Nutrition Articles

The 22 Healthiest Fast Foods

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

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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.

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.
  • Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich: When you hold the mayo, you'll save calories and fat.
    370 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 1,110mg sodium, 50g carbs, 3g fiber, 32g protein
  • Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken: The majority of the fat in this flavorful salad comes from the almonds, and the Asian Blend contains veggies and soybeans, making it heart-healthy.
    300 calories, 10g fat, 1g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 890mg sodium, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 32g protein
  • Fruit and 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.
    160 calories, 2g fat, 1g sat. fat, 5mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium, 31g 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

  • 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
  • DLJONE45
    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
  • 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
  • Order a child's meal when you want that burger and fries. - 9/25/2012 1:20:43 PM
  • KEV132KWA
    Definitely agree that we should eat less fast food as a country. I think the biggest reason most of us resort to fast food places like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and the likes is that we don't have time to get food anywhere else. There is a solution, though! Food Trucks! Food trucks serve better food, serve MUCH healthier food, at a cheaper price, and are just as quick getting the food to you. For those of you who have negative preconceptions of food trucks, give them a try, I bet you're pleased. Oh, and for fellow New Yorkers, check out Foodtoeat. com, NYC's new online ordering site that allows users to place orders for pick up from food trucks, saving even MORE time and saving you from standing on line! Enjoy, ladies and gentlemen, and stay away from all those nasty "burgers" and "fries." - 7/26/2012 12:32:57 PM
  • Since my Gastric Bypass operation, my "go to" when I have to do fast food, is Chick Fil A Chicken Salad in a cup; it is 350 calories, and 28 grams of protein. It is enough for two servings for me, and when paired with a Diet Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, it is really a treat. Most important for me, is that the texture is very stomach-friendly after surgery. Hope others find it as appealing as I do! - 7/26/2012 11:45:51 AM
  • My "go to" fast food are a Subway veggie salad or foot long (I know, lots of bread, but a good dinner). Every once in a while, I get a Dunkin' Donuts egg white wrap. Mainly, I get McDonald's coffee for a $1 (no sodium). I get it either black or with skim, and I sip it while my kids play. - 5/25/2012 11:11:08 PM

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