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The 14 Healthiest Foods at Fast-Food Restaurants

by
author image Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D.
Pamela Nisevich Bede MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a nutrition consultant with Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! LLC, an online nutrition consulting firm. Specializing in nutrition communication and medical nutrition therapy, she is a consultant to food-industry leaders in the areas of product development, marketing and consumer relations. A registered/licensed dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics, Bede holds an M.S. in medical dietetics.

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The 14 Healthiest Foods at Fast-Food Restaurants
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As you head out for your next adventure, chances are you’re going to have to make a pit stop. But one look around any interstate exchange and it's clear that a road trip usually means passing through a wasteland of fast food and cheap eats. Sure, these days every place from Wendy's to Mickey D's offers some kind of salad, but some of them are just as bad as a deep-fried chicken sandwich or mayo-slathered cheeseburger. The dilemma: What to choose so so you don't derail your diet BUT also satisfy your fast-food craving. Here are the top choices that will fuel you for miles but won’t put you into a food coma.

1. Arby's: Roast Turkey & Swiss Wrap
Arbys

1 ARBY'S: ROAST TURKEY & SWISS WRAP

You might think the Market Fresh sandwiches are the best choice on the menu, but at 640-800 calories a pop, there are better choices to be made. Opt instead for a Roast Turkey & Swiss Wrap and save 120 calories automatically. If you’re looking for a sandwich and side, order the original roast beef sandwich and a chopped side salad (combined they provide 430 calories, 17 grams of fat, and 28 grams of protein). And while they may look tempting, avoid the large curly fries or you’ll spend the next 100 miles trying to figure out how to burn off the extra 650 calories you just consumed.

2. Burger King: Whopper Jr.
Burger King

2 BURGER KING: WHOPPER JR.

You probably realize that the Whopper (at 650 calories and 37 grams of fat) is not health food, but what about the other items on the menu? Well, even the veggie burger packs a caloric punch (390 calories) thanks to the cheese and mayo and the grilled chicken sandwich comes in at 480 calories (but at least you get more protein for this calorie wallop). You're better off getting a Whopper Jr. without cheese or mayo, which tallies up to 240 calories.

3. Dunkin' Donuts: Ham, Egg, and Cheese Wake-Up Wrap
Dunkin' Donuts

3 DUNKIN' DONUTS: HAM, EGG, AND CHEESE WAKE-UP WRAP

While you’ll want to skip the donuts and cruellers, you should also steer clear of the sausage, egg, and cheese on a croissant (it comes with over 650 calories). But there are healthier options available at Dunkin' Donuts. The Ham, Egg, and Cheese Wake-Up Wrap contains 170 calories yet comes with 10 grams of protein, so you’ll get more than just the fat and sugar donuts provide. As for drinks, save yourself some serious calories by skipping the Coolatta drinks and instead ordering fresh brewed coffee with a splash of skim milk.

Related: 7 Best Breakfast Sandwiches and 8 to Avoid

4. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC): Grilled Chicken Breast
KFC

4 KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN (KFC): GRILLED CHICKEN BREAST

The Colonel’s calling -- what will you choose? For the most nutrients and protein for your calorie buck, choose a chicken breast without skin or breading. For additional calorie savings, order a grilled chicken breast that has 180 calories and 6 grams of fat. As for sides, choose from green beans, corn on the cob or mashed potatoes (hold the gravy). Each of these sides comes in at under 100 calories. Skip the biscuit and you’ll save an additional 180 calories and 8 grams of fat.

5. In-N-Out Burger: Protein Style Burger
In-N-Out Burger

5 IN-N-OUT BURGER: PROTEIN STYLE BURGER

The menu at In-N-Out Burger is simple (burgers, fries and drinks anyone?). To save the most calories and fat, go easy on the cheese, hold the mayo and instead top your single patty burger with ketchup, mustard and any vegetable you can find. Save 150 calories and go low carb by ordering Protein Style; you’ll get a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf rather than a bun.

6. McDonald’s: Chicken McNuggets
McDonald's

6 MCDONALD’S: CHICKEN MCNUGGETS

McDonald’s breakfast is a classic -- but classically fattening too. Choose Canadian bacon or ham and skip high fat meats like bacon and sausage. You're relatively safe with an Egg White Delight McMuffin at 250 calories. If opting for a sandwich, choosing an Artisan Grilled Chicken Classic over the classic Big Mac saves you 180 calories and 23 grams of fat while adding 8 grams of satiating protein. However, if you still want the burger experience, a plain one is 250 calories and 8 grams of fat. Hungry for a little nostalgia? A six-piece Chicken McNuggets are 190 calories and 12 grams of fat (not counting the sauces).

Related: What's REALLY Inside a McDonald's Egg McMuffin?

7. Panera: Smoked Turkey Breast on Country Bread
Panera Bread

7 PANERA: SMOKED TURKEY BREAST ON COUNTRY BREAD

Panera might seem healthy, but those huge sandwiches can pack quite a calorie-punch! Opt for a Smoked Turkey Breast on Country Bread sandwich, which is 430 calories. If your sandwich comes on high-cal focaccia, don’t be afraid to ask for whole grain bread instead to some major calories. Two of the broth bowls -- Thai Garden Chicken Wonton (290 calories and 6 grams of fat) and the Lentil Quinoa Bowl with a Cage-Free Egg (350 calories and 11 grams of fat) -- will be both filling and more scale friendly. A solid choice for a side would be a cup of the low-fat, broth-based soups (such as Garden Vegetable with Pesto, Chicken Noodle, or Vegetarian Black Bean).

8. Sbarro: Thin-Crust Veggie Pizza
Getty Images

8 SBARRO: THIN-CRUST VEGGIE PIZZA

That Stromboli stuffed with sausage, pepperoni and two cheeses sounds like it will hit the spot, but do you really want that gut bomb sitting in your stomach as you cross from state to state? Instead, choose a healthier option such as a side salad along with a slice of thin crust pizza topped with vegetables and tomato sauce. When looking to save calories, your best bet is to avoid pan and stuffed pizzas and opt for thin or hand-tossed crusts. Choose toppings of veggies over high fat meats and tomato sauce base over cheese and olive oil bases.

9. Starbucks: Brewed Coffee With Non-Fat Milk
Starbucks

9 STARBUCKS: BREWED COFFEE WITH NON-FAT MILK

You already know that the venti mocha latte with extra syrup and whipped cream is not the best choice on the menu. But did you know that there are some surprisingly healthy choices that will give you the jolt you’re looking for without the sugar rush? A plain, brewed coffee with a splash of non-fat milk offers less than 30 calories and the skinny lattes are another good choice. In general, when ordering at this coffee shop, choose nonfat or skinny drinks and hold the whip and flavored syrups.

10. Subway: 6-Inch Turkey Breast Sandwich
Subway

10 SUBWAY: 6-INCH TURKEY BREAST SANDWICH

Travelers often stop at sub shops thinking they’ll do their waistline a favor by choosing a sandwich over burger and fries. But depending on what you choose, that seemingly innocent sub can do just as much damage to your diet. Pepperoni, salami and bologna all pack a calorie punch because of their high fat content. For more protein without the fat, choose lean ham, turkey or roast beef and fill the bun to the brim with veggies. Choose whole-grain bread and lose the mayo. A six-inch turkey breast sub is 280 calories (30 grams of fat) and Black Forest ham one is 290 (40 grams of fat).

Related: The Best & Worst Sandwiches to Order at Subway

11. Taco Bell: Fresco Soft Tacos
Taco Bell

11 TACO BELL: FRESCO SOFT TACOS

At this border, there are some choices that will break your calorie budget while others will fuel you nicely. Avoid anything labeled XXL unless you want that as your shirt size. The XXL Grilled Stuft Burritos pack twice as many calories and fat as a Burrito Supreme, which are still large enough to satisfy. If you want a burrito, go for the Chipotle Chicken Loader Burrito at 340 calories and 16 grams of fat. Or hit the Fresco menu and get two Fresco Soft Tacos for a total of 240 calories, choosing either shredded chicken or beef. Save even more calories by holding the sour cream and cheese; instead add extra lettuce and salsa.

Related: What's REALLY Inside That Taco Bell Crunchy Beef Taco?

12. Tim Horton’s: Greek Yogurt Parfait
Tim Horton's

12 TIM HORTON’S: GREEK YOGURT PARFAIT

It goes without saying that Tim Bits (i.e. donut holes) and apple fritters, which leave you hungry 20 miles down the road, are to be avoided on your next road trip. Need a to-go breakfast on the healthy side? Opt for a Greek yogurt parfait with 250 calories or oatmeal with berries at 210 calories. For a breakfast sandwich, go for the English Muffin with egg whites, steak and cheese at 270 calories (but 70 grams of fat!). For lunch, opt for a low-fat soup like Hearty Vegetable or one of the lean paninis on the menu.

Related: What's REALLY Inside a Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll?

13. Wendy’s: Rich & Meaty Chili
Wendy's

13 WENDY’S: RICH & MEATY CHILI

If you’re looking for something that’s high in fiber and protein (both of which will keep you feeling fuller, longer) look no further than Wendy’s chili. A large offers 250 calories and just 7 grams of fat but includes 5 grams of fiber and 23 grams of protein. Need a potato fix? The baked potato with sour cream and chives has 310 calories whereas a medium fries contains 420 calories. Instead of the 3/4-Pound Triple With Cheese, with 1,110 calories and 72 grams of fat, a Jr. Cheeseburger has 280 calories (13 grams of fat). Or opt for a Grilled Chicken Wrap at 270 calories and 10 grams of fat.

Related: 11 Banned Food Ingredients Still Allowed in the U.S.

Chipotle: Barbacoa Burrito Bowl With No Rice
Chipotle

CHIPOTLE: BARBACOA BURRITO BOWL WITH NO RICE

Even though Chipotle seems like the health-conscious choice, you've got to navigate your way around a triumvirate of diet roadblocks: cheese, guac and sour cream. The New York Times says the average burrito and burrito bowl order averages out to about 1,000 calories, so how to go lean? Make a still-satisfying burrito bowl that tops out at 320 calories and 81 grams of fat with barbacoa, pinto beans, fajita vegetables, tomatillo green-chili salsa and lettuce. And just say no to the chips and salsa, which end up adding a minimum of 595 calories to your meal.

Related: 19 Fast and Healthy Convenience Store Snacks

What Do YOU Think?
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you eat fast food or avoid it? Which is your favorite fast food restaurant? Which is your least favorite? What is your go-to meal for fast food? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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