Fast Food Gets Healthy

Featured Article, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition
on July 17, 2012

On your next road trip this summer, don’t let your diet take back seat. Responding to an increasing demand for healthier options, many popular fast food chains have gone beyond the now-requisite salads and grilled chicken sandwiches to offer new options that claim to be better for you. But does this seemingly “healthy” fast food live up to the hype? To help you navigate the drive through the next time you hit the road, we’ve test driven several of the newest and healthiest fast food choices, so you’ll know what to order and what to steer clear of.

MCDONALD’S: Oatmeal with fresh blueberries—at the drive through? Fast food giant McDonald’s debuted its seasonal Banana Nut Blueberry Oatmeal (290 calories, 8 g fat)­ and McCafe Mango Pineapple Real Fruit Smoothie (220 calories, 1 g fat) just in time for summer road trips. While the total calorie counts are reasonable, get this: The oatmeal is loaded with as much sugar as a small vanilla cone, while the smoothie packs a whooping 49 grams of sugar—the same as a hot fudge sundae! For a better-balanced breakfast with real staying power, don’t overlook the classic Egg McMuffin. The signature breakfast sandwich made with egg, lean Canadian bacon and melted cheese provides 18 grams of stick-to-your-ribs protein for a modest 300 calories.

WENDY’s: Wendy’s new Berry Almond Chicken salad (460 calories, 17 g fat for the full-size version) features grilled chicken on a bed of lettuce with almonds, Asiago cheese, strawberries and blueberries, all drizzled with a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette. While it’s packed with healthy fats, fiber, vitamins A and C and protein, this salad is actually more caloric than a Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe and will set you back over $6 a pop. If you’re looking for an option that’s cheaper but just as nutritious, pair a small Wendy’s chili with a Garden Side Salad with Ranch dressing—the whole meal will cost you less than $5 and 375 calories.

BURGER KING: Burger King’s new sweet potato fries (290 calories, 16 g fat for a small) have 60 fewer calories per serving than regular BK fries. But doused in vegetable oil and sprinkled with a heavy dose of salt and preservatives, the fries aren’t exactly health food, so don’t think you can eat away with abandon. And note that for only 60 calories more, you could get a full, healthy meal if you order the BK Veggie Burger (hold the mayo) and a side of apple slices, which weighs in at 350 calories and just 7 grams of fat.

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SUBWAY: Subway, long exalted among fast food restaurants for its wide selection of healthy offerings, has recently added fresh avocado to their lineup of spreads and condiments. The Turkey & Bacon Avocado sub (400 calories, 14 g fat for a 6-inch sub) is so packed with flavor, you won’t even miss the mayo. For an even healthier lunch, nix the fat-laden bacon and pile on fresh vegetables like spinach, cucumber, tomato and fresh peppers for added nutrition and crunch. And always make sure to choose 9-grain bread over white—it’s a good source of fiber and whole grains.

TACO BELL: Looking to revamp their image beyond suspicious ground beef and Dorito-flavored taco shells, Taco Bell recently released their new gourmet-inspired Cantina Menu. A lighter take on a burrito bowl, the Chicken Cantina Bowl is chock-full of fresh ingredients: think citrus-marinated chicken, whole black beans, romaine lettuce, guacamole, corn salsa, pico de gallo and cilantro rice. It tastes flavorful, healthy and decidedly un-Taco Bell. But with a considerable calorie count—550 calories and 23 grams of fat per bowl—your lower-cal bet is to order a Fresco Chicken Soft Taco, which is a measly 150 calories and 3.5 grams of fat per taco.

QUIZNOS: Steer clear of diet pitfalls such as the Baja Chicken sub (970 calories for a medium) and try one of Quiznos’ tasty new flatbread sandwiches instead. With all-natural chicken, mozzarella, black olives, tomatoes, lettuce and Tzatziki dressing served on grilled flatbread, the Greek Chicken Grilled Flatbread Sandwich (430 calories, 21 g fat for a small) is a tasty alternative that won’t break the calorie bank.

CHICK-FIL-A: Chick-Fil-A whips up more than just fried chicken and biscuits—the Southern fast-food favorite also offers an array of diet-friendly salads, sandwiches and wraps.  The Chargrilled Chicken Wrap (410 calories, 10 g fat) contains grilled chicken on a bed of lettuce with shredded red cabbage, tomato slices and a blend of cheese rolled in multigrain flatbread. Served with your choice of one of Chick Fil A’s famous dressings (be sure to stick with the fat-free or light varieties), it’s a crunchy, flavorful choice you can feel good about.

DAIRY QUEEN: Do hot summer days have you screaming for ice cream? If you’re headed to Dairy Queen, there are several ways to indulge sensibly. For a frozen treat weighing in at less than 250 calories, grab a small-sized vanilla cone or banana sundae (230 calories, 7 g fat). Whatever you do, beware the Blizzard: with calorie counts ranging anywhere from 500 to 700 for a small, the celebrated DQ Blizzards are sugar-laden diet wreckers. If you’re unable to resist a Blizzard Treat, though, make sure to order the new “mini” size to keep portions in check and stay within 350 calories.