The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Fast Food: The Best and Worst from 10 of the Most Popular Restaurants
A friend of mine who frequently travels for work recently asked me about healthy fast food options available at different restaurants.
Like many people trying to stay lean while eating out, he typically orders a salad, but he wanted to learn more. Because like, a man can’t live off of salads alone, can he?
Sure, salads are a good start when trying to eat healthier at a fast food restaurant, but what other options do you really have? And hell, even if you do order a salad, not all salads are created equal. When you add the dressing, you can easily end up with a salad near 1,000 calories. Not exactly your intent when you ordered it.
Today we’re going to explore this whole “healthy fast food” thing to help you keep those precious gainz you’ve worked so damn hard for.
What is Healthy Fast Food?
We need to first define “healthy” for some context. For fast food restaurants, we’re thinking of healthy as lower in calories and sodium and higher in protein. Yes, we’d also like to limit the trans fat, have lower amounts of sugar, and also consume food that provides us with some micronutrients.
It’s also important to understand that no foods are inherently “bad.” Kind of like people, except like, you know, Hitler and stuff.
Look, you’re on this website, reading this article, so I already know you’re smart. You know that some foods are okay to eat more frequently than others. You know that eating dessert after every meal will make it more difficult to stay lean. So I won’t rant on these topics, but there a few things you need to know if you want to make the most of your fast food trips.
3 Guiding Principles of Healthy Fast Food
When it comes to eating healthy at fast food restaurants and not destroying your gainz, there are a few overarching guidelines to follow.
Stick to Water
Drinking your calories is generally a bad idea. Sure, alcohol is useful for having a damn good time and milk is beneficial if you’re a hard-gainer trying to bump your calorie intake, but otherwise stick to water. It’ll help you make the most out of each and every calorie you consume, so you’re not wasting them on sugar-laden beverages.
Make Smart Dressing Choices
The sneaky component that adds hundreds of calories to salads is the dressing. At the same time, a plain salad can be unbearable. What to do?
For starters, you could choose a lower-calorie option. Vinaigrettes tend to be one of your best options. Honey mustard and ranch dressing, though they taste amazing, are some of your highest calorie options. Damn, why is life so unfair?
To combat the desire to have the higher calorie dressings, you could just have them, but use half of the packet. Boom, ½ the calories.
If you’re eating at fast food restaurants consistently, whether it’s because you travel frequently or just love the convenience, doing just a little bit of preparation beforehand can be incredibly helpful, especially when compounded over numerous visits.
Because we’re friends, I’ve broken down some of the healthiest options at 10 of the most popular fast food restaurants for you. You’ll see the breakdowns below, but remember, you can find the nutrition information for nearly every fast food restaurant on teh interwebz.
With over 40,000 restaurants Subway is one of the largest fast food restaurants in the world and it’s likely there is a location near you or where you’ll be traveling. While known for their sub sandwiches, they also offer soups, salads, and breakfast items so you have a variety of options.
For the subs listed below the calories are for 6″ subs and the values include 9-grain wheat bread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cucumbers. Basically, they disregard the condiments, which of course will add more calories.
Best Subway Menu Options
- Any 6” FRESH FIT Sandwich. These include the Black Forest Ham, Oven Roasted Chicken, Roast Beef, Rotisserie-Style Chicken, Subway Club, Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, Turkey Breast, and Veggie Delite subs. They range in calories from 230-370 (Plus dressing and cheese) while providing up to 29g of protein (Rotisserie-Style Chicken is the highest in protein).
- Any FRESH FIT Salad. Include the Black Forest Ham, Chicken, Roast Beef, Rotisserie-Style Chicken, Subway Club, Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, Turkey Breast, and Veggie Delite salads. These range in calories from 60-230 + dressing and give you up to 23g of protein (Rotisserie-Style Chicken is the highest in protein).
- Egg & Cheese Omelet Sandwich or Flatbread. 330-380 calories and 19-20g of protein.
- Black Forest Ham, Egg White & Cheese Sandwich or Flatbread. 360-410 calories and 23-25g of protein.
- Chicken Noodle or Tomato Basil Soup. 110-130 calories and 4-8g of protein.
Worst Subway Menu Options
- 6” Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt. 610 calories for the 6″ and 1,290 mg sodium (More than half the recommended daily amount) but there are 38g of protein.
- 6” Mega Melt Omelet Sandwich (with Regular Egg). 590 calories including 35g of protein.
- 6” Spicy Italian. 480 calories including 20g of protein.
- 6” Meatball Marinara. 480 calories including 21g of protein
Pro Tip: Get a 6” sub, load up on the veggies, and if you’re really hungry ask for double meat on your sandwich.
Ahh the golden arches, the most iconic fast food restaurant in the world? I sure as hell think so. While not known for their healthy food, McDonald’s does offer more healthy options than you’d think, especially with their addition of the glorious ALL DAY BREAKFAST!
Best McDonald’s Menu Options
- Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich. 380 calories and 37g of protein.
- McDouble. 380 calories and 23g of protein.
- Egg McMuffin. 300 calories and 17g of protein.
- Sausage Burrito. 290 calories and 13g of protein.
- Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad (w/ 1 packet of Newman’s Own Southwest dressing). 470 calories and 38g of protein.
- Chicken McNuggets (6-piece with BBQ). 310 calories and 15g of protein.
Worst McDonald’s Menu Options
- Grand Mac. 860 calories and 41g of protein.
- Double Quarter Pounder w/ Cheese. 770 calories and 51g of protein.
- Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich. 570 calories and 28g of protein.
- Big Mac. 540 calories and 25g of protein.
- Bacon Ranch Salad & Buttermilk Crispy Chicken (w/ Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing). 690 calories and 34g of protein.
- Big Breakfast with Hotcakes. 1,350 calories and 35g of protein.
- Big Breakfast. 750 calories and 25g of protein.
Pro Tip: Try the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich out, trust me, you won’t regret it.
Keeping the world caffeinated, Starbucks is more known for their drinks, but considering how many people frequent their 20,000+ locations worldwide, it’s important to know how to go there, grab a bite to eat, and still stay lean.
With an evolving food menu to compliment the endless caffeinated drinks, Starbucks offers way more than you think.
Best Starbucks Menu Options
- Smoked Turkey Protein Box. 360 calories and 24g of protein.
- Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap. 290 calories and 19g of protein.
- Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich. 230 calories and 16g of protein.
- Egg & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich. 280 calories and 14g of protein.
- Bacon, Gouda & Egg Breakfast Sandwich. 370 calories and 18g of protein.
- Coffee. 5 calories + more with cream and sugar.
- Tall Iced Coffee (With Classic Syrup – 2 pumps). 45 calories and 10g of sugar
- Tall Nonfat Caffe Latte. 102 calories and 14g of sugar.
- Tall Carmel Frappuccino Light Blended Beverage. 91 calories and 12g of sugar.
Worst Starbucks Menu Options
- Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake. 490 calories and 64g of carbs.
- Iced Lemon Pound Cake. 470 calories and 68g of carbs.
- Tall White Chocolate Mocha with Whipped Cream (Semi Skimmed Milk). 368 calories and 45g of sugar.
- Tall Java Chip Frappuccino. 345 calories and 44g of sugar.
- Tall Peppermint Mocha with Whipped Cream and drizzle. 332 calories and 41g of sugar.
- Tall Signature Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream (Semi Skimmed Milk). 417 calories and 36g of sugar.
Pro Tips: Be gentle with the flavored syrup (20 calories each pump) and whipped cream (52-72 calories in hot beverages and 81-114 calories in cold beverages).
Nutrition Menu: https://www.chipotle.com/nutrition-calculator
Chipotle differs from many of the other places on this list because how “healthy” it is almost entirely depends on quantity. How many items do you pile on? Check out the list of items and decide for yourself.
Chipotle Menu Options
- Flour Tortilla. 320 calories.
- Chicken. 180 calories.
- Steak. 150 calories.
- Carnitas. 210 calories.
- Barbacoa. 170 calories.
- Chorizo. 300 calories.
- Sofritas. 150 calories.
- Rice. 210 calories.
- Beans. 130 calories.
- Fajita Veggies. 20 calories.
- Salsa. 15-80 calories.
- Sour Cream. 110 calories.
- Guacamole. 230 calories.
- Lettuce (5 calories)
Pro Tips: Go for the burrito bowl to save the 340 calories from the tortilla. If you choose just beans and skip the rice you’ll save another 80 calories. Skip the cheese and sour cream and go with guacamole for more nutrients and better flavor. Want to really crush the protein? Go with double meat.
Nutrition Menu: https://www.tacobell.com/food/nutrition/info
Taco Bell is far from your healthiest fast food option, particularly when it comes to the amount of sodium in their various menu items. However, you can still find something of nutritional value.
Best Taco Bell Menu Options
- Fresco Burrito Supreme (Chicken). 340 calories and 18g of protein.
- Fresco Soft Taco (Steak). 140 calories and 10g of protein.
- Chipotle Chicken Loaded Griller. 350 calories and 15g of protein.
- Sausage Flatbread Quesadilla. 330 calories, 14g of protein.
- Grilled Breakfast Burrito. 400 calories, 13g of protein.
Worst Taco Bell Menu Options
- XXL Grilled Burritos. 830-870 calories and 32-38g of protein.
- Smothered Burritos. 660-700 calories and 28-33g of protein.
- Breakfast Crunchwrap (Sausage, Bacon, or Steak). 630-700 calories and 21-24g of protein.
- Triple Double Crunchwrap Original. 700 calories and 23g of protein.
Pro Tip: Stick to the Fresco Menu (Items under 350 calories and generally a bit healthier).
Nutrition Menu: https://www.bk.com/pdfs/nutrition.pdf
Home of the Whopper, Burger King actually offers much more than delicious, juicy burgers.
Best Burger King Menu Options
- Hamburger. 230 calories and 11g protein.
- Cheeseburger. 270 calories and 11g protein.
- Whopper Jr. 310 calories and 13g of protein.
- TENDERGRILL Chicken Sandwich. 460 calories and 26g of protein.
- Chicken Caesar Garden Fresh Salad with TENDERGRILL Chicken. 450 calories and 35g of protein.
- 6 Piece Chicken nuggets. 280 calories and 13g protein.
- Sausage Breakfast Burrito. 290 calories and 14g of protein.
Worst Burger King Menu Options
- Double Whopper. 900 calories and 48g of protein.
- Double Whopper with Cheese. 930 calories and 48g of protein.
- Double Bacon King. 1040 calories and 57g of protein
- Bacon & Cheese Whopper. 750 calories and 33g of protein.
- Whopper (Ah, damn). 630 calories and 26g of protein.
- Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Salad with TENDERCRISP and dressing. 720 calories and 36g of protein.
- BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter. 1190 calories and 27g of protein.
- EGG-NORMOUS Burrito. 910 calories and 33g of protein.
- KING CROISSAN’WICH w/ Double Sausage. 700 calories and 27g of protein.
Pro Tip: Ask for no Mayo on your sandwich and you’ll save about 150 calories.
Nutrition Menu: https://www.dunkindonuts.com/content/dam/dd/pdf/nutrition.pdf
Dunkin’ Donuts, America’s second favorite coffee shop. Okay, second favorite mass chain? I don’t know, I just don’t like it as much as Starbucks, alright?
Best Dunkin’ Donuts Menu Options
- Hot Coffee. Calories vary depending on amount of cream and sugar, but as little as 5 calories in black coffee.
- Espresso (1.75oz.). 5 calories.
- Egg and Cheese on English Muffin. 320 calories and 14g of protein.
- Ham, Egg, and Cheese on English Muffin. 350 calories and 17g of protein.
- Egg White Veggie Flatbread. 280 calories and 16g of protein.
- Sliced Turkey Breakfast Sandwich. 310 calories and 23g protein.
Worst Dunkin’ Donuts Menu Options
- Large Frozen Mocha Swirl Coolatta with Cream. 990 calories and 133g of sugar.
- Large Vanilla Bean Coolatta. 850 calories and 174g of sugar.
- Large Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee with Cream. 840 calories and 123g of sugar.
- Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Biscuit. 680 calories and 23g of protein.
- Donuts. Varied calories.
Pro Tip: Skip the donut. Sorry, but it’s for the best.
Nutrition Menu: https://www.wendys.com/en-us/nutrition-info
Do you like square burgers? Well my friend, you get that and so much more at Wendy’s. Salads and grilled chicken will be best, but be wary of the salad extras like Honey Mustard (280 calories), Blue Cheese Salad Dressing (260 calories), and Thousand Island Dressing (260 calories).
Best Wendy’s Menu Options
- Grilled Chicken Sandwich. 360 calories and 35g of protein.
- Apple Pecan Chicken Salad (Half Size). 340 calories and 20g of protein.
- Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad. 480 calories and 43g of protein.
- Garden Side Salad. 210 calories and 4g protein
- Caesar Side Salad. 250 calories and 7g protein
- Chilli. Small (220 calories and 17g of protein) or large (330 calories and 25g of protein).
- 6 Piece Chicken Nuggets. 270 calories and 14g of protein (Not including sauce).
- Frescata Sandwiches. 420-490 calories and 21-28g of protein.
- Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich. 370 calories and 31g protein.
- Jr. Cheeseburger. 320 calories and 17g protein.
- Grilled Chicken Wrap. 270 calories and 20g protein.
- Artisan Egg Sandwich. 360 calories and 20g protein.
- Sausage & Egg Burrito. 280 calories and 12g protein.
Worst Wendy’s Menu Options
- Dave’s Double. 810 calories and 49g of protein.
- Dave’s Triple. 1090 calories and 71g of protein.
- Baconator. 950 calories, 62g fat, 38g carbs, 59g protein
- Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad. 720 calories and 43g protein.
- Taco Salad. 660 calories, 32g fat, 63g carbs, 32g protein, 1,820 mg sodium
- Asiago Ranch Chicken Club. 670 calories and 38g of protein.
- BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad. 590 calories and 42g protein..
- Biggie (490 calories) or Great Biggie (590 calories) fries.
Pro Tips: Try out a burger and a side salad if you’re craving some beef and still want some more micronutrients.
When it comes to healthy fast food, Panera Bread is AWESOME! They offer a wider variety of healthier food options than nearly every restaurant on this list. They have it ALL.
Best Panera Menu Options
- Turkey Sausage, Egg White & Spinach Breakfast Power Sandwich. 380 calories, 11g fat, 860 mg sodium, 45g carbs, 17g protein.
- Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta. 400 calories, 16g fat, 44g carbs, 21g protein, 790 mg sodium
- Ham, Egg & Cheese Power Sandwich. 340 calories, 15g fat, 890 mg sodium, 30g carbs, 23g protein
- Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries. 300 calories, 10g fat, 40g carbs, 13g protein, 55 mg sodium
- Turkey Breast Sandwich on Whole Grain. 560 calories, 18g fat, 1,170 mg sodium, 32g carbs, 23g protein
- Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough. 600 calories, 28g fat, 49g carbs, 33g protein
- Roasted Turkey and Caramelized Kale Panini. 560 calories, 21g fat, 55g carbs, 28g protein
- Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken. 340 Calories, 13g fat, 31g carbs 280 mg sodium, 25g protein
- Caesar Salad with Chicken (More protein). 450 calories, 27g fat, 770 mg sodium, 17g carbs, 30g protein
- Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken. 550 calories, 33g fat, 720 mg sodium, 24g carbs, 36g protein
- Low-fat Chicken Noodle Soup. 160 calories, 5g fat, 1,400 mg sodium, 19 carbs, 14g protein
Worst Panera Menu Options
- Bacon, Egg & Cheese on Asiago Cheese Bagel. 580 calories, 25g fat, 1,080 mg sodium, 56g carbs, 31g protein.
- Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta. 560 calories, 29g fat, 1,110 mg sodium, 45g carbs, 29g protein
- Spinach & Bacon Souffles. 540 calories, 35g fat, 910 mg sodium, 37g carbs, 20g protein
- Cinnamon Crunch Bagel. 430 calories and 82g of carbs (Not including cream cheese).
- Pastries. 400-470 calories
- Sweet Rolls. 540-720 calories
- Scones. 160 – 550 calories but they offer minis.
- Muffins. 290-580 calories
- The Italian on Hoagie Roll. 880 calories, 47g fat, 2,539 mg sodium, 75g carbs, 38g protein
- Steak & White Cheddar Panini on Hoagie Roll. 940 calories, 48g fat, 1,520 mg sodium, 79g carbs, 37g protein
- Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken (Highest calories salad at Panera). 650 calories, 34g fat, 54g carbs, 24g protein, 1,270 mg sodium
- New England Clam Chowder. 570 calories, 39g fat, 1,040 mg sodium, 42g carbs, 14g protein
- Chicken Tortellini Alfredo Pasta. 750 calories, 39g fat, 1,690 mg sodium, 68g carbs, 31g protein
Pro Tips: Be wary of the bread bowl! It adds a shit ton of calories and not much nutritional value at all. Also, if you want to save more on the calories, you know to get lean and shit, go for the half size version of the sandwiches and salads.
Nutrition Menu: https://www.kfc.com/nutrition/full-nutrition-guide
Mmm KFC! As you already know, they have grilled chicken now. What?! Yea, it’s not new news. It is however, considerably healthier and I can verify it still tastes good AF.
Best KFC Menu Options
- KFC Grilled Chicken
- Wing – 60 calories
- Drumstick – 60 calories
- Thigh – 130 calories
- Breast – 180 calories
- Chicken Littles Sandwich. 320 calories, 19g fat, 590 mg sodium, 25g carbs, 13g protein
- Best Sides
- Green Beans at 25 calories
- Corn on the Cob at 70 calories
- Sweet Kernel Corn – 100 calories
- Side Salads (15 calories, 40 calories)
- Chicken Salads. 350-370 calories with 26-28g protein
Worst KFC Menu Options
- Extra Crispy Chicken (Worst for you)
- Wing – 170 calories
- Drumstick – 130 calories
- Thigh – 290 calories
- Breast – 390 calories
- Chicken Pot Pie
- 790 calories, 46g fat, 2,120 mg sodium, 66g carbs, 29g protein
- KFC Famous Bowl
- 730 calories, 34g fat, 2,310 mg sodium, 83g carbs, 25g protein
- Crispy Twister
- 650 calories, 35g fat, 1,300 mg sodium, 54g carbs, 28g protein
- Worst Sides
- Potato wedges – 270 calories
- KFC Cornbread Muffin – 210 calories
- BBQ Baked Beans – 240 calories
- Biscuit – 180 calories
- Coleslaw – 170 calories
Pro Tip: Avoid the KFC Creamy Parmesan Caesar Dressing as it’s the highest calories dressing at KFC at 260 calories.
Healthy Fast Food – The Takeaway Message
Keeping the big picture in mind is important.
Will one trip to McDonald’s or KFC screw up your whole diet? No.
There are healthy fast food options available all around, but you and I both know there is a time and place to indulge.
So pick your spots wisely and make decisions based on your goals.
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