Even though just about every chain restaurant, be it fast food, fast casual, or otherwise, has introduced a handful of healthy options in recent years. That said, there’s still no shortage of extremely unhealthy items to be found at major chains as well. We took a deep dive into the menus of the 20 largest restaurant chains in America by total sales (as calculated by Nation’s Restaurant News) and have identified the healthiest as well as the unhealthiest items they serve.
The unhealthiest menu items were relatively easy to discern: If something is higher in fat, calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol than any other menu item, it’s obviously the unhealthiest one there. But deciding what exactly makes something “healthy” was a little more complicated than that. While we could have easily just picked out the lowest-calorie items on the menu, being low in calories doesn’t automatically make something healthy. A small McDonald’s cheeseburger, for example, only contains 290 calories, but we’re not going to argue that it’s good for you.
So we’re not including burgers or anything fried in our lists of healthiest items (including French fries and fried chicken), because even though they might be lower in calories than some other menu items, burgers and fried foods lack real nutritional value. All of the “healthiest” menu items aren’t just low(ish) in calories, they also offer some actual nutrition. These menu items aren’t just judged by calorie count; fat, sodium, saturated fat, and vegetable content were also taken into account. These are also all items that can be considered meals (some admittedly light ones); we didn’t include apple slices, for example. So click here to learn which menu items are the healthiest and unhealthiest at 2017’s 20 largest chains.