Nutrition Articles

The 22 Healthiest Fast Foods

What to Order at America's Top 10 Fast Food Joints

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By Liza Barnes, Health Educator         
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Your fridge is stocked with fresh produce, lean meats and low fat dairy products, there’s a whole grain baguette in the bread box, and your pantry has been purged of tempting junk foods. Eating healthy at home is a breeze.

But when you’re out and about in the midst of a hectic day of errands and you have precisely 30 minutes to scavenge and wolf down lunch before your next appointment, squeezing in food of any sort becomes a challenge—a challenge to which fast food restaurants have risen. Tasty, convenient, and cheap, there are plenty of reasons they’re popular. But if you’re watching your weight, or watching your health, a fast food menu is like a minefield! One wrong step and a 2,100-calorie sandwich winds up in your stomach (and later on your thighs). But if you’re careful, you can come out intact, with a meal in your hands, not on your hips.

Dining at a fast food restaurant doesn’t have to be a diet disaster. We’ve scoured the top 10 most popular fast food chains for their healthiest picks, so you don’t throw all of your hard work out the (car) window. Use this list as a guide, or visit the websites provided to tally up totals for your preferred favorites. And remember that these selections are healthier options for the occasional fast-food meal, but they may have other nutritional flaws (like high sodium), so you might not want to make it a regular part of your nutrition plan.

Healthy Fast Food Options

McDonald's
No one can say that McDonald’s isn’t convenient—you can find one on just about every corner in some cities. But can it be healthy, too? Depends on what you choose. Visit www.mcdonalds.com for more healthy ideas.
  • Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich: When you hold the mayo, you'll save calories and fat.
    360 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 75mg cholesterol, 960mg sodium, 43g carbs, 3g fiber, 33g protein
  • Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken: Seasoned grilled chicken and a bite of black beans, corn, roasted tomatoes and pepper in every bit will make this feel like a cheat meal.
    330 calories, 11g fat, 4g sat. fat, 90mg cholesterol, 920mg sodium, 26g carbs, 6g fiber, 33g protein
  • Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait: If you’re looking for a sweet treat, this is a winner. Made with low-fat yogurt and topped with low fat granola, strawberries and blueberries, it’s far less sinful but just as tasty as ice cream.
    150 calories, 2g fat, 1g sat. fat, 5mg cholesterol, 80mg sodium, 30g carbs, 1g fiber, 4g protein Continued ›
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • How about a plain baked potato at Wendy's with a small bit of butter and a salad, or the small chili and a salad?

    KFC offers green beans, or mashed potatoes/gravy (not the best but not a salad).

    Order a kids/small burger with no mayo and lots of veggies, if you want a burger.

    Maybe the pintos (no cheese) and rice (they will mix them) at Taco Bell? Ask for a tortilla to spread them on, with lots of salsa. Yum.

    There are more of Subways sandwiches that are a good choice than just the chicken.

    Life is not all salads and grilled chicken. There are other choices (that aren't calorie crazy) out there. Frankly, this sounds like an article from a health 'newbie' who can't see beyond grilled chicken. :( - 4/1/2016 7:20:58 AM
  • How about the Burger King Junior Cheeseburger? If you get with "no mayo". it's only 280 calories. I like it b/c I get a slice of tomato & onion. Most burger places have a Jr size that is still a big burger (as is the case with Five Guys Burger & Fries.) - 3/16/2016 5:06:13 PM
  • Could you add the Canadian favourite -- Tim Horton's? - 5/13/2015 9:21:01 AM
  • I think we need some more common restaurant chains on this that are a little cheaper. McD's, Wendy's, Taco Bell...Of course salads are usually a good choice, but I get tired of salad everyday. - 2/22/2015 11:07:54 AM
  • TIGER_BY_TAIL
    Chipotle can be a GREAT fast meal out. I get the burrito bowl without rice and beans (the tortilla is over 100 calories and the rice is 200, and I just don't care for beans!). I get the fajita veggies, steak, corn salsa, tomato salsa and hot salsa (and sometimes romaine lettuce). 335 calories. Biggest problem, though: the sodium level is high as apparently anything with tomatoes at chipotle gets LOTS of salt. Sometimes I do get the brown rice, but ask for a small amount rather than the huge amount they typically toss into the bowl. - 9/2/2014 9:54:30 AM
  • I eat out once a week with my daughter and I don't feel at all guilty about it. I pretty much eat in one or two of places... Subway and Chick-fil-a. At Subway, I get the Veggie Delight with Oregano, no mayo and no salt/pepper. It tastes great, healthy and fills me up. Chick-Fil-A has a great grilled chicken sandwich which I get with a side salad with fat-free Honey-Mustard Dressing. A bit high in sodium, but only 320 calories for the sandwich. It is a filling meal. I just watch my sodium the rest of the day. My blood pressure is fine, so the salt is not going to hurt me every once in a while. - 4/11/2014 8:18:06 AM
  • "BK Veggie Burger: Say "no mayo" to enjoy this healthy, cholesterol-free vegetarian delight."

    "Vegetarian delight?" Isn't that an oxymoron when it comes to veggie burgers? I've tried a number of veggie burgers and have always been underwhelmed. If you know what the original tastes like, the vegetarian substitute is usually a disappointment. - 4/10/2014 1:12:20 PM
  • I really like this article and found it very informative. What we need to remember is that fast food is never the best choice, but if we are away from home and want to stay on track these are the best options. I have high blood pressure and watch my sodium intake and when I have one of these high sodium choices I am just very careful of what I eat for the rest of the day. If the restaurant you are looking for isn't listed just use your phone or computer and go to their website to look at the nutritional information. I really wish people would just appreciate all of the information that is provided for free on SP and stop complaining about everything! - 3/2/2014 9:53:06 AM
  • BUBBLEGUM_FAIRY
    This is a great article reminding us that we can always go the other route and order something with a lot less calories or fat. I find it helps to plan ahead of time and go to a restaurant's website to decide what to get, although sometimes if you are with friends it can become a last minute thing. I'm so glad spark has so many tips when it comes to fast food and dining out. - 1/4/2014 8:49:28 PM
  • I agree HALLELUL - 11/3/2013 2:20:30 PM
  • DRFOOTWEAR
    "These are the most popular fast food restaurants? I've never seen a Jack in the Box and never heard of a Carls Jr. Did they choose most popular based on a poll? I would have liked to see some more relevant options, but hopefully these helped other people with their choices"

    She listed KFC,Taco Bell,Subway,Burge
    r King,and McDonalds. What more do you want? Hardee's is the same thing as Carl's Jr. if you have one of those nearby. - 11/3/2013 12:45:43 PM
  • DRFOOTWEAR
    To people whining about sodium and saying that these aren't healthy choices; the title says "healthiest fast food". The items aren't healthy compared to grilled chicken,vegetable
    s,etc..,but they are the healthiest choices from those particular restaurants. - 11/3/2013 12:43:44 PM
  • These are the most popular fast food restaurants? I've never seen a Jack in the Box and never heard of a Carls Jr. Did they choose most popular based on a poll? I would have liked to see some more relevant options, but hopefully these helped other people with their choices! - 8/6/2013 9:37:43 AM
  • SJM28411
    None of these are good choices. The sodium levels are off the chart! - 2/25/2013 11:40:50 AM
  • Not many vegetarian options here. I'd love to see the healthiest vegetarian alternatives in fast food! - 1/13/2013 8:18:08 PM

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