salad
The Tomato and Cucumber Salad adds a big burst of flavor and antioxidants with no saturated fat and only 16% DV of sodium. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants like beta-carotene and lycopene. "The fresh cucumbers and tomatoes help add the perfect crunch that is refreshing and goes well with a McAlister's baked spud or sandwich," says Chun.
Worst: Mac and Cheese
While the Mac and Cheese at McAlister's is creamy and delicious, it's one of the most unhealthy sides on the menu. Adding 25% of the DV of saturated fat and 24% DV of sodium, you'll want to consider what main you're adding this side to avoid eating too much in one sitting.
Keep things as healthy as possible by going with the basics. The Justaspud baked potato comes with just butter and sour cream. But you can easily dress it up and add more flavor and nutrition without adding more sodium or fat. "Adding onion, bell pepper, or tomato to your spud boosts flavor and adds a bit of extra fiber," says Amanda Lane, MS, RD, CDCES, founder of Healthful Lane Nutrition.
Worst: Spud Max
Many of the spuds are higher in saturated fat than we'd like to see in one meal, but the Spud Max takes the cake. This big baked potato is topped with three meats: bacon, ham, and turkey, as well as sour cream, butter, and cheddar jack cheese. All of this meat, cheese, butter, and cream adds 23 grams of saturated fat, or 115% of the recommended daily value.