Thursday 25 May 2023

11 Healthy Fast-Food Orders, According to Dietitians

 In an on-the-go world, it's not hard to see why fast-food restaurants thrive. For most of us, grabbing a quick meal is sometimes unavoidable, whether it's a speedy breakfast while rushing to work or dinner on a road trip. No matter the circumstances of your fast-food ordering, if you're trying to eat healthy, you've probably found it a challenge. The stereotypes about fast food's mediocre nutrition content are largely true, and many chains serve up fried, heavy meals high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat and low in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. However, dietitians say that there are some healthy fast-food options out there, as long as you know where to look.

Not every fast-food order is doomed to weigh you down with unhealthful ingredients, and more and more restaurants are getting hip to the fact that many consumers actually want to eat right. Here are 11 of the healthiest fast-food orders around, according to dietitians.



Starbucks Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap

starbucks spinach feta egg white wrap
Courtesy of Starbucks

PER WRAP: 290 calories, 8 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 840 mg sodium, 34 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 20 g protein

Starbucks has more to offer at breakfast than just coffee. If you're swinging through the drive-thru in the morning, try their Spinach, Feta, and Egg Wrap for a healthy first meal of the day.

"It's a good source of fiber and protein, which help us to start our day out feeling full and energized," says KeyVion Miller RDN, LDN, culinary nutritionist and owner of The Miller's Kitchen. "The second ingredient on the ingredient list is whole wheat flour. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a common characteristic of a diet associated with positive health outcomes includes whole grains." Miller points out that the wrap also comes pre-loaded with veggies.


Taco Bell Veggie Power Bowl

taco bell veggie cantina bowl
Courtesy of Taco Bell

PER BOWL: 420 calories, 20 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 870 mg sodium, 47 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 12 g protein

Plant protein is increasingly having a heyday at fast-food restaurants, including Taco Bell. Their Veggie Power Bowl highlights the protein power of—you guessed it—veggies and beans. "This bowl includes seasoned black beans, seasoned rice, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, and a tangy sauce. It's a vegetarian option that offers a balance of protein, fiber, and veggies," says Dan LeMoine, RD, co-founder of Re:Vitalize Weight Loss and Wellness and author of Fear No Food


Panera Napa Almond Chicken Salad

Panera Napa Valley Sandwich
Courtesy of Panera via Facebook

PER SANDWICH: 640 calories, 25 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 970 mg sodium, 78 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 27 g protein

At lunchtime, check out Panera's Napa Almond Chicken Salad. "Unlike most other chicken sandwiches out there, Panera's aren't fried," says Aditi Biswas, certified holistic nutrition consultant. "Instead, the chicken is seared in a pan, then cooked. This makes it less oily than other preparations."


Chick-fil-A Spicy Southwest Salad

Chick fila southwest salad
Chick Fila

PER SALAD: 690 calories, 49 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 1,570 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 33 g protein

"I'm obsessed with Chick-fil-A's Spicy Southwest Salad featuring cold grilled chicken," says Stacey Bender, MA, RD. "It's a protein and fiber powerhouse, thanks to the abundance of pepitas. These pumpkin seeds are a nutritious snack loaded with heart-healthy fats and all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source." Meanwhile, this salad's 8 grams of fiber make it one of the highest-fiber options on the Chick-fil-A menu.


Taco Bell Bean Burrito Fresco

Taco Bell bean burrito fresco
Taco Bell

PER BURRITO: 350 calories, 9 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 1,040 mg sodium, 55 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 13 g protein

Some Mexican fast-food tends to be heavy and high-calorie—but not Taco Bell's Bean Burrito Fresco! "This meal has 410 calories, 13 grams of fat, 13 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein," says Lori A. Stevens, RD, LDN, of The CHF Dietitian. "Like many fast-food meals, it is quite high in sodium with 960 milligrams. But opting for the smaller-portioned soft taco with the same fillings will decrease the calories to 240 and the sodium to 540 milligrams."


Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap

Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap

PER WRAP: 660 calories, 45 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 1,420 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, 14 g fiber, 43 g protein

What's so cool about a Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap? "It's packed with fiber and protein and will keep you feeling full without the sluggish feeling after fast food," says Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES. "For fun, I love to wash it down with a diet lemonade!"


Chipotle Salad Bowl

Chipotle burrito bowl salad

PER CHICKEN SALAD: 580 calories, 25 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 50 g carbs, 42 g protein

In terms of health, Chipotle stands out for its totally customizable smorgasbord of Tex-Mex ingredients and healthy fast-food options. Next time you're at the fast-casual chain, make your own salad bowl of nutritious veggies. "I usually ask for a little less rice and add sautéed peppers and onions," says Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN, of Steps 2 Nutrition. "This way I get more vegetables in my meal, which adds more fiber. The vegetables are also naturally more filling with fewer calories." You can also go easy on the sour cream and cheese for fewer calories and less fat.


Panda Express Mushroom Chicken

Panda express mushroom chicken
Courtesy of Panda Express


PER ENTREE: 170 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 750 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 12 g protein

Mushrooms are a rich source of potassium and B vitamins, and when you combine them with lean chicken and a savory sauce in Panda Express' Mushroom Chicken entree, you've got a tasty and healthy Asian meal. "The Mushroom Chicken offers a good balance of protein and vegetables, making it a healthier choice compared to some other options on the menu," says Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, of One Pot Wellness. "Pairing it with steamed rice and a side of mixed vegetables can create a well-rounded meal."


Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Nuggets

Chick Fila grilled nuggets
Chick Fila

PER 8-COUNT: 130 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 440 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 25 g protein

Chick-fil-A wins again with their Grilled Chicken Nuggets. "These are a healthy option for individuals looking to add a lean source of protein to their meal. An 8-count grilled nuggets provides 25 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of saturated fat," says Mandy Tyler, MEd, RD, LD. Add a tasty veggie side with an order of the Kale Crunch Side.


Panera Mediterranean Bowl

Panera Meditteranean Bowl

PER BOWL: 510 calories, 28 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 1,100 mg sodium, 51 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 15 g protein

You're probably aware of the array of benefits of a Mediterranean diet, from reduced inflammation to lower risk of chronic disease. When you're trying to stick with this healthy eating plan, opt for the Mediterranean Bowl at Panera.

"This bowl provides a mix of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and vegetables—all of the fixings of a balanced meal. And for a plant-based fast-food dish, it contains a good amount of protein sources (quinoa, hummus, and Greek yogurt)," says Amy Brownstein, MS, RD, of Nutrition Digested. "Plus, the lemon tahini dressing and feta provide some healthy fats, which can contribute to satiety."


Wendy's Apple Pecan Chicken Salad

wendys apple pecan salad
Courtesy of Wendy's

PER SALAD: 440 calories, 22 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 790 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 33 g protein

At certain fast-food joints, even the salads can pack excessive calories and fats. Wendy's Apple Pecan Chicken Salad is a noteworthy exception and healthy fast-food option. According to LeMoine, its ingredients are mostly healthy, whole foods. "This salad features a blend of greens, grilled chicken breast, diced apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, and crumbled blue cheese. It's a flavorful and filling salad option," he says.

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