Fast food deserves its share of criticism. Most menu items from Burger King, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell are made with processed ingredients, excess fats, and little nutritional value. Their burgers, burritos, and French fries are low in fiber and high in salt, and they leave you and your stomach unsatisfied.
Fast-food chains have become such a perceived problem in the United States that lawmakers have been restricting their ability to market products directly to children. These billion-dollar corporations also don’t take kindly to public criticism. McDonald’s is particularly famous for suing activists who speak out against its food and company practices.
Fortunately, the era of unhealthy fast food is slowly being phased out and replaced: Fast-food chains are now actively responding to customers’ requests for healthier menu items. Instead of just offering a skimpy side salad to (pretend to) appeal to healthy-eaters, fast-food chains now take pride in offering low-fat and low-calorie sandwiches, wraps, nuggets, and various other meals. Healthy options are growing in popularity — even though they could be more clearly defined sometimes. You could actually eat fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and still eat nutritiously.
Bet you didn’t think burgers could ever be healthy. Well, as burgers go, this one isn’t too heavy. Note: Their cheeseburger menu item is not the same as their famous Whopper. That’s going to saddle you with way more calories and fat. The Flame-Broiled Cheeseburger has just 270 calories and less fat than a serving of peanut butter.
A rule of thumb when looking for healthy fast food is to opt for the chicken over the beef. Chicken is a lean protein and contains less saturated fat than a burger. The grilled chicken sandwich from Burger King contains a whopping (no pun intended) 32 grams of protein — more than an RXBAR or Quest Protein Bar.
For a place that’s famous for its fried chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A has a surprising number of healthy options, the best being the grilled chicken nuggets. The eight-piece grilled chicken nuggets contain 140 calories and only 3 grams of total fat. They are a great option compared to eight pieces of McDonald’s deep-fried nuggets, which have 360 calories and 22 grams of total fat. Pair these with some French fries and you’ve got a delicious meal.
This wrap involves a wheat tortilla, chicken strips, cheese, and vegetables. They keep it simple with crunchy carrots and savory grilled meat to keep the fat and calorie count down. It comes with Avocado Lime Ranch dressing on the side so you can control your portions with ease. After all, who really knows what’s in ranch dressing?
Though we can’t make any promises about the likelihood you’ll get food poisoning, we can tell you that the burrito chain offers some surprisingly healthy options. With the burrito bowl, you’re not stuffing yourself with both the rice and the tortilla (who decided to add rice to a burrito anyway?). You get to choose your portions, choose your favorites, and craft your own version of a balanced meal. The fat content in their meat is on the lower end. Their steak, shockingly, has less saturated fat than their chicken. If you’re going for the cheese, guacamole, and sour cream, however, be mindful of the dietary fat you’re adding to your plate.
Everybody knows grilled has less fat than fried. KFC’s chicken is no exception. A piece of Kentucky Grilled Chicken has just 90 calories and 4 grams of fat, whereas the classic fried chicken at the chain has 120 calories and 7 grams of fat. Of course, the real nutrition bombs come from their sides and desserts — be aware of what you load in your box.
You can have your bacon ranch, and eat it too. McDonald’s bacon ranch grilled chicken salad isn’t short on delectable fast-food flavor, but swapping in salad greens instead of a bun or tortilla drastically reduces the meal’s number of calories and carbohydrates. The salad has 42 grams of protein, and is only 320 calories with 9 grams of carbohydrates.
Egg whites are a low-calorie protein source, and the fact that the eggs are from cage-free chickens adds another element of environmental awareness that we need to see more of in the fast-food industry. The reduced-fat turkey bacon doesn’t detract from the sandwich’s flavor but does greatly lower the saturated fat content. With 16 grams of protein and only 230 calories, this is a seriously healthy breakfast sandwich.
Some of this “healthier” chain’s sandwiches can load on the dressing and mayo. Even some salads they serve have as much fat as four spoonfuls of lard. Their Black Forest Ham sandwich, however, kicks up the flavor with crunchy vegetables and heart-healthy olives. The result is under 5 grams of healthy fats alongside a good portion of protein and whole grains.
This sandwich is loaded — but it’s loaded with all the good stuff. Three types of meat served in a reasonable portion (no mile-high stack of deli meat here) paired with four types of vegetables. Plus, you get to avoid the mysterious chicken — did you know Subway was investigated for selling fake poultry?!
This burrito is stuffed to the max, yet still somehow stays below 500 calories. That’s better than most restaurants’ “light” menus can manage. They use reduced-fat sour cream so you can enjoy it alongside a heaping portion of cheese and guacamole. Cheese might actually ward off heart disease, and we all know the benefits of adding avocados — besides, of course, the drool-worthy taste of guacamole.
It’s got two hamburger patties, and somehow is still less than 400 calories?! Those wizards at Wendy’s must be cooking up some cheeseburger sorcery. With this pickle-topped cheeseburger, there’s no need to skimp on the carbs and replace your bun. You’ve got 25 grams of protein to balance out that satisfying, fluffy bread.
You truly can’t go wrong with a big piece of grilled chicken. The tricky part is when restaurants start to add mayo and all kinds of fatty sauce. With the flavor this sandwich already borrows from a smoky honey mustard and juicy tomato, Wendy’s doesn’t need to. The chain is famously bold and always stands up to its haters. Did you know Wendy’s was the first to have a dollar menu? We bet you didn’t know that (or these 19 other facts) about the fast food chain.