I’m going to go out on a limb and say that part of deciding to eat at fast food restaurants is making peace with the fact that you’re not going to be eating your healthiest meal. And that’s fine occasionally—as long as it doesn’t become too much of a habit. Everything in moderation is often the best policy when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle.
But if you’re counting calories, healthy fast food choices do exist, believe it or not. Although the healthiest fast food options are not always as obvious as you might think.
A calorie is a unit of energy that your body obtains from eating or drinking something. Ideally, you want to strike a balance where you’re putting in as much energy as you use in a day because if you consume more than you burn, the excess could be stored as fat.
It makes sense why calorie counting is the focus of so many diet plans, but it’s important to note that is not the only thing you should consider if you want to lose weight healthily.
Per the most recently published Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015 – 2020), women should consume an average of around 2,000 calories per day, while men should have about 2,500.
These are estimates based on average weight, physical activity, and muscle mass, they are not absolutes. Depending on factors such as your age and activity level, you may require more or fewer calories in a day. Take this Dr. Oz quiz to help you to determine the perfect calorie range for your metabolism.
Based on key recommendations highlighted in the guidelines, a healthy eating pattern also limits saturated fats, trans fats, added sugar and sodium.
Within your calorie limit, it’s suggested that you should consume:
- Less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars
- Less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats
- Less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium
SALAD DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN HEALTHY
One point to keep in mind once you’ve been lured into the glow of the golden arches—or bell, or smiling colonel—is not to be fooled by the common misconception that salads are usually the healthiest fast food options on the menu. After you’ve factored in the amount of sugar and fat in some heavy salad dressings—not to mention all the fried bits that may be tossed into it—salads can easily have just as much, if not more, calories than a basic hamburger.
Take, for example, the pecan crusted chicken salad at TGI Fridays. With mixed greens, kale, dried cranberries, mandarin orange, pecans, celery, blue cheese, pecan-crusted chicken breast and balsamic vinaigrette, it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Well, one full serving contains 1,080 calories. That’s basically half of all the calories you should consume in an entire day. The Jack Daniel’s flat iron steak (without sides), on the other hand, only has 589 calories. So if it’s any consolation, sometimes you’re better off just going with the steak (you know you want to anyway).
THE HEALTHIEST FAST FOOD OPTIONS
Now let’s get to the good stuff. As of the publishing of this post, here are some of the top healthy fast food choices on the menus of 5 popular restaurants based on calories. All nutritional information has been obtained from each restaurant’s menu.
Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait: 150 calories / 2 g fat / 70 mg sodium
Egg White Delight McMuffin: 260 calories / 8 g fat / 750 mg sodium
Egg McMuffin: 300 calories / 12 g fat / 750 mg sodium
Premium Southwest Salad (without chicken and dressing): 140 calories / 4.5 g fat / 150 mg sodium
Chicken McNuggets 4-piece: 190 calories / 12 g fat / 360 mg sodium
Hamburger: 240 calories / 8 g fat / 480 mg sodium
Croissan’wich Egg & Cheese: 300 calories / 15 g fat / 580 mg sodium
Chicken Nuggets 4-piece: 170 calories / 11 g fat / 310 mg sodium
Hamburger: 220 calories / 8 g fat / 380 mg sodium
Whopper Jr.: 300 calories / 16 g fat / 460 mg sodium
Grilled Chicken Salad with Tendergrill Chicken (no dressing): 320 calories / 14 g fat / 650 mg sodium
Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich (w/o mayo): 320 calories / 18 g fat / 610 mg sodium
Sausage & Egg Burrito: 280 calories / 20 g fat / 70 mg sodium
Oatmeal Bar: 290 calories / 10 g fat / 230 mg sodium
Steel Cut Oatmeal 330 calories / 12 g fat / 250 mg sodium
Jr. Hamburger: 240 calories / 10 g fat / 510 mg sodium
Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad (half size): 240 calories / 8 g fat / 550 mg sodium
Grilled Chicken Go Wrap: 270 calories / 10 g fat / 640 mg sodium
Breakfast Soft Taco—Egg & Cheese: 170 calories / 9 g fat / 330 mg sodium
Fresco Soft—Shredded Chicken: 140 calories / 2.5 g fat / 470 mg sodium
Crunch Taco: 170 calories / 9 g fat / 310 g sodium
Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla: 180 calories / 8 g fat / 530 mg sodium
House Side Salad (no dressing): 15 calories / 0 g fat / 10 mg sodium
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Drumstick: 80 calories / 3 g fat / 230 mg sodium
Original Recipe Chicken Breast: 390 calories / 19 g fat / 1330 mg sodium