Eating Healthy at Fast Food Restaurants
Today’s fast-paced lifestyle has led us to an attitude of I want it all, and I want it now. This attitude has helped launch the success of fast food restaurants all over the country. With new fast food chains springing up all the time and in every city, town and village, it’s no wonder America is losing the battle against obesity. There are some healthy fast food options and I’m going to give you some tips on how to eat healthy at fast food places.
Because we are so busy, there are those times when we have no other choice than fast food, so what are the best fast food choices?
First, let’s take a look at why the typical fast food choices are so bad for you, and then we will see which healthier fast food choices are available at which restaurants.
Is Fast Food Bad for You?
There are so many reasons why fast food is so bad for you. Just look at the most popular fast food chains nutrition information; you can usually find it on their website. High Sodium and Fat are just two of the things you should be aware of before you order. Knowing the best options at restaurants and what to stay away from ahead of time will help to keep you on track.
Fast Food Nutrition Facts!
McDonald’s Big Mac
A Big Mac has 540 calories. 260 of those calories are from fat and there are 29 grams of fat in each Big Mac.
In addition, there are
10 grams of saturated fat,
75 mg of cholesterol,
1040 mg of sodium,
45 grams of carbohydrates and
9 grams of sugar.
There are 25 mg of protein, 260 IU of vitamin A, 1 mg of vitamin C, 250 mg of Calcium and 4 mg of iron.
So……. if you were just to eat a Big Mac for lunch, you might be okay, depending on what you had for breakfast and dinner and you had nothing on the side. However, the 10 grams of saturated fat and 29 grams of total fat are quite high for a low fat diet; 45 grams of carbohydrates is high for a low carb diet; and 9 grams of sugar is quite high for a low sugar diet, and that’s only in one food item.
Now add a serving of medium fries to the picture:
380 calories, 170 calories from fat,
19 grams total fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 cholesterol, 270 mg of sodium, 48 carbohydrates, 5 grams dietary fiber, 0 sugar, 4 protein, 0 vitamin A, 9 mg vitamin C, 20 mg of Calcium, and 1 mg of iron.
For just a Big Mac and medium fries you have 920 calories, 48 grams of fat, over 1300 grams of sodium, 93 carbohydrates and 9 grams of sugar for one meal alone.
That doesn’t leave room for much else whether you’re counting calories, watching your fat grams or on a low carb or low sugar diet.
Other fast food chains aren’t any better, no matter what they claim.
A Burger King Whopper with mayo has more calories, calories from fat, more sodium, more carbs and more sugar than a Big Mac. Wendy’s Single with Cheese in is just about equal to a Big Mac. What about Arby’s and Subway? Let’s examine the nutrients in their signature sandwiches.
Arby’s Regular Roast Beef
350 calories, 110 calories from fat, 13 total fat grams, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 0.5 grams trans fat, 45 grams cholesterol, 960 grams of sodium, 37 total carbs, 2 grams dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugar, 23 grams of protein, 0 vitamin A or vitamin C and 20 mg of iron. A lot lower than a Big Mac or Whopper. Even their Regular Beef & Cheddar sandwich is lower than a Big Mac at 430 calories, and less fat and carbs.
Subway’s 6 inch Sub Club
320 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 total fat grams, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 35 mg of cholesterol, 1160 mg sodium, 47 carbs, 5 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 26 grams of protein.
Definitely better than a Big Mac or Whopper; Arby’s or Subway is the better choice! If you don’t want a burger or sandwich, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken offer some different varieties to tingle your taste buds. But, how healthy are they nutritionally speaking?
Taco Bell’s Beef Burrito Supreme
420 calories, 140 calories from fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 15 grams total fat, 0 grams trans fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 1380 mg of sodium, 52 grams carbs, 9 grams dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.
KFC’s Original Recipe Chicken Breast
320 calories, 130 calories from fat, 15 total fat grams, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, cholesterol, 710 mg sodium, 4 carbs, 0 fiber, 0 sugar and 42 grams of protein. This wouldn’t be a bad choice on a low carb or low sugar diet, mind these totals are for one chicken breast.
Obviously we’ve just covered each restaurant’s signature item. What about their chicken and fish? Burger King’s Big Fish Sandwich is loaded with calories, fat, and carbs, as are their TenderGrill and TenderCrisp Chicken sandwiches. Even without mayo, you bring down the fat content some but not the carbs. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re eating healthy by ordering chicken sandwich or a fish sandwich.
Most restaurants now realize that people want more healthy choices when eating out, so many of them have now added healthier menu items. Looking at the nutrition information on their websites, here are the healthiest fast food choices for each of the most popular fast-food restaurants.
Healthy Fast Food Choices by Restaurant
Taco Bell’s new Fresco line (aka Drive-Thru Diet Menu) claims to be lower in fat and calories. Compared to their regular Beef Burrito Supreme, their Fresco Steak Burrito has 340 calories, 80 calories from fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 8 grams of total fat, 0 trans fat, 15 grams cholesterol, 1340 grams sodium, 49 carbs, 8 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugar and 16 grams of protein. Definitely lower than their signature Beef Burrito Supreme. In fact their entire fresco line is pretty low in sugar, fat and carbs and will fit into just about any popular diet when eaten in moderation.
What about the condiments or sauces you may want to add? Taco Bell’s Hot, Fire and Mild sauces are fat free, sugar free and carb free and very low in sodium, so they are a good choice when you want to spice up your meal. Most of their other sauces are fairly low in fat, calories, carbs and sugar. The ones to watch out for are the Creamy Jalapeno Dressing, Zesty Dressing, Spicy Avocado Ranch Dressing and Pepper Jack Dressing which are all higher in fat and calories.
Now let’s take a look at McDonald’s to see what healthier choices they have to offer. They offer some salads but not all of them are very healthy. As a matter of fact, some of them are almost as bad as a Big Mac. How to eat healthy at McDonald’s? The healthiest salads to get are the Premium Southwest Salad without chicken and the Premium Bacon (mmmmmm Bacon) Ranch Salad without chicken. Both are 140 calories, low in fat (4.5 and 7 grams respectively), low in saturated fat with 2 grams and 3.5 respectively, 10 and 25 grams cholesterol, 150 and 300 grams of sodium, 6 and 3 grams of fiber, and 6 and 4 grams of sugar, respectively. Of course that doesn’t include dressing.
The healthiest dressings on McDonald’s menu are:
Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette at 40 calories, 25 calories from fat, 3 total grams of fat, 0 cholesterol, 0 trans fat and 0 saturated fat, 730 grams sodium, 4 carbs, 0 fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 0 protein.
Newman’s Own Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing: 60 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2.5 total fat grams, 0 saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 cholesterol, 730 mg sodium, 8 carbs, 0 fiber, 1 gram sugar and 1 gram protein.
The other salad choices on McDonald’s menu are much higher in fat, calories and carbs, especially the salad’s containing crispy chicken. Even the salads containing grilled chicken are higher in carbs, as much as 30 grams for their Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken. The Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken only has 12 carbs, so this would be a better choice on a low carb diet.
Healthy choices on the Burger King menu are about the same comparatively speaking to McDonald’s, except they have a side salad with only 40 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 2 carbs, 1 fiber, 0 sugar, and 3 grams of protein.
BK’s Tendergrill Chicken Salad looks pretty healthy as well with only 260 calories, 7 fat grams, 8 carbs, 3 fiber, 4 sugars and 29 grams of protein. They also have a garden salad without chicken that is low in fat, calories, and carbs as well.
The healthiest salad dressing choices on the BK menu are:
Ken’s Fat Free Ranch Dressing with only 60 calories and 0 fat grams. However the carbs are in the high range at 15 and there are 5 grams of sugar, so this choice wouldn’t be the best on a low carb diet. For a low carb choice dressing on the BK menu, your best bet is Ken’s Ranch Dressing with 2 carbs and 1 gram of sugar.
Burger King also offers their BK Fresh Apple Fries which are a much healthier choice than French fries at 25 calories, 0 fat, 6 carbs, 1 fiber and 5 grams of sugar.
Wendy’s Garden Sensation Salads may sound healthy, but when you look at the nutrition information youíll see that they are not. The salad with the lowest amount of calories, fat, carbs and sugar is the Chicken Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken Fillet. Depending on your choices of chicken fillet (I chose the Ultimate Chicken Grill Fillet) it has 250 calories, 4 grams of fat, 8 carbs and 3 grams of sugar. Dressing also makes a difference. If you prefer low fat, Fat Free French Dressing has 0 fat grams, but is high in carbs and sugar. The best choice for a low carb diet is their Supreme Caesar Dressing with 2 carbs and 1 gram of sugar.
Wendy’s does have other menu items which are fairly healthy including their Hot Stuffed Baked Potatoes. Again it depends on the toppings you add to it. If you stick with reduced fat sour cream, chives and broccoli, you’re looking at: 320 calories, 4 grams of fat, 63 carbs, 4 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein. This might not fit into a low carb diet very well, but remember, these are mostly complex carbohydrates which are good and necessary for your body.
Wendy’s also has a side salad and a Caesar side salad to choose from. Both are fairly low in calories, fat, carbs and sugar when eaten alone without dressing or croutons. Again you would want to be sure to choose a dressing that’s right for your diet needs based on fat grams and carbs, as suggested above.
Wendy’s also carries their Go Wraps. Choosing the Homestyle Chicken Fillet, no Ranch Sauce and adding lettuce, pickles, mustard, onion and tomatoes you have a nice little snack or small meal for 290 calories, 12 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbs, 2 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of protein. That’s only for one Go Wrap, so add a side salad for a more filling meal without adding too much fat, calories or carbs.
As I mentioned earlier, Arby’s Roast Beef sandwiches overall are healthier than McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s burgers. Arby’s menu also includes their Market Fresh Chopped Salads, so let’s take a look at those nutritionally speaking to see how healthy they really are.
The healthiest choice is the Chopped Side Salad, with 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, 4 carbs and 1 gram of sugar. The sodium is low at 100mg, but so is the fiber at only 1 gram.
The least healthy choice as far as the Market Fresh Chopped Salads go, is the Chopped Farmhouse Chicken Salad-Crispy at 460 calories, 25 grams of fat, 29 carbs and 5 grams of sugar. It is also very high in sodium at 1090 grams and has 4 grams of fiber. The two other salads on the menu fall in the middle just about equally nutritionally wise; 250 to 260 calories, 14 grams of fat, 9 or 10 carbs, 5 grams of sugar and 3 grams of fiber.
As far as healthy dressings go, Arby’s doesn’t have a fat free dressing. Their dressing lowest in fat grams is their Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing at 12 grams of fat. Their Buttermilk Ranch dressing has 23 grams of fat, but only 2 carbs and 0 sugar, so this would be acceptable on a low carb diet. Arby’s Dijon Honey Mustard Dressing has 16 grams of fat and 8 carbs.
Arby’s has 2 items on their Value Menu which would be acceptable on a low fat diet; the Jr. Roast Beef Sandwich and the Jr. Ham and Cheddar Melt. The first one has 7 grams of fat and only 200 calories and the second one has 5 grams of fat and 200 calories. Both are also low in sugar at 5 and 4 grams, but high in carbs at 24 and 26 grams.
Arby’s is famous for its sauces, but how healthy are they? Do they pack on the calories, fat or carbs? Arby’s Sauce isn’t too bad actually, at only 15 calories, 4 carbs and 2 sugars. No fat and low in sodium, this would be a good choice for adding extra flavor. Horsey Sauce on the other hand has 5 grams of fat and 50 calories, but is also low in carbs, sodium and sugar. So if you prefer a spicier taste, Horsey Sauce wouldn’t be too bad of a choice. Arby’s Spicy Three Pepper sauce is also fairly healthy at 25 calories, 1 gram of fat, 3 carbs and 3 grams of sugar.
Kentucky Fried Chicken
KFC has several items on their menu that are great for a low fat or low carb diet since introducing their Grilled Chicken. Any of these selections would be a pretty healthy choice, when eaten in moderation. They also come in a wrap and if eaten without sauce are still pretty low in fat and calories, but higher in carbs.
As with the other fast food chains, KFC has a few salads to choose from. Any of their Grilled Chicken Salads are going to be lower in calories, fat and carbs than their Crispy Chicken Salads. Their House Side Salad would be a great compliment to any of their Grilled Chicken selections, at only 15 calories, 0 fat and 2 carbs. Of course, thatís without dressing or croutons.
Since we’re talking about dressing, let’s see if KFC has any healthy dressings to choose from. They do have Hidden Valley Original Ranch Fat Free, which has 35 calories, 0 fat and 8 carbs, as well as Marzetti Light Italian Dressing which only has 10 calories, and 2 grams of carbs. And then there’s KFC Creamy Parmesan Caesar Dressing at a whopping 260 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 4 carbs.
KFC is famous for their side dishes and they do offer some vegetables such as green beans, corn and corn on the cob. Each of these is fairly low in calories, fat and sugar. Corn is higher in carbohydrates, but it is a complex carbohydrate which is good for you. The same with their mashed potatoes, with or without gravy, surprisingly enough; low in calories, fat and sugar.
Their BBQ Baked Beans are low in fat, but high in sugar. They also have a Three Bean Salad which is low in fat and a little high in sugar at 7 grams, but this still wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Tips for Making Healthier Fast Food Choices and Avoiding Mistakes
As with all food choices, it’s smart to plan ahead. If you know you’re going to be out and about and fast food is going to be your only choice for a meal, decide ahead of time which restaurant has the healthiest choices and what you’re going to eat. Any time you go into a fast food joint unprepared, you’re bound to make a bad decision. The smell of the French fries overwhelms you and somehow all your defenses go down. If at all possible, avoid even going inside; go through the drive-thru instead.
Don’t wait until you’re starving to death either. When you’re so hungry you could eat an elephant, you tend to make wrong choices. The minute you start to feel hunger set in, if at all possible, get some healthy food in you right away. If you need to, grab a piece of fruit, some raw veggies, a protein bar or a handful of almonds are just a few ideas to hold you over until you can grab a full meal that way you won’t be as tempted to make unhealthy choices. Skipping meals is horrible for the metabolism. It is best to have 3 meals and a couple of healthy snacks through the day!
What do you order on the go?