Chicken sandwiches are a popular order at many restaurants. This hand-held sandwich is usually juicy, moist, and full of flavor thanks to decadent toppings and fluffy buns. Unfortunately, it's an order that can quickly turn into a nutrition nightmare, starting with which type of chicken it's made with.
Whether a piece of chicken is grilled or fried plays a big role in how unhealthy a chicken sandwich can be. "If the chicken is coated in breading (such as a flour mixture or bread crumbs), or is dipped in egg-milk batter or a cheese-based batter, this can add tons of fat and calories," says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami, Florida. The cooking process is another element to consider: is the chicken deep-fried or grilled? Deep-fried chicken is loaded with fat, notes Ehsani.
The bun and other toppings also contribute to the healthfulness (or lack thereof) of a chicken sandwich at restaurant chains. "If using white bread or ciabatta bread, or another sugar-packed bread like challah or brioche, not only can they be high in carbs and fat, you are also missing out on fiber," Ehsani explains. "If you are adding lots of cheese, mayo, mayo-based sauces or condiments such as a chipotle aioli sauce, bacon, breakfast sausage or meats to the sandwich, it can result in an unhealthy sandwich," she adds.
However, a chicken sandwich can definitely be made healthy and into a nutrient-dense meal if it's made with lean cuts of chicken, such as chicken breast, and if it's grilled (not breaded and deep-fried), explains Ehsani. Besides the chicken itself, you can make healthy swaps for what you fill and top it with. "Add healthy fill-ins such as plenty of veggies (add plenty of lettuce, greens, cucumbers, veggies of your choice), and limit high-fat condiments and cheese," says Ehsani. "Use avocado, mustard, or hummus instead of mayo-based sauce to add flavor to your sandwich." You can also choose a healthier bun. "Whole wheat bread has more fiber and vitamins than white bread," says Ehsani.
The next time you're dining out at your favorite restaurant chain, beware of these unhealthy chicken sandwich options that are loaded with calories, fat, and sodium—oftentimes more of each of these nutrients than you should eat in an entire day—according to a dietitian. Read on, and for more, don't miss The #1 Unhealthiest Burger at 13 Major Restaurant Chains.
Applebee's Clubhouse Grill
Even though this sandwich is grilled, it's still super unhealthy and packed with fat. "Applebee's Clubhouse Grill sandwich packs almost 75% of your calories for the day in one meal. You might not think a clubhouse sandwich would pack so many calories, but it also is sky high in fat, packing 80 grams of fat, and exceeds your daily limit for sodium, hitting 3,670 milligrams of sodium just in one meal, while your daily intake should be no more than 2,300 milligrams per day," says Ehsani. "It's made using toasted potato bread, which isn't a whole grain, lacking necessary fiber. It also has cheddar and Swiss cheese, bacon, mayo, and honey BBQ sauce, all of which are high in fat, salt, and total calories."
BJ's Brewhouse Kickin' Chicken Sandwich with Fries
Taking the prize for the highest-sodium chicken sandwich dish on our list is BJ's Brewhouse Kickin' Chicken Sandwich. Granted, the nutritional information includes the side of fries that comes with it, but we all know that most of us are going to gobble up that entire meal. The total sodium levels—4,176 milligrams—is just shy of 200% of your daily recommended limit or the equivalent of 170 Rold Gold pretzels.
"BJ's Kickin' Chicken Sandwich is made with crispy fried chicken, which indicates the chicken has been breaded and deep fried and also bumps up the total calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium in this sandwich," says Ehsani. "They also add chipotle mayo to the sandwich and serve additional aioli sauce on the side, both of which are high in unhealthy fat. Finally, the sandwich is between a toasted Parker house bun, which are bread rolls made with butter, milk, and egg yolks, which is another reason this sandwich is so high in calories and fat."
The Cheesecake Factory Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich with Chipotle Mayo
This spicy chicken sandwich is fried and topped with high-fat chipotle mayo. "One good thing about Cheesecake Factory is they clearly list their nutritional stats on their menu, so you can make an informed decision, but in the chance you skim reading it, you likely should avoid this sandwich. The Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich packs over a day's worth of calories in one 'wich," says Ehsani. "The reason it's crispy is because the chicken is likely breaded and deep fried, which doesn't make for a heart-healthy sandwich, and is served on a brioche bun, which is mainly composed of lots of butter."
Red Robin Buzzin' Chicken Sandwich
This fried chicken sandwich is topped with fresh jalapeño slices, lettuce, tomato, and a high-fat chipotle aioli that's served on a sesame seed bun—the combination of which makes for a high-sodium, high-fat chicken sandwich.
"This crispy sandwich is breaded and deep fried, then dipped into 'buzz sauce' which results in a sandwich that exceeds your daily limit for sodium all in one sandwich!" says Ehsani. "They also add chipotle aioli sauce which is mayo-based sauce, high in unhealthy fat."
TGI FRIDAYS™ Signature Whiskey-Glazed Chicken Sandwich
"This sandwich is quite high in sugar, packing 64 grams of sugar in just one sandwich, which is more than some desserts. This is likely due to the whiskey-glaze used on the chicken and whiskey-glaze mayo," says Ehsani. "Surprisingly this chicken sandwich is actually grilled, but still ends up being very high in total calories, fat, sodium, and sugar! All due to the fill-ins, sauces, bacon, mayos, and cheese added."
Chili's Bacon Avocado Chicken Sandwich
Although Chili's Bacon Avocado Chicken Sandwich is made with a piece of grilled chicken, it becomes one of the unhealthiest restaurant chain chicken sandwiches thanks to fat-filled toppings.
"The Bacon Avocado Chicken Sandwich is a grilled chicken sandwich, but it has plenty of fill-ins that make it not so healthy. It's sandwiched between a toasted buttery roll, which adds plenty of fat calories, along with mayo, bacon and cheese, which increase its total fat calories," says Ehsani. "In one sandwich it hits nearly a day's worth of sodium, hitting 2,230 milligrams, while your daily total should not exceed 2,300 milligrams."
Buffalo Wild Wings Southern Chicken Sandwich
This fried chicken sandwich is served on a sweet challah bun, which ups the sugar content to higher levels than you'd expect in a fried chicken sandwich.
"The Southern Chicken Sandwich at BWW, is a breaded and fried chicken sandwich on a challah bun," says Ehsani. "It is served with bacon aioli, which is mayo-based sauce and cheese, all of which results in a sandwich high in total calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium. It's the highest calorie sandwich on their menu, so choose a different option for a lower calorie option."
Panera Chipotle Chicken, Scrambled Egg & Avocado on Artisan Ciabatta
This chicken sandwich, while nowhere near the worst on this list, is still high in sodium and saturated fat. "The Panera Chipotle Chicken, Scrambled Egg & Avocado, although not as high in calories or fat as many other fast-casual places, is quite high in sodium," says Ehsani. "It packs 910 milligrams of sodium in one sandwich. It also nearly hits your daily limit for saturated fat in one sandwich."
For better choices at the fast-casual chain, check out The 8 Healthiest Orders at Panera, According to a Dietitian.
Hooters Original Chicken Tender Melt Sandwich
This sandwich is fried chicken tenders sandwiched between two thick slices of Texas Toast and is loaded with sodium.
"The Original Chicken Tender Melt sandwich packs half your total calories for the day in one sandwich," says Ehsani. "It also packs nearly a day's worth of sodium in one sandwich. It's best to build your own chicken sandwich, which is an option at Hooters."
Bob Evans Farmhouse Hand-Breaded Fried Chicken Sandwich
This chicken sandwich from Bob Evans has the highest fat content of any sandwich on this list at 152 grams, which is just shy of 200% of your daily recommended limit. It would be the equivalent of eating the same amount of fat as what's in a stick and a half of butter.
"This sandwich is served on a toasted brioche bun, which is typically made from eggs and butter, and buttered and toasted on top of that, resulting in a high calorie [chicken sandwich]," says Ehsani. "You do have the option to choose a fried chicken sandwich or grilled chicken breast, the fried chicken (290 calories just for the chicken) is nearly double the calories of the grilled chicken (140 calories)."
Shake Shack Avocado Bacon Chicken Sandwich
Although avocado is a healthy fat, this sandwich is also loaded with unhealthy fats thanks to deep-fried chicken, bacon, and mayo.
"The Avocado Bacon Chicken is made with crispy chicken breast, which means it's likely been breaded and deep-fried, resulting in a high-fat sandwich," says Ehsani. "It also contains high-fat add-ins like bacon and buttermilk herb mayo, which bumps up its calories and is a source of unhealthy fat. Finally, it contains over half your daily sodium for the day in one sandwich, packing 1,480 milligrams of sodium just in one meal!"