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Healthy Fast Food

Tips for Making Healthier Fast Food Choices

Improving Emotional Health In This Article

When you’re hungry and on the run, fast food can really hit the spot. It’s cheap, tasty, and, best of all, convenient. But it’s also loaded with calories, sodium, and fat—often enough in one meal for an entire day.

Fast food menus are tricky when you’re watching your weight or your health. Finding a healthy, well-balanced meal in most fast food restaurants is a challenge. But there are always healthier options hidden among the diet disasters. You just need to know where to look and how to order.

Can fast food really be healthy?

The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to follow a healthy diet when you’re eating regularly at fast food restaurants. Fast food is typically high in trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, and calories. And it also tends to be low in nutrients and almost totally lacking in fruits, vegetables, and fiber.

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid fast food entirely. It’s OK to indulge a craving every once in awhile, but to stay healthy you can’t make it a regular habit. The key is moderation—both in how often you frequent fast food chains and what you order once you’re there. There are always choices you can make that are healthier than others. The following tips and menu recommendations can help you stay on track. Just remember that even the healthiest fast food options often have other nutritional drawbacks such as high sodium. So try to keep fast food to the occasional treat.

  • Try to keep your entire meal to 500 calories or less. The average adult eats 836 calories per fast food meal—and underestimates what they ate by 175 calories. So don’t guess! Most chains post nutritional info both on their websites and at the franchise location. Take advantage of this information.
  • Opt for foods that are lower in fat and higher in protein and fiber. Look for items with more good stuff, like fiber, whole grains, and high-quality protein. Also aim for options that are relatively low in saturated fats. And steer clear of all items that contain trans fats.
  • Bring your own add-on items if you really want a health boost. Even when you order wisely, it can be pretty tough to get enough fiber and other important vitamins and nutrients from a fast food menu. If you plan ahead, you can bring healthy sides and toppings like dried fruit, nuts and seeds, carrot sticks, apple or pear slices, and cottage cheese or yogurt.

Watch your sodium intake

High sodium intake is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that adults stay under 1500 mg of sodium per day, and never take in more than 2,300 mg a day. Unfortunately, that’s tough to do when eating fasting food, even when you’re eating lower calorie meals. Your best bet: plan ahead if possible and eat low sodium in the meals leading up to and following your fast food meal. However, you can minimize some of the damage by requesting that your burger or meat be cooked without added salt.

Additional Resources and References

Many fast food chains post nutritional information on their websites. Sometimes, these lists are confusing and hard to use, but they are the best source for accurate, up-to-date information on their menu options.

Many other websites and apps provide nutritional information, often in easier to use formats.

Tips for making healthier fast food choices

Making healthier fast food choices is easier if you plan ahead by checking the nutritional guides that most chains post on their websites. But if you don’t have the chance to prepare, you can still make smarter choices by following a few common sense guidelines.

Healthier fast food ordering guidelines

  • Keep your eye on portion size. Many fast food meals deliver enough food for several meals in the guise of a single serving. Avoid supersized and value-sized items, and go for the smallest size when it comes to sandwiches, burgers, and sides. You can also find more reasonable portions on the children’s menu.
  • Focus on grilled or roasted lean meats. Avoid fried and breaded items, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets. Choose turkey, chicken breast, lean ham, or lean roast beef instead. Grilled skinless chicken is usually your best bet.
  • Pay attention to the descriptions on the menu. Dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, or au gratin are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Same with items in Alfredo or cream sauce.
  • Don’t be afraid to special order. Many menu items can be made healthier with a few tweaks and substitutions. For example, you can ask to hold the sauce or dressing or serve it on the side. Or you can request a wheat bun for your hamburger or whole-grain bread for your sandwich.
  • Don't assume that healthy-sounding dishes are always your best option. For example, many fast food salads are a diet minefield, smothered in high-fat dressing and fried toppings. This is where reading the nutrition facts before you order can make a huge difference.

Tips for keeping fast food calories under control

  • Be careful when it comes to condiments and dressings. When choosing items, be aware of calorie- and fat-packed salad dressings, spreads, sauces, and sides such as sour cream. Mayonnaise- and oil-based sauces in particular add a lot of calories. Try holding the mayo and asking for a packet of ketchup or mustard you can add yourself—controlling how much you put on your sandwich.
  • Stick to zero-calorie beverages. Soda is a huge source of hidden calories. The average large soda packs around 300 calories, which can quickly gulp up a big portion of your daily calorie intake. Shakes are even worse, with up to 800 calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat. And don’t be fooled by lemonade and fruit drinks, which add calories and sugar without much in the way of nutrients. Order water, diet soda, or unsweetened tea instead.
  • Be wise about sides. Watch menu items that come with one or more side dishes. Sides that can quickly send calories soaring include fries, chips, rice, noodles, onion rings, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Better bets are side salads with light dressing, baked potato (easy on the toppings), fresh fruit cups, corn on the cob, or apple slices.
  • Pass on the French fries. Do you really need those fries? A sandwich or burger should be plenty filling on its own. Or if your meal doesn’t sound complete without fries, choose the smallest size (which can be 400 calories less than a large serving).
  • Skip the bacon. It’s always tempting to add bacon to sandwiches and salads for extra flavor, but bacon has very few nutrients and is high in fat and calories. Instead, try ordering extra pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, or mustard to add flavor without the fat.

Make sure your fast food salad isn’t a stealth diet saboteur

  • Choose low-fat and fat-free dressing and ask for it on the side, so you can control how much you use.
  • Skip high-fat toppings such as bacon bits, cheese, croutons, and crispy noodles. They can add hundreds of calories!
  • Avoid taco salads. The deep-fried shells, tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream make them high-fat, high-calorie diet busters.
  • Choose salads with grilled chicken, shrimp, or vegetables. Avoid salads with breaded chicken or other fried toppings.

Healthier fast food menu options by type of chain

When it comes to fast food, you have a lot of options, from traditional burger and chicken joints to coffee and donut chains and Asian and Mexican food franchises. Following commonsense nutrition guidelines goes a long way wherever you choose to stop, but you can also save yourself a lot of dietary grief with the following chain-specific tips.

Healthier fast food at burger chains

Healthy Fast Foods: Burger ChainsThe typical fast food meal of a burger, fries, and a drink can easily add up to a whole day’s worth of calories. That’s a nutritional (and weight control) recipe for disaster. The burger alone at many fast food joints can pack between 1,000-2,000 calories, particularly when loaded up with extra patties, bacon, and cheese.

To keep calories and fat down, you also should pay particular attention to portion sizes and high-fat toppings and sides. Everything that you add to your meal counts—from fries to soda or a shake.

Tips for making healthier choices at fast food burger joints:

  • Stick to a single hamburger patty. No double or triple burgers! Burgers with two or three beef patties add loads of unnecessary calories and unhealthy fat (up to 800 calories and 40 grams of fat).
  • Hold or go light on the mayonnaise. You can eliminate around 100 calories. Add extra ketchup or mustard if you need a flavor kick.
  • Go easy on special sauces, which add a lot of calories. If you don’t want to do without, ask for the sauce on the side. A little goes a long way.
  • Say no to bacon, cheese, onion rings, and other calorie-laden burger toppings. If you want to add some interest, go with extra pickles or heart-healthy avocado.
  • Ask about no-meat burger or sandwich options, such as the veggie burger at Burger King or the grilled cheese at In-N-Out Burger.
  • Skip the fries. You’ll save hundreds of calories (510 calories for a large McDonald’s fries, 340 calories for a medium)
  • Check out the kid’s menu. Junior and children's-sized hamburgers usually have between 250-300 calories, making them a healthier choice.
Healthier fast food burger options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Double-patty cheeseburger

Regular, single-patty hamburger without cheese

French fries

Baked potato or a side salad

Chicken “nuggets” or tenders

Grilled chicken strips

Salad with toppings such as bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing

Garden salad with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing

Milkshake

Yogurt parfait or a vanilla sundae in a cup (no toppings or cone)

Best burger choices at the Top 10 chains

  • Burger King Flame-Broiled Hamburger: 230 calories, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 460 mg sodium
  • Carl's Jr.'s Charbroiled Turkey Burger: 490 calories, 22 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated fat), 960 mg sodium
  • Dairy Queen Quarter-Pound Mushroom Swiss GrillBurger: 590 calories, 35 grams of fat (12 grams saturated fat), 700 mg sodium
  • Hardee's 1/3 lb. Low Carb Thickburger: 420 calories, 32 grams fat (12 grams saturated fat), 1,010 mg sodium.
  • In-N-Out Burger Hamburger With Onion, Protein Style: 240 calories, 17 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 370 mg sodium
  • Jack in the Box Hamburger: 280 calories, 11 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 620 mg sodium
  • McDonald's Hamburger: 250 calories, 9 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 520 mg sodium
  • Sonic Jr. Burger: 340 calories, 17 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 550 mg sodium
  • Wendy's Jr. Hamburger: 230 calories, 8 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 470 mg sodium
  • Whataburger Whataburger Jr.: 300 calories, 15 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 730 mg sodium

Worst burger choices at the Top 10 chains

  • Burger King Triple Whopper Sandwich: 1,020 calories, 65 grams fat, 1,090 mg sodium
  • Carl’s Jr. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger: 1,060 calories, 59 grams fat, 2,012 mg sodium OR Carl's Jr. Double Six Dollar Burger: 1,520 calories, 111 grams fat
  • Dairy Queen FlameThrower GrillBurger: 1,010 calories, 71 grams fat, 1,670 mg sodium
  • Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger: 920 calories, 62 grams fat, 1,310 mg sodium
  • Hardee's ⅔ lb. Monster Thickburger: 1,290 calories, 92 grams fat, 2,840 mg sodium
  • Jack-In-The Box Sirloin Cheeseburger with Bacon: 1,030 calories, 70 grams fat, 2,310 mg sodium
  • McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese: 750 calories, 43 grams fat, 1,280 mg sodium
  • Sonic SuperSONIC Bacon Double Cheeseburger: 1,240 calories, 87 grams fat, 1,690 mg sodium 
  • Wendy’s Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy ¾ lb. Triple: 1,090 calories, 66 grams fat, 1,990 mg sodium
  • Whataburger Chop House Cheddar Burger: 1,160 calories, 75 grams fat, 1,490 mg sodium

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Healthier fast food at chicken chains

Healthy fast food: Fried chicken chainsChicken may sound healthier than beef, but when it comes to fast food, that’s not always the case. Many menu items at chicken chains are higher in fat and sodium than a burger. That’s not to say that you can’t find healthier options, but don’t assume that chicken means “healthy.”

What kind of meat you order also matters. Chicken breast is highest in calories, followed closely by the thigh. Chicken wings and drumsticks are much lower in calories, making them smarter choices. If you prefer breast meat, you can make it healthier by taking off the skin.

Tips for making smarter choices at fast food chicken restaurants:

  • Choose baked, broiled, or grilled chicken over fried or breaded chicken. And don’t even think about chicken nuggets, which are loaded as much fat and sodium as a burger.
  • Go easy on the honey mustard, barbecue sauce, and other special sauces. Each sauce packet adds around 60 calories.
  • Be wary of sides. Half the fun when ordering chicken are the sides: coleslaw, biscuits, baked beans, mac ‘n cheese, and mashed potatoes. But these standard side dishes are all high in calories, so make sure to count them toward your meal.
  • Pass on the crispy chicken sandwich, which may be flavorful, but is fried and fatty. A much better choice is a grilled chicken sandwich. Order it skinless to make it even healthier.
Healthier fast food chicken options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Fried chicken, original or extra-crispy

Skinless chicken breast without breading

Teriyaki wings or popcorn chicken

Honey BBQ chicken sandwich

Fried chicken sandwich

Grilled chicken sandwich

Chicken and biscuit “bowl”

Mashed potatoes

Adding extra gravy and sauces

Limiting gravy and sauces

Best chicken choices at top chains

  • Bojangles’ Grilled Filet Sandwich: 235 calories, 5 grams fat
  • Boston Market Half Rotisserie Chicken Carver Sandwich: 375 calories, 14.5 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 980 mg sodium
  • KFC Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast plus mashed potatoes (without gravy): 310 calories, 10 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated) OR KFC Original Recipe Chicken Drumstick: 120 calories, 7 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated)
  • Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich: 290 calories, 4 grams fat, 1,260 mg sodium
  • Church’s Chicken Five Nuggets: 162 calories, 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat)
  • El Pollo Loco Chopped Breast Meat (2.8 ounces): 100 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 330 mg sodium OR El Pollo Loco Chicken Leg (1.6 ounces): 90 calories, 4 grams fat, 170 mg sodium
  • Jack in the Box Chicken Fajita Pita made with whole grain: 326 calories, 10 grams fat, 987 mg sodium
  • Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen Loaded Chicken Wrap: 310 calories, 13 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 890 mg sodium
  • Smashburger Grilled Chicken Spinach and Goat Cheese Sandwich: 410 calories, 14 grams fat, 1,260 mg sodium
  • Zaxby’s Chicken Finger Nibbler with Zax sauce: 330 calories, 18.5 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 660 mg sodium

Worst chicken choices at top chains

  • Bojangles’ Cajun Spiced Chicken Thigh with Seasoned Fries: 654 calories, 42 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 945 mg sodium
  • Boston Market 3 Pieces Dark Rotisserie Chicken: 540 calories, 36 grams fat (11 grams saturated fat), 1080 mg sodium
  • Burger King Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich: 640 calories, 36 g fat (6 g saturated), 1420 mg sodium
  • Chick-fil-A Chick-n-Strips (4) with Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce and Cole Slaw: 1,140 calories, 79 g fat (13.5 g saturated fat), 1,935 mg sodium
  • Chili's Honey Chipotle Crispers with Chipotle Sauce: 2,040 calories 99 g fat 240 g carbs
  • El Pollo Loco 2 Piece, 3 Piece or Half Chicken Combo: Each piece of chicken is 80 calories (leg), 90 (wing), 210 (thigh), or 220 calories (breast). Times those calories by 2, 3, or 4 and they start to add up. And that’s before you add the calories that come with the sides!
  • KFC Famous Bowl – Rice and Gravy: 610 calories, 25 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 2,200 mg sodium
  • McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips (5 pieces) with creamy ranch sauce: 830 calories, 55 grams fat (4.5 grams trans fat)
  • Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen Bonafide Mild or Spicy Chicken Breast: A single breast has 440 calories, 27 grams of fat (11 grams of saturated fat), and 1,330 mg sodium
  • Zaxby’s Large Chicken Finger Plate: 1410 calories, 88 grams fat (14 grams saturated fat), 3730 mg sodium

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Healthy fast food at Mexican chains

Healthy fast food: Mexican chainsMexican fast food restaurants can be a good option for finding healthy fast food. But they can also be caloric minefields—especially when it comes to burritos, nachos, and other cheese-heavy items. Portion control is also important, since the serving size on many Mexican fast food items is enormous. In order to enjoy what you want without blowing your diet, simply eat half and take the rest home for your next meal.

Several Mexican chains, including Taco Bell and Baja Fresh, have “healthy” menu options that are lower in fat and calories. You can also find healthier choices at chains such as Chipotle and Taco Del Mar, including whole-wheat tortillas and fresh vegetables. But portions are still huge, so limiting the amount you eat in one sitting is key.

Tips for making smarter choices at Mexican fast food restaurants:

  • Go easy on the rice and beans (including in your burrito). These starches add hundreds of calories to your meal.
  • Skip the sour cream, which can add 100-200 calories. For a healthier option, add avocado or guacamole.
  • Say no to chips. They add hundred of calories (285 calories for a ½ order from Chipotle) and sodium you don’t need.
  • Look for Baja-style fish dishes. Fish is usually the healthiest meat choice—as long as it’s not fried.
  • Opt for soft tortillas. Whether made of flour or corn, soft tortillas are lower in fat and calories than crispy, deep-fried shells. Soft corn tortillas are usually healthier than soft flour tortillas.
  • Try holding the cheese. You may be surprised how little you miss it in your burrito or taco, and it can save you over 100 calories.
  • Load up on fajita veggies. Adding them to your burrito or burrito bowl is an easy way to add tons of flavor and heart-healthy vitamins and phytochemicals without adding a lot of calories.
Healthier Mexican fast food options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Crispy shell taco

Soft taco

Ground beef or steak

Grilled fish or chicken

Refried beans or pinto beans

Black beans

Crunch wraps or gordita-type burritos

Grilled “fresco” style steak burrito

Beef or steak burrito

Veggie and bean burrito

Best choices at the top Mexican chains

  • Baja Fresh Original Baja Taco: 200-230 calories, 5-8 grams fat (1-2 grams saturated fat), 230-280 mg sodium OR Baja Fresh Grilled Mahi Mahi Taco: 230 calories, 9 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 300 mg sodium
  • Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl with Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, Cheese, and Tomato Salsa: 440 calories, 16 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 1430 mg sodium
  • Del Taco Taco al Carbon with Chicken: 150 calories, 4 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 300 mg sodium
  • El Pollo Loco Classic Baja Fish Taco: 209 cal, 9g total fat, 251mg sodium, 2g fiber, 8g protein
  • Freebirds two soft tacos with corn tortillas, white meat chicken, cilantro, corn relish and tomatoes: 364 calories and 616 mg of sodium
  • Qdoba Mexican Grill Naked Burrito (with black beans, pico de gallo, cilantro-lime rice, lettuce, grilled veggies, and ranchera sauce): 460 calories, 7 grams fat, 1,220 mg sodium, (plus 18 grams of protein and 20 grams of fiber)
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill The Full Monty taco with fish (6-inch flour tortilla, black beans, shredded cheese, salsa, and lettuce): 172 calories, 6 grams fat
  • Taco Bell Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco: 160 calories, 4.5g fat (1.5g saturated fat), 11g protein, 430mg sodium OR Taco Bell Fresco Burrito: 330-340 calories, 8 grams fat (2.5-3 grams saturated fat), 1290-1410 mg sodium.
  • Taco John’s Super Burrito with Chicken: 420 calories, 14 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 1020 mg sodium
  • Taco Time Soft Pork Burrito: 460 calories, 690 mg sodium, 6 grams fiber

Worst choices at the top Mexican chains

  • Baja Fresh Burrito Ultimo (Steak or Carnitas), Enchilado Style (served with nachos, pico de gallo and sour cream): 1,550-1,580 calories, 84 grams fat (40 grams saturated fat), 3,760-3,789 mg sodium
  • Chevy’s Tostada Salad (not including dressing) : 1,500-1,560 calories, 91-100 grams fat (34-38 grams saturated fat), 2,220-2,550 mg sodium
  • Chipotle Mexican Grilled Chicken Burrito: 1,179 calories, 7 grams fat, 125 g carbs, 2,656 mg sodium
  • Del Taco Macho Combo Burrito: 940 calories, 34 grams fat (17 grams saturated fat), 2,320 mg sodium
  • El Pollo Loco Twice Grilled Burrito: 800 calories, 40 grams fat, 1,730mg sodium
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill Closetalker Salad with crispy shell, ground beef, beans, cheese, olives, cucumbers, lettuce, chipotle ranch sauce and bacon:  1,215 calories, 84 grams fat (21.3 grams saturated fat), 2,103 mg sodium
  • On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina Dos XX Fish Tacos w/ Creamy Red Chile Sauce: 2,150 calories, 144 grams fat (31 grams saturated fat), 3,740 mg sodium OR On the Border Grande Taco Salad with Taco Beef: 1,450 calories, 102 grams fat, 78 g carbs, 2,410 mg sodium
  • Taco Bell XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito Beef: 880 calories, 3 grams saturated fat, 2130 mg sodium
  • Taco John’s Super Nachos – Regular: 790 calories, 47 grams fat (15 grams saturated fat), 1650 mg sodium
  • Taco Time Chimichanga, Ground Beef: 650 calories, 27 grams fat (13 grams saturated fat), 2520 mg sodium

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Healthy fast food at sub sandwich chains

Healthy fast food: Sub sandwich chainsThanks to Subway’s Jared, sub sandwiches come to mind for many people when they think of “healthy” fast food. And while it is true that you can find relatively healthy choices at the top sandwich chains, their menus are not without their pitfalls. While sandwich shop ads promote their health benefits, studies have found that many people eat more calories per meal at a sub shop than at McDonald's. This may be because people feel so virtuous eating “healthy” as the ads suggest, they reward themselves with chips, sodas, or extra condiments that can turn a healthy meal into an unhealthy one. You can make healthier choices at a deli or sub shop but you need to use some common sense.

Tips for making smarter choices at sandwich fast food joints:

  • Opt for the smaller sized subs. Ordering a 6-inch sub over the footlong can save you between 500-700 calories.
  • Choose whole-grain buns or bread instead of white bread, French rolls, or cheese breads.
  • Go easy on the mayonnaise and condiments. You can save even more calories by asking for the condiments on the side.
  • Dress your sandwich with mustard, vinegar, or low-fat dressing instead of mayonnaise and calorie-heavy special sauces.
  • Go light on the cheese, or better yet, skip it altogether.
  • Eat half the sandwich at lunch and save the other half for later.
  • Load up on veggies, such as tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, green and red peppers, and olives.
  • Skip the chips. Get something healthier on the side, such as an apple, a small side salad, or a yogurt.
Healthier fast food sandwich options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Foot-long sub

Six-inch sub

High-fat meat such as ham, tuna salad, bacon, meatballs, or steak

Lean meat (roast beef, chicken breast, lean ham) or veggies

The “normal” amount of higher-fat (cheddar, American) cheese

One or two slices of lower-fat cheese (Swiss or mozzarella)

Keeping the sub “as is” with all toppings

Subbing out cheese and meat for extra veggie toppings

Choosing white bread or “wraps” which are often higher in fat than normal bread

Choosing whole-grain bread or taking the top slice off your sub and eating it open-faced

Best sandwich choices at top chains

  • Arby’s Turkey ‘n Cheddar Classic: 290 calories, 5 grams fat, 1,020 mg sodium.
  • Au Bon Pain Classic Chicken Salad Sandwich (Half): 230 calories, 480 mg sodium.
  • Cosi Hummus & Veggie Sandwich: 397 calories, 7 grams fat, 532 mg sodium
  • Jason’s Deli Mediterranean Wrap: 370 calories, 10 grams fat, 1160 mg sodium
  • Jimmy John’s Turkey Tom (easy on the mayo): 430 calories, 11.5 g fat, 1085 mg sodium
  • Panera Bread Half Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat Bread: 260 calories, 8 grams fat, 580 mg sodium
  • Quizno’s Sonoma Turkey Sammie: 280 calories, 14g fat, 4g saturated fat, 30mg cholesterol, 740mg sodium
  • Starbucks Roasted Vegetable Panini: 350 calories, 12 grams of fat, 770 milligrams sodium (plus 4 g of fiber and 13 g of protein)
  • Subway 6-Inch Roast Beef Sandwich on 9-Grain Wheat: 310 calories, 5g fat (1.5g saturated fat), 24g protein, 700mg sodium OR Subway Veggie Delite: 230 calories, 3 grams fat, 310 mg sodium
  • Togo’s Farmer’s Market Wrap with Balsamic Vinaigrette: 440 calories, 3g sat fat, 14g total fat, 980mg sodium, 72g carbs, 9g fiber, 8g sugar, 12g protein

Worst sandwich choices at top chains

  • Arby's Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon Market Fresh Sandwich: 800 calories, 35 grams fat (9 grams saturated fat), 2,250 mg sodium
  • Au Bon Pain Turkey and Swiss Sandwich (Whole): 740 calories, 1,490 mg sodium OR Au Bon Pain BBQ Chicken and Black Bean Wrap: 740 calories, 1,600 mg sodium
  • Blimpie large Meatball Parmigiana: 1,120 calories, 58 g fat, 26 g saturated fat, and 3,640 mg sodium
  • Cosi Steak T.B.M. Sandwich: 829 calories, 55 grams fat, 453 mg sodium OR Cosi Tuna Melt: 874 cal, 40g fat, 1,154mg sodium
  • Jason’s Deli Bird to the Wise no mayo sandwich with 99% fat free turkey: 1391 calories, 102 grams of fat
  • Jimmy John’s Italian Night Club: 1,000 calories, 50 grams of fat, and a whole day's worth of sodium
  • Panera Signature Chipotle Chicken on Artisan French Bread: 840 calories, 38 grams fat (12 grams saturated fat), 2,140 mg of sodium
  • Quizno's Classic Italian: 1370 calories, 86 grams fat, 4490 mg sodium OR Quizno’s large Italian Meatball Sub: 1,530 calories, 81 grams fat (28 grams saturated fat), 3,580 mg sodium
  • Subway Footlong Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt: 1140 calories, 56 g fat (20 grams saturated fat), 2,100 mg sodium
  • Togo’s French Dip: 840 calories, 33 grams fat (10 grams saturated fat, 0.5 grams trans fat), 2,690 mg sodium

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Healthier fast food at pizza chains

PizzaPizza isn’t considered health food—and for good reason. It’s high in calories and typically loaded with fatty meats and cheese with little nutritional value. Two slices can easily add up to 600 calories and more than a full day’s worth of sodium. But it is possible to indulge in pizza now and again without completely undoing your healthy diet. However, there’s no good way to avoid the high sodium, so try to limit your sodium intake in the meals leading up to and following your pizza outing.

It’s also important to pay attention to portion sizes. This means limiting the number of slices you eat, but not all slices are equal. Be aware that a large slice of pizza is almost 40% bigger than a medium slice of pizza, with the corresponding calorie bump. And don’t be fooled by the personal pan pizza, which are usually 800 calories or more. If you do choose a personal pizza, eat half and save the rest for later.

Tips for making smarter choices at pizza joints:

  • Order thin crust instead of regular crust, and avoid deep-dish or pan pizza at all costs! Not only is thin crust the healthiest option, but it’s also the most authentic version of a true Italian pie.
  • Order your pizza with light cheese. A little cheese can go a long way! You can also try substituting lower-calorie ricotta cheese for mozzarella. At the very least, don’t order extra cheese.
  • Load your pizza up with veggie toppings. Most chains have lots of healthy options, including tomato, peppers, mushrooms, spinach, artichoke, garlic, onion, and broccoli.
  • Limit high-fat meat toppings, such as pepperoni, bacon, sausage, Philly meat, ham, and beef. If you must have meat, stick to chicken.
  • Avoid pasta, which tends to be less healthy than the pizza at fast food joints. Fast food pasta dishes are usually little more than a heaping serving of refined-carb noodles and meat-heavy sauces.
  • Skip the sides. Say no to garlic knots, mozzarella sticks, and cheesy bread. You’ll cut out a lot of calories, carbs, and unhealthy fat.
Healthier pizza and Italian fast food options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Cheese-filled or deep dish pizza

Thin-crust pizza (whole-wheat, if available)

Meat lover’s pizza

Veggie lover’s pizza

Pepperoni, meatballs, or sausage toppings

Chicken

Bacon

Canadian bacon (60% less fat than regular bacon)

Garlic or “cheesy” bread

Plain rolls or breadsticks

Best menu choices at top pizza chains

  • California Pizza Kitchen Pepperoni Supreme Thin Crust (2 slices): 338 calories, 7 grams saturated fat, 1,016 mg sodium
  • Chuck E. Cheese Canadian Bacon and Pineapple Pizza (1 large slice): 272 calories, 8 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 678 mg sodium
  • Cici’s Pizza Ole Pizza – To-Go (2 slices): 339 calories, 8 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 700 mg sodium
  • Domino’s Pizza Tuscan Salami and Roasted Veggie Artisan (1 slice): 150 calories, 6 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 280mg sodium OR Domino’s Pacific Veggie Thin Crust (1 slice): 230 calories, 12.5 grams fat (5.5 grams saturated fat), 450 mg sodium
  • Little Caesar’s Pizza Green Pepper, Onion and Black Olives (1 slice): 196 calories, 8 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 336 mg sodium
  • Papa John’s Pizza Garden Fresh Pizza for One (eating only 1/2 the pizza): 360 calories, 10 grams fat, 880 mg sodium
  • Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Veggie DeLite Pizza (2 slices): 322 calories, 8 grams saturated fat, 437 mg sodium
  • Pizza Hut Fit 'N Delicious Chicken & Veggie Pizza (2 slices):  208 calories, 9 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat)
  • Sbarro Thin Crust Tomato and Basil Pizza (1 slice): 450 calories, 14 grams fat, 1,040 mg sodium
  • Uno Chicago Grill Individual Cheese and Tomato Flatbread Pizza (eating only ½ the pizza): 405 calories, 16.5 grams fat (7.5 grams saturated fat), 1,065 mg sodium

Worst menu choices at top pizza chains

  • California Pizza Kitchen Greek Pizza with Honey Wheat Crust (2 slices): 474 calories, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 992 mg sodium
  • Chuck E. Cheese All Meat Combo Pizza (2 small slices): 454 calories, 18 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 1,090 mg sodium
  • Cici’s Pizza Cheese Pizza – To-Go (2 slices): 446 calories, 15 grams fat (11 grams saturated fat), 1,075 mg sodium
  • Domino’s Pizza California Chicken Bacon Ranch (1 slice): 480 calories, 32 grams fat (11.5 grams saturated fat), 1100 mg sodium
  • Little Caesar’s 14” Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza (2 slices): 720 calories, 32 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 1,220 mg sodium
  • Papa John’s Favorite with pepperoni, sausage and a 6-cheese blend (1 slice ): 430 calories, 22 grams fat
  • Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Large Murphy’s Combo Fresh Pan Crust Pizza (1 slice): 525 calories, 28.7 grams fat (11.1 grams saturated fat), 1,230 mg sodium
  • Pizza Hut Triple Meat Italiano (9-inch personal pizza): 1,280 calories, 23 grams saturated fat, 3,070 mg sodium
  • Sbarro Thin Crust Pepperoni Pizza (1 slice): 730 calories, 37 grams fat, 2,200 mg sodium
  • Uno Chicago Grill Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza: 2,310 calories, 162 grams fat, 4,470 mg sodium

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Healthier fast food at Asian chains

Healthy Asian Food

Asian fast food may sound healthier than your typical burger or fast food sandwich. After all, you can usually get a decent amount of veggies. But if you’re not careful, you can end up with a meal that’s much higher in calories and fat than you may realize. If you’re smart about what you order, you can minimize the diet-busting damage, but Asian fast food also tends to be very high in sodium. And unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about that—which makes Asian fast food best for the occasional indulgence, not a regular habit.

Tips for making smarter choices at Asian fast food restaurants:

  • Go easy on the rice, which packs on carbs and calories. Pass on fried rice, which is high in fat, calories, and sodium. Steamed white rice is a much healthier choice, and brown rice even better.
  • Limit the noodles. Fried Asian noodles add a lot of calories, carbs, and sodium, plus unhealthy fat. Stick to small portions of lo mein, chow mein, and chow fun, or avoid them altogether.
  • Say no to pork dishes, which tend to be higher in fat than other meat options.
  • Avoid sauce heavy dishes, such as orange chicken and Beijing beef. It’s also a good idea to pass on anything with General Tso’s, Kung Pao, BBQ, or Sweet and Sour in the name. These sauces are high in calories and sugar.
  • Skip the fatty, deep-fried sides, such as fried wontons, egg rolls, tempura, BBQ spareribs, and crab Rangoon.
  • Use the chopsticks! You’ll eat more slowly, since you can’t grasp as much food with them at one time as you can with your normal fork and knife.
Healthier Asian fast food options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Deep-fried starters (egg rolls, tempura, fried wontons, etc.)

Soup (good choices include egg drop, miso, wonton, or hot & sour soup)

Battered or deep-fried dishes (sweet and sour pork, General Tso’s chicken)

Stir-fried, steamed, roasted or broiled dishes (chow mein, chop suey)

Fried rice

Steamed rice (brown instead of white rice, if that’s an option)

Sweet and sour sauce or regular soy sauce

Hot chili sauce (a little goes a long ways) or low-sodium soy sauce

Meat-based dishes

Vegetable-based dishes

Best menu choices at top Asian fast food chains

  • Manchu Wok Kung Pao Chicken: 180 calories, 12g fat, 2g sat fat, 8g protein, 540mg sodium
  • Panda Express Broccoli Beef: 150 calories, 6 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 720 mg sodium, 12 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, 11 grams protein
  • Panda Express String Bean Chicken Breast: 170 calories, 7 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 720 mg sodium
  • Panda Express Tangy Shrimp with a side of mixed veggies: 260 calories, 7.5 g fat (1.5g saturated fat)
  • Shophouse brown rice, grilled chicken satay, eggplant with Thai basil, tamarind vinaigrette, and herb salad: 505 calories

Worst menu choices at Asian fast food chains

  • Manchu Wok Honey Garlic Chicken: 430 calories, 21 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 940 mg sodium
  • Panda Express Beijing Beef: 850 calories, 50 grams fat (9 grams saturated fat, 1 gram trans fat), 1,120 mg sodium
  • Panda Express Fried Rice: 470 calories, 19 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 830 mg sodium
  • Panda Express Panda Bowl with Sweetfire Chicken Breast and white rice: 820 calories, 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 320 mg sodium
  • Shophouse chilled rice noodles, grilled steak laab, green beans, green curry, green papaya slaw, crushed peanuts: 800 calories

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Healthier fast food breakfasts

Breakfast Bagel

We all know the importance of a healthy breakfast, but it’s also the meal we usually have the least time for. And even though fast food isn’t the healthiest option, it can be the most convenient one when you’re running late for work or school.

However, many fast food breakfasts deliver a full day’s worth of fat and enough saturated fat for three days. Many breakfast items are also obscenely high in sodium (even non-salty baked goods such as pastries and muffins). And that’s to say nothing of calories, which can top 1,000. But you can find healthier choices on most menus. The key is to look for items with both fiber and protein—which makes them more filling and satisfying—but not too much fat.

Tips for making smarter fast food breakfast choices:

  • Avoid sausage, bacon, and steak. These meats are high in fat. Leaner breakfast meat choices include turkey, Canadian bacon, and ham.
  • Be careful when it comes to baked goods. Not only are most breakfast pastries, loafs, and muffins high in sugar, they also tend to be high in sodium.
  • Focus on fiber. Good choices include bran muffins, oatmeal, and granola. Just watch out for excess sugar.
  • Go easy on the cheese and breakfast sauces. Ask for the sauce on the side to keep the calories down.
  • Say no to the breakfast burrito. These diet-busters tend to be loaded with carbs, calories, sodium, and fat.
  • Choose toast or English muffins over biscuits. Biscuits are usually higher in calories and fat than toast or English muffins.
Healthier breakfast fast food options

INSTEAD OF…

TRY…

Bagel with cream cheese

English muffin with butter

Egg on a biscuit

Egg on wheat toast

Donut or pastry

Low-fat bran muffin

Smoothie

Yogurt with granola and fruit

French toast sticks or cinnamon roll

Oatmeal

Top 10 fast food breakfast choices

  • Au Bon Pain Large Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal: 370 calories, 9 grams of fiber, 11 grams of healthy protein
  • Burger King Fruit Topped Maple Flavored QUAKER Oatmeal: 270 calories, 4 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 290 mg sodium
  • Dunkin’ Donuts Egg White Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wrap: 150 calories, 5 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 400 mg sodium, 11 grams protein
  • Einstein Bros Nova Lox & Bagel Sandwich on a Whole Wheat Bagel with Whipped Light Cream Cheese Schmear: 313 calories, 12 grams of fat OR Einstein Bros Garden Herb Turkey Bagel Thin: 310 calories, 11 grams fat, 1,060 milligrams sodium
  • Jack in the Box Breakfast Jack: 290 calories, 12 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated fat), 760 mg sodium
  • Jamba Juice 12-oz Mango Peach Topper: 320 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber. Add extra Whey Protein Superboost for a total of 19 grams of protein OR Jamba Juice Berry Fulfilling (original): 260 calories, 1 gram fat
  • McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin with White Cheddar: 250 calories, 7 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 770 mg sodium
  • Panera Bread Strawberry Granola Parfait: 310 calories, 11 grams fat, 100 mg sodium, 3 grams fiber, 9 grams protein
  • Starbucks Protein Bistro Box: 380 calories, 19 grams fat, 5 grams fiber, 13 grams protein
  • Subway Egg White Sandwich: 180 calories, 5 grams fat, 11 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber

Worst fast food breakfast choices

  • Au Bon Pain Sausage, Egg and Cheddar on Asiago Bagel: 780 calories, 1,290 mg sodium
  • Burger King Hash Browns (large): 620 calories, 40 grams fat (11 grams saturated fat, 13 grams trans fat), 1,200 mg sodium
  • Dunkin’ Donuts Sausage, Supreme Omelet and Cheese on Bagel: 730 calories, 31 grams fat (13 grams saturated fat), 1,870 mg sodium
  • Einstein Bros Bacon and Spinach Panini: 860 calories, 51 grams fat (15 grams saturated fat, 1 gram trans fat), 1,610 mg sodium
  • Jack in the Box Sirloin Steak & Egg Burrito with Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa: 790 calories, 48 grams fat (15 grams saturated fat, 3.5 grams trans fat), 1,320 mg sodium
  • Jamba Juice Chocolate Moo'd Power Smoothie (30 fl oz): 900 calories, 10 grams fat, 183 grams carbs (166 grams sugar)
  • McDonald’s Deluxe Breakfast: 1,360 calories, 64 grams fat (22 grams saturated fat), 2,325 mg sodium
  • Panera Bread Bacon, Egg & Cheese on Asiago Cheese Bagel: 610 calories, 28 grams fat, 1350 mg sodium
  • Starbucks Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino Blended Crème with whipped cream (Venti 20 oz.): 800 calories, 25 grams fat
  • Subway Omelet Sandwich 6" Breakfast B.M.T. Melt: 490 calories, 22 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 1600 mg sodium

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Healthiest choices at 10 of the most popular fast food chains

Healthier Fast Food - Part 2

Part 2 of this article covers the healthiest food choices at 10 of the most popular fast food chains. Read Part 2 »

Fast Food Logos Fast Food Logos

More help for healthy eating

Resources and references

Nutrition facts for menu choices at fast food restaurants

Fast Food Nutrition – Lists in-depth nutrition facts for menu choices at over 35 fast food restaurants.

Calorie Lab – Offers a nutritional facts database with information on 500 restaurant chain menus.

Healthy Dining Finder – Helps you find the healthiest choices at your local restaurants and includes instructions for reduced-sodium options and special requests. (Healthy Dining)

Restaurant reviews

All "Menu Mondays" Restaurant Reviews – Explore in-depth guides to eating smart at a wide range of popular chains. Includes details on the best and worst menu options. (Eating Rules)

10 Fast Food Chains that Serve Fresh and Healthy Cuisine – Learn about healthier fast food options at chains that focus on fresh food and even vegetarian and vegan fare. (Business Insider)

Special dietary needs at fast food restaurants

The Fast Food Challenge – Many useful tips to help you eat healthier when dining out at fast food restaurants. (American Diabetes Association)

Tips for Eating Fast Food – Suggestions and healthy substitutions for fast food restaurant items. (American Heart Association)

Nutritional information from popular fast food chains

Arby's

Domino's Pizza

Panera Bread

Au Bon Pain

Dunkin' Donuts

Papa John's

Burger King

Jack in the Box

Pizza Hut

Carl's Jr.

Jason’s Deli

Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen

Chick-fil-a

Hardee's

SONIC Drive-In

Chipotle

KFC

Starbucks

Corner Bakery and Café

McDonald's

Taco Bell

Cosi

Noodles and Company

Wendy's

Dairy Queen

Panda Express

Whataburger

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: December 2014.