The Best Fast Food Choices for Healthy Eaters

What are the best fast food choices for people looking to eat healthy meals? Needless to say, fast food restaurants in general aren't notable for healthy nutritional menus. There are some notable exceptions to the rule, however, and most restaurant chains, prodded by Congress and consumer advocates, are making an effort to make healthier meals available to customers.

However, picking out the few healthy items on a menu stuffed with goodies high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat is no easy task. It takes practice and discipline to make healthy choices as most fast food places. To help out, I've selected the healthiest menu items from several of America's largest fast food chains.

We're looking for food that is low in calories, low in saturated fat, and low in sodium. We also want items that are without unhealthy trans fats. The recommended daily allowance for average adults is 2000 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 2400 mg of sodium. Just about any fast food meal is likely to put an out-sized dent in the sodium allowance, but most restaurants have meals that are low in saturated fat. Here are some of the best fast food choices you can make if you really must eat fast food.

McDonald's

Not the greatest choice for healthy eaters, but there are a few items worth considering. Have a look at the full nutritional menu for McDonald's yourself.

For lunch and dinner sandwiches, the McChicken and the Filet-o-Fish are your best bets, at 360 and 380 calories and 3 and 3.5 grams of saturated fat each. Both have more sodium than is ideal, but that's the trade-off you make when you eat fast food. If you must have fries with that, stick with a small order, at 230 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat. Avoid the Angus Beef Burgers, which are especially high in calories and fat.

McDonald's also has several reasonable salad choices. Try the Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken or the Caeser Salad with Grilled Chicken as a alternative to a sandwich and fries meal.

McDonald's is generally a poor choice for a healthy breakfast, but if you find yourself there in the a.m., stick with the plain old Egg McMuffin at 300 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. Avoid the McGriddles, Sausage Biscuits and Big Breakfasts at any cost.

Subway

Subway has created its marketing campaign around being a healthy alternative to more traditional fast food, and there's real truth to that. Not only do they offer lots of subs that are low in fat and calories, but they offer healthy sides like baked Lays potato chips, fruit, and bottled water. Be careful about taking their nutrition info at face value, though. The printed figures don't include calories and fat from cheese and their low-fat mayonnaise.

Some of the better sandwich choices at Subway include the 6 inch Ham, Oven Roasted Turkey, Roast Beef, Subway Club, Chicken Teriyaki, Chicken Breast, and Veggie Delight subs. All have less than 400 calories and 6 grams of fat before adding cheese and mayo. Avoid the Big Philly Cheesesteak, Chicken and Bacon Ranch, and Meatball Marinara subs. They all have more than 550 calories and lots of fat.

Burger King

Burger King's nutrition menu has a very limited selection of healthy items. It's one of the worst choices for smart eating. Even the Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich carries 490 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and a "whopping" 1200 mg of sodium, half the daily allowance. A slightly better alternative might be the Tendergrill Chicken Salad with Lite Italian dressing, clocking in at 330 calories.

Wendy's

Wendy's has some very good healthy fast food choices. The Ultimate Chicken Grill has only 3e0 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat, and the Crispy Chicken sandwich isn't much worse with 360 calories and 3.5 grams of sat. fat. Even the single burger with everything isn't "that bad" with 430 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat.

Wendy's also offers a good selection of healthy salads, with the Mandarin Chicken Salad and Chicken Caeser Salad leading the way with less than 400 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat.

Taco Bell

Beef and gooey cheese aren't synonymous with good nutrition, and sure enough its hard to find good choices at Taco Bell. Most of their food carries lots of saturated fat (all that cheese), even when it doesn't have tons of calories. For instance, the Chicken Enchirito has only 330 calories, but 7 grams of saturated fat and 1370 mg of sodium.

If you want to eat healthy at Taco Bell, stick to the Fresco Menu, which offers "lite" versions of traditional favorites like the Chicken Burrito Supreme with 330 calories and 2.5 grams of saturated fat, or the Grilled Steak Soft Taco at only 180 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat.

KFC

The key to healthy eating at KFC is to stick with the grilled chicken instead of the Colonel's traditional fried variety. Unfortunately, not all KFC restaurants offer the grilled chicken option. The KFC Nutrition Guide shows lots of decent options if you can manage to stay away from the fried chicken with all the fixings. Particularly to be avoided are the KFC Famous Bowls, which pack lots of fat and calories.

Instead, try the Double Crunch Sandwich or one of the Toasted Wraps.

Pizza Hut

Pizza and healthy choices don't naturally go together. If it's pizza you crave, stick with the Veggie Lovers, or the Ham and Pineapple, which have fewer calories and less fat than other varieties. Or try one of the Fit 'n Delicious pizzas with only 180 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat vs. 290 and 7 for the fatty Meat Lovers Pizza. Also to be avoided are the Tuscani Pastas, which are loaded with saturated fat. Pizza Hut nutritional information is here.

Author John Devereux writes frequently about news, sports, politics and more on his blog.

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