How to Eat Healthy at 10 Top Fast-Food Chains

Yes, it's possible to have nutritious meals (that won't send your blood sugar soaring) at many of today's fast-food restaurants. A registered dietitian tells you how.

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Most fast-food restaurants have updated their menus over the years to keep up with healthier food and nutrition trends. Of course, it’s up to you to make those healthier choices when you eat out! Some general tips: Choose small-size entrees and round out every meal with a side salad and light dressing or small fruit cup. And avoid anything with the word “loaded,” “triple,” “smothered,” “combo,” “supreme,” “grande” or “melt” in its name.

Here are some suggestions for what to avoid and what to eat instead at some of America’s top fast-food chains. Your blood sugar will thank you. 

#1.Taco Bell

AVOID: Burrito lovers, turn your back on that XXL Grilled Stuft version, unless you split it with someone! One of these monsters contains 870 calories, 40 g fat and 96 g carbs. Taco people, skip the Cheesey Gordita Crunch, with its 500 calories, 28 grams of fat (10 g saturated) and 41 g carbs.

TRY INSTEAD: A black bean burrito supplies 390 calories, just 11 g fat and 60 carbs (8 grams of fiber). One soft chicken taco provides 170 calories, 8 g fat and 16 g carb. With those stats, you can have two!

#2. Wendy’s

AVOID: Safe to say you should avoid a “triple” anything at a chain restaurant, including the Triple Burger with Everything and Cheese at Wendy’s. The last thing you need is 1,090 calories, 72 g fat at one sitting!

TRY INSTEAD: Among many healthier choices at Wendy’s are the Grilled Chicken Sandwich at 360 calories, 8 g fat and 38 carbs or the half size Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad or half-size Apple Pecan Chicken Salad with equally impressive numbers. Side any of these with a package of apple slices at 35 calories, 0 fat, and 9 g carbs.

#3. Burger King

AVOID: Assuming you go to Burger King for a burger, we repeat: avoid anything named “triple.” That means the Triple Whopper with Cheese, packing 1,020 calories, 65 g fat. What could be worse? A king-size bacon burger, with 1,150 calories and 79 g fat.

TRY INSTEAD: A basic burger at BK supplies 220 calories, 8 g fat, 26 g carb. Even a cheeseburger comes in at just 270 calories,12 g fat, 27 carb. Round out your meal with salad instead of fries or, if you must indulge your fried potato addiction, split a small serving with someone else.

order up healthy foodChoose small-size entrees. Round out the meal with a side salad and light dressing or small fruit cup. And avoid anything labeled: “loaded,” “triple,” “smothered,” “combo,” “supreme,” “grande” or “melt”.

#4. Pizza Hut

AVOID: That large slice with BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger topping? At 640 calories, 26 g fat and 77 g carbs, give this one a miss! Individual pasta bowls, toppling over at 630-1,020 calories and 113-197 g carbs are worse, unless you split them.

TRY INSTEAD: We’re not saying it’s good for you, but if you must have BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger topping, reach for one Skinny Slice with 270 calories, 11 g fat and 32 g carb. Better yet, a plain rectangular cheese slice with 240 calories, 10 g fat and 29 carb. Add as many fresh veggie toppings as you like!

#5. Subway

AVOID: Don’t even think about a foot-long sandwich, unless you’re splitting it with someone else. Avoid the “melts,” cheeses and sauces (more for the ultra-high sodium levels than anything else).  Classic tuna is also among the highest fat choices.

TRY INSTEAD: Choose 6-inch, higher-fiber honey-oat or 9-grain bread, filled with oven-roasted or rotisserie-style chicken or roast beef, and spinach and tomato or other veggies. Choose light mayo. That will keep your calorie count at 400 or less, fat at a mere 10 or 11 g and carbs at a perfect 45 g.


#6. Arby’s

AVOID: Take your eyes off that Turkey Ranch and Bacon Sandwich, with its 800 calories, 35 g fat, and 79 g carbs. Other nutritionally risky choices include the Bourbon BBQ Triple Stack, the Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu and the Loaded Italian.
TRY INSTEAD: A classic roast beef sandwich at Arby’s provides 370 calories, 40 g carbs and 14 g fat.  If you’re extra-hungry, a good choice between the best and the worst is the Turkey Gyro pita wrap at 470 calories, 20 g fat and 48 g carbs

#7. McDonalds

AVOID: Do you need us to tell you that a double quarter-pound burger with cheese, weighing in with 770 calories and 45 g fat, is a bad choice? Probably not! Another must-to-avoid is Sweet BBQ Bacon with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich, 810 calories, 36 g fat and a whopping 81 g carbs.

TRY INSTEAD: A basic burger with 250 calories, 8 g fat and 31 g carbs or even a basic cheeseburger, at 300 calories, 12 g fat and 33 carbs. A side salad with low-fat balsamic dressing adds a mere 70 calories, 2 g fat and 11 g carbs.

#8. KFC

AVOID: Anything breaded and fried, unless you can eat just one small piece. Stay away from “big box” meals, combos, and bargain-priced “fill ups,” where there’s no controlling the calories or fat on your plate. Especially avoid the “extra crispy” line.

TRY INSTEAD: Go small or go naked at KFC. Build your meal around an unbreaded, Kentucky Grilled Chicken breast at 210 calories and 7 grams fat, or any other grilled part. If you must indulge in breaded and fried, limit to one piece of Original Recipe chicken, with a house salad or bowl of green beans on the side.

#9. Chipotle

AVOID: Steak Salad sounds like a lean option, but not at Chipotle, with 1,305 calories, 77 g fat and 117 g carbs per bowlful. Their steak and other burritos carry about the same nutritional weight, and even the salads are over-the-top if you indulge in a few toppings. Avoid or split these choices at two or three ways.

TRY INSTEAD: Vegetarian, Chicken or Steak Burrito Bowl with brown rice, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa and lettuce comes in around 415 calories, 12 g fat and 45 g carb. At that starting rate, you can probably sneak in another topping!

#10. Chik-fil-A

AVOID: Everything fried, unless it’s a small serving of no more than 5 or 6 nuggets. Although anything grilled is usually a better choice, the bacon and cheese on the Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich knock the sodium levels out of the ballpark, so skip it.

TRY INSTEAD: The simple Grilled Chicken Sandwich, at 310 calories, 6 g fat and 36 g carb or Grilled Chicken wrap, at 350 calories, 14 g fat and 29 g carb are your best bets here.

Updated on: October 12, 2017
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