The Healthiest and Unhealthiest Menu Items at the 20 Biggest Restaurant Chains Gallery
May 10, 2018
If you don’t choose your meal wisely, you can end up downing a lot more fat and calories than you realize
The Healthiest and Unhealthiest Menu Items at the 20 Biggest Restaurant Chains
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 Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad, which contains grilled chicken, a salad blend, grape tomatoes, bacon, and shredded cheese, contains 320 calories, 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 135 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,230 milligrams of sodium. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include dressing.
Far and away, the unhealthiest item on the McDonald’s menu is the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes. This massive platter of scrambled eggs, sausage, a biscuit, hash browns, pancakes, butter, and maple syrup clocks in at 1,350 calories, 65 grams of fat, 25 grams of saturated fat, 510 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,100 milligrams of sodium. The unhealthiest non-breakfast item is the Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, which contains 750 calories, 43 grams of fat, 19 grams of saturated fat, 160 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,440 milligrams of sodium.
Surprisingly, the healthiest item on the Starbucks menu also contains the most fat and calories: It’s the Lentils and Vegetable Protein Bowl with Brown Rice. The bowl also contains butternut squash, roasted tomatoes, lemon-tahini dressing, and sunflower seeds. It contains 650 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 670 milligrams of sodium, but just 3.5 grams of saturated fat and no cholesterol (and a whopping 23 grams of protein). The high calorie count is most likely due to the large portion size, however, but in terms of ingredients, it’s impossible to deny that it’s super-healthy. Maybe just eat half the bowl, though.
The unhealthiest breakfast item at Starbucks is the Spicy Chorizo, Monterey Jack, and Egg Breakfast Sandwich, which contains a chorizo sausage patty, a slice of Monterey Jack cheese, an egg patty, and caramelized onions, on a potato roll. It contains 500 calories, 30 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 210 milligrams of cholesterol, and 860 milligrams of sodium.
Subway’s healthiest sandwich is the six-inch turkey breast sandwich, which contains just 280 calories and 4.3 grams of fat (with one gram of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, and 760 milligrams of sodium) when served on nine-grain wheat bread. Load it up with all the vegetables you want, just stay away from the cheese and creamy dressings. The Veggie Delite, which contains just vegetables, has just 230 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.
The unhealthiest sandwich on the Subway menu (pizza is unhealthier than any sandwich there, but who orders pizza at Subway?) is the Chicken Bacon and Ranch Melt. A six-inch sub (on nine-grain wheat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and cucumbers) contains 610 calories, 30 grams of fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 1,290 milligrams of sodium. If you want a 12-inch, double those values, obviously.
Taco Bell: Healthiest
The healthiest item on the Taco Bell menu that can be considered a full meal (so not a single taco, for example) is the Fresco Burrito Supreme with chicken. It’s a flour tortilla filled with grilled chicken, refried beans, red sauce, pico de gallo, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and onions, and it clocks in at 340 calories, 8 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,080 milligrams of sodium.
Taco Bell: Unhealthiest
The heaviest single item on Taco Bell’s menu is the XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito with beef. It loads a jumbo tortilla with ground beef, rice, pico de gallo, refried beans, cheese, guacamole, avocado ranch sauce, and sour cream, and it contains 870 calories, 40 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,130 milligrams of sodium.
Burger King: Healthiest
Becky Schaffer G./Yelp
Burger King’s healthiest menu item is the garden salad with grilled chicken and no dressing, which contains 340 calories, 15 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 100 milligrams of cholesterol, and 770 milligrams of sodium. A plain hamburger from BK contains just 220 calories and 8 grams of fat, but it’s hard to argue that it’s healthier than a salad.
Burger King: Unhealthiest
Tipping the scales at 1,150 calories, the Bacon King sandwich from Burger King — with two quarter-pound patties, a pile of bacon, two slices of American cheese, ketchup, and mayo on a sesame seed bun — is the unhealthiest non-breakfast item on the menu. (The Ultimate Breakfast Platter, with scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, a biscuit, and pancakes, contains 1,190 calories and 66 grams of fat.) This bacon-laden beast also contains 79 grams of fat, 31 grams of saturated fat, 3.5 grams of trans fat, 240 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,150 milligrams of sodium.
Wendy’s healthiest menu item is the half-size Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, which is made with lettuce, chick peas, bell peppers, white beans, brown rice, quinoa, onions, sundried tomatoes, feta cheese, grilled chicken breast, hummus, and balsamic vinaigrette. It contains just 250 calories, 9 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, and 620 milligrams of sodium.
The unhealthiest thing you can eat at Wendy’s is Dave’s Triple, which contains three quarter-pound patties, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, and mayo. It has 1,090 calories, 72 grams of fat, 30 grams of saturated fat, 4 grams of trans fat, 260 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1.910 milligrams of sodium.
Dunkin’ Donuts: Healthiest
Wake-Up Wraps are Dunkin’ Donuts’ healthiest food offerings, and the Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap is the healthiest one of all. It contains just 190 calories, 11 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, and 380 milligrams of sodium.
Chick-fil-A’s smartest lunchtime option is their grilled chicken sandwich, a chicken breast patty on a multigrain bun with lettuce, tomato, and barbecue sauce. It contains 310 calories, six grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, and 820 milligrams of sodium.
Chick Fil-A’s unhealthiest menu item is its Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit, which contains 600 calories, 40 grams of fat, 18 grams of saturated fat, 200 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,520 milligrams of sodium. Its unhealthiest non-breakfast item is the Spicy Deluxe sandwich, a spicy fried chicken breast with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a slice of pepper jack cheese. It contains 540 calories, 25 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,760 milligrams of sodium.
Pizza Hut: Healthiest
Pizza Hut measures nutrition by the slice, which is one eighth of a whole pizza. By this scale, one slice of its 12-inch Fit ‘n Delicious green pepper, red onion, and tomato pizza would be the healthiest item on its menu, clocking in at 150 calories, 4 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, and 400 milligrams of sodium. Good luck sticking to one-eighth of a 12-inch pizza, though!
Pizza Hut: Unhealthiest
We’re just going to assume that you’re not going to down a whole 14-inch Large Meat Lover’s Stuffed Crust Pizza (which contains 3,840 calories and 208 grams of fat) by yourself, so we’ll tell you about the unhealthiest “personal” menu item at Pizza Hut instead: the Meat Lover’s 9-inch Personal PANormous Pizza. This one contains 1,470 calories, 80 grams of fat, 30 grams of saturated fat, 175 milligrams of cholesterol, and 3,670 milligrams of sodium.
Seika Chujo / Shutterstock.com
If you can manage to eat just one-half of a small pizza with a gluten-free crust, tomato sauce, and regular cheese at Domino’s, then you’ll be consuming just 380 calories, 17.5 grams of fat, and 840 milligrams of sodium. Good luck with that, though; you should probably just order the Garden Fresh Salad, which contains just 140 calories and 7 grams of fat.
Panera Bread: Healthiest
The healthiest dish at Panera (not including baked goods or half-size portions) is a bowl of low-fat chicken noodle soup, which contains just 160 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, and 110 milligrams of cholesterol. Be careful if you’re watching your sodium intake, though: it contains 1,400 milligrams of salt.
Panera Bread: Unhealthiest
The unhealthiest dish at Panera (not including pastries like cinnamon rolls) is the large macaroni and cheese. This two-cup serving contains 950 calories, 61 grams of fat, 34 grams of saturated fat, 185 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,450 milligrams of sodium.
Sonic Drive-In: Healthiest
Sonic’s healthiest menu item is the grilled chicken wrap, which wraps up chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, and light ranch dressing in a flour tortilla. It contains 440 calories, 15 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, and 80 milligrams of cholesterol.
Sonic Drive-In: Unhealthiest
Sonic’s unhealthiest dish (not including family-size portions or milkshakes) is the SuperSonic bacon double cheeseburger with mayo. It tips the scales at 1,240 calories, 87 grams of fat, 35 grams of saturated fat, 3.5 grams of trans fat, 255 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,690 milligrams of sodium.
If you want chicken at KFC but want to keep it healthy, go with their Kentucky Grilled Chicken. A breast contains 210 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 130 milligrams of cholesterol, and 710 milligrams of sodium. If you want to substantially lower the cholesterol content, remove the skin.
On the other end of the spectrum, KFC’s Extra Crispy Chicken is extremely unhealthy. A breast contains 530 calories, 35 grams of fat, six grams of saturated fat, 105 milligrams of cholesterol (less than the grilled chicken because it’s skinless), and 1,150 milligrams of sodium. The unhealthiest individual menu item, however, is the chicken pot pie, which contains 790 calories, 46 grams of fat, 37 grams of saturated fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,120 milligrams of sodium.
The unhealthiest dish on the menu at Applebee’s is the Pepper-Crusted Sirloin with whole grains, which also contains sautéed spinach, grape tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, and a light broth. It contains just 380 calories, 13 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,850 milligrams of sodium.
The unhealthiest dish at Applebee’s (and the only one that tips the scales at more than 2,000 calories) is the Classic Combo, an appetizer sampler that contains mozzarella sticks, spinach and artichoke dip, chicken quesadillas, and boneless wings. It contains a gut-busting 2,290 calories, 132 grams of fat, 42 grams of saturated fat, 190 milligrams of cholesterol, and 7,230 milligrams of sodium. A side of blue cheese dressing tacks on an additional 240 calories and 25 grams of fat.
Olive Garden: Unhealthiest
The unhealthiest menu item at Olive Garden (which is no slouch in the unhealthy department) is the Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara, described as “sautéed seasoned chicken, shrimp and spaghetti tossed in a creamy sauce with bacon and roasted red peppers.” It contains a staggering 1,590 calories, 144 grams of fat, 61 grams of saturated fat, 475 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,410 milligrams of sodium.
Chipotle Mexican Grill: Healthiest
Chipotle Mexican Grill/Yelp
One of the best things about Chipotle is that you can customize every aspect of your meal. Salads are the healthiest option; if you’re looking for a healthy but filling lunch, you can top yours with steak (which is actually healthier than the chicken), black beans, fajita vegetables, and roasted chili-corn salsa, and it’ll come out to 390 calories, 9 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,025 milligrams of sodium.
Chipotle Mexican Grill: Unhealthiest
Chipotle Mexican Grill/Yelp
The downside of being able to customize your burrito? The opportunity to really load up on unhealthy stuff. If you fill yours with carnitas, brown rice, beans, queso, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole, you’re looking at a burrito that contains 1,120 calories, 66.5 grams of fat, 285 grams of saturated fat, 160 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,640 milligrams of sodium.
Buffalo Wild Wings: Healthiest
If you’re not looking to make a meal out of celery sticks, the healthiest option at B-Dubs is the grilled chicken sandwich with no cheese. It contains 430 calories, 18 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,910 milligrams of sodium.
Buffalo Wild Wings: Unhealthiest
It’s tough to gauge exactly what the unhealthiest menu item is at Buffalo Wild Wings because, obviously, the more wings you eat, the more calories, cholesterol, and sodium you take in. The unhealthiest sauce option, however, is the Thai Curry; a single boneless wing with Thai Curry sauce contains 100 calories and 7 grams of fat, and a single traditional wing tossed in Thai Curry sauce contains 90 calories and six grams of fat. The unhealthiest non-wing menu item is the Cheese Curd Bacon Burger (a burger topped with bacon and fried cheese curds), which contains 1,620 calories, 127 grams of fat, 46 grams of saturated fat, 3.5 grams of trans fat, 220 milligrams of cholesterol, and 3,760 milligrams of sodium.
Arby’s healthiest menu item is the Chopped Farmhouse Salad with roast turkey with light Italian dressing, which contains greens, tomatoes, shredded Cheddar, pepper bacon, and turkey. It contains 300 calories, 14 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,590 milligrams of sodium.
Little Caesars Pizza: Healthiest
You’re not going to find anything that’s particularly healthy at Little Caesars (unless you just ask for a cup of vegetable toppings to munch on), but the least unhealthy slice of pizza is from the Hot-N-Ready classic cheese pie, which contains 250 calories, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, and 420 milligrams of sodium per slice.
Little Caesars Pizza: Unhealthiest
Dairy Queen: Unhealthiest
The unhealthiest item on the Dairy Queen food menu is the six-piece chicken strip basket with country gravy. That contains 1,250 calories, 65 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 120 milligrams of cholesterol, and 3,210 milligrams of sodium. If you're curious to find out more, here are 25 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Fast Food Chains.