How To Make Healthier Choices At Fast-Food Restaurants

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Fast food is junk, pure and simple. And eating fast food on a regular basis will eventually make you sick. A Double Whopper with cheese, order of fries, and an apple pie sold at Burger King contains more saturated fat than should be consumed in two days.

Healthy Fast Food

Obesity is now killing triple the number of people who die from malnutrition. Despite overall global life expectancy rising, people are spending more of their later years in poor health, due largely to increases in diseases linked to obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

So if you absolutely must eat at a fast-food restaurant, follow these basic guidelines to cut calories and fat and minimize the damage, courtesy of, a nonprofit staffed by degreed professionals.


Figuring out healthier options at your favorite fast food burger chain can be tricky. A typical meal at a burger joint consists of a “sandwich”, some fries, and a drink, which can quickly come in at over 1700 calories for something like Burger King’s Triple Whopper with a large fries and a 16 oz. soda.

A better option would be a regular single patty burger, small fries, and water, which is about 500 calories. Alternatively you may enjoy a veggie burger smothered in grilled onion and mushrooms. Or if you want a large beef burger, then skip the fries and soda and have a side salad and water instead.

Healthier Choices

* Regular, single-patty hamburger without mayo or cheese

* Grilled chicken sandwich

* Veggie burger

* Garden salad with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing

* Egg on a muffin

* Baked potato or a side salad

* Yogurt parfait

* Grilled chicken strips

* Limiting cheese, mayo, and special sauces


Although certain chains have been advertising “no trans fats” in their food, the fact is that fried chicken can pack quite a fattening punch. According to the restaurant’s nutrition info, just a single Extra Crispy Chicken breast at KFC has a whopping 440 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 970 mg of sodium.

A healthier choice is the drumstick, which has 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 370 mg of sodium. Alternatively, if you like the breast meat, take off the skin and it becomes a healthy choice at 140 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 520 mg of sodium.

Some tips for making smarter choices at fast food chicken restaurants:

* Skinless chicken breast without breading

* Honey BBQ chicken sandwich

* Garden salad

* Mashed potatoes

* Limiting gravy and sauces


Fast food chains that specialize in tacos or burritos can be caloric minefields or they can be a good option for finding healthy fast food. Rice, beans, salsa, and a few slices of fresh avocado can make a very healthy meal. But adding cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips can turn even a good meal into an unhealthy one.

Also, it’s very important to remember portion control in these types of restaurants, as many offer enormous serving sizes. Simply eat half and take the rest home for another meal.

Several chains, like Taco Bell and Baja Fresh, have “healthy” menu options that feature less fat and fresher ingredients.

Healthy Choices

* Grilled chicken soft taco

* Black beans

* Shrimp ensalada

* Grilled “fresco” style steak burrito

* Veggie and bean burrito

* Limiting sour cream or cheese


Many of us love the many different types of sandwiches available: hot, cold, wrapped, foot long—often served with a salad instead of fries. While their ads promote the health benefits of sandwich shops, studies have found that many people eat more calories per meal at a sub shop than at McDonalds.

This may be because people feel so virtuous eating “healthy” as the ads suggest, they reward themselves with chips, sodas, or extra condiments that can turn a healthy meal into an unhealthy one.

Healthy Choices

* Six-inch sub

* Lean meat (roast beef, chicken breast, lean ham) or veggies

* One or two slices of lower-fat cheese (Swiss or mozzarella)

* Adding low-fat dressing or mustard instead of mayo

* Adding extra veggie toppings

* Choosing whole-grain bread or taking the top slice off your sub and eating it open-faced


Asian cultures tend to eat healthily, with an emphasis on veggies and with meat used as a “condiment” rather than the focus of the meal. Unfortunately, many Western versions of these ethnic foods tend to be much higher in fat and calories – so caution is needed.

A great tip for all Asian restaurants – use the chopsticks! You’ll eat more slowly, since you can’t grasp as much food with them at one time as you can with your normal fork and knife.

Healthier Choices

* Egg drop, miso, wonton, or hot & sour soup

* Stir-fried, steamed, roasted or broiled entrees (shrimp chow mein, chop suey)

* Steamed or baked tofu

* Sauces such as ponzu, rice-wine vinegar, wasabi, ginger, and low-sodium soy sauce

* Steamed brown rice

* Edamame, cucumber salad, stir-fried veggies


The anti-carbohydrate revolution has given Italian food a bad rap, but Italian is actually one of the easiest types of cuisine to make healthy. Stay away from fried, oily, or overly buttery food, as well as thick crust menu items, and you can keep your diet goals intact.

Watch out for the following terms, which are common sources of high fat and calories: Alfredo, carbonara, saltimbocca, Parmigiana, lasagna, manicotti, stuffed (all have heavy amounts of cream and cheese). Generally Italian places have lots of veggies in their kitchen so it’s easy to ask to have extra veggies added to your meal.

Healthier Choices

* Thin-crust pizza with half the cheese and extra veggies

* Plain rolls or breadsticks

* Antipasto with vegetables

* Pasta with tomato sauce and veggies* Entrée with side of veggies

* Grilled (“griglia”) dishes

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper
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