By Charles Platkin, PhD
OK, so fast food is unhealthy and can make you fat — but almost any food you eat too much of can make you fat. And yes, it can be difficult to eat healthfully at a fast-food restaurant, but it can be done. Here are a few tips, as well as some foods you can actually eat.
GO TO THE NET
Don’t just walk in, look at the menu board and start picking. Almost every fast-food restaurant has nutrition information available online, so check the Internet and have your order ready in your mind before you get to the register. Also, mentally prepare yourself for suggestions by the counter person — get ready to say, “No, thanks.”
WATCH THE WEIGHT
Just because a food is low in calories doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. Check the serving size and look at the grams to compare the weight with that of other foods you normally eat. Look to see how much of the food you have to eat in order to feel satisfied. And make sure you don’t deprive yourself — eat a real meal, which is about 350 to 600 calories for lunch or dinner depending on your gender, height and weight.
- Say no to mayo, tartar sauce, creamy dressings and extra cheese. Don’t be shy — ask questions about preparation.
- Use mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper or vinegar as fat-free ways to season your food.
- For salads, watch the nuts, croutons and other add-ons.
- Chicken and fish can be good choices — but ONLY if they are grilled or broiled, NOT breaded or deep-fried.
- Instead of cheese, opt for lettuce, tomato and onion. Removing just one slice of cheese can save you about 100 calories.
- Order a salad or broth-based soup to enjoy before your main meal.
DON’T TAKE THEIR WORD
Even if an item is labeled low-carb or “healthy,” don’t take their word for it — review the information. Ask yourself: Is this lower in calories than what I would normally choose to eat? And don’t be fooled by menu items you’d think would be healthy but aren’t, like the Taco Bell Fiesta Salad, which packs 870 calories and 47 grams of fat.
MAKE BETTER CHOICES
Look below for some of the better choices at your favorite fast-food restaurants.
- Two Fresco Style Chicken Ranchero Tacos: 340 calories, 8g fat, 40g carbs, 24g protein.
- Fresco Burrito Supreme (chicken): 350 calories, 8g fat, 50g carbs, 19g protein. The steak version has just 1 more gram of fat and 2 fewer grams protein.
- Fresco Style Steak Soft Taco with Fresco Style Mexican Rice: 330 calories, 11g fat, 45g carbs, 14g protein.
Fit Tip: Order everything “Fresco Style” — meaning with salsa and without cheese or sauce.
- Chicken McGrill sandwich without mayonnaise: 300 calories, 4.5g fat, 37g carbs, 27g protein.
- California Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken (before dressing): 260 calories, 11g fat, 10g carbs, 32g protein.
- Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken (before dressing): 200 calories, 6g fat, 10g carbs, 28g protein.
Fit Tip: Always choose grilled rather than crispy chicken, and hold the mayo. Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette is the best dressing at 40 calories for 2 ounces, compared with 120 calories for Cobb dressing or a whopping 190 calories for Caesar.
- Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich: 360 calories, 7g fat, 44g carbs, 31g protein.
- Plain 10-ounce baked potato with Country Crock spread and a side salad with fat-free French dressing: 445 calories, 7g fat, 87g carbs, 9g protein.
- Two quarter-pound Classical Singles with no buns and nothing on them except ketchup: 415 calories, 26g fat, 4g carbs, 38g protein.
- Mandarin Chicken Salad with almonds (no noodles) and fat-free French dressing: 400 calories, 14g fat, 40g carbs, 27g protein. You can also have the salad without the almonds and save another 130 calories.
Fit Tip: Be wary of the “reduced-calorie” dressings at Wendy’s: They’re still a bit higher than those at other fast-food restaurants. Use them sparingly.
- Two 12-inch Hand-Tossed Veggie Lover’s slices: 440 calories, 14g fat, 62g carbs, 20g protein.
- Two 14-inch Thin & Crispy Cheese Slices: 380 calories, 16g fat, 40g carbs, 18g protein.
Fit Tip: If you don’t go for the Fit ‘N Delicious selections, at least avoid deep dish or stuffed crust, and ask for only half the cheese.
- Chicken Whopper Sandwich (on a small bun without mayo – ask for it): 320 calories, 7g fat, 31g carbs, 35g protein. Without the bun (but with lettuce and tomato), it’s only 160 calories.
- Veggie burger, no mayo: 300 calories, 7g fat, 46g carbs, 14g protein.
- Angus Steak Burger — low carb: 260 calories, 18g fat, 2g carbs, 24g protein.
- Fire-Grilled Chicken Garden Salad (before dressing): 210 calories, 7g fat, 13g carbs, 26g protein.
- Fire-Grilled Shrimp Garden Salad (before dressing): 200 calories, 10g fat, 12g carbs, 20g protein.
Fit Tip: Keep in mind that even the lowest calorie dressing — the fat-free honey mustard — has 70 calories per 2 ounces, which is pretty high. Order anything low-carb and it comes without mayo, ketchup or a bun, saving a bundle of calories.
- 6-inch Veggie Delite sandwich: 230 calories, 3g fat, 44g carbs, 9g protein.
- 6-inch Savory Turkey Breast sandwich: 280 calories, 4.5g fat, 46g carbs, 18g protein.
- Minestrone soup (1 cup): 90 calories, 4g fat, 7g carbs, 7g protein.
- Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup (1 cup): 60 calories, 1.5g fat, 7g carbs, 6g protein.
Fit Tip: Order your sandwich without mayo or other special sauces — opt for vinegar or mustard instead. If you want a bag of chips, choose Baked Lays. And if you’re really hungry, ask for a double meat 6-inch sub: roast beef (360 calories), turkey (340 calories), or ham (380 calories).
- Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad with one packet Fat Free Honey Mustard Dressing: 300 calories, 6g fat, 37g carbs, 22g protein.
- Spicy Chicken Cool Wrap: 380 calories, 6g fat, 52g carbs, 30g protein.
Fit Tip: Make sure to order your chicken sandwich without butter. You can also get a Chargrilled Chicken sandwich bare (without the bun and pickles); it’s only 100 calories. Try the Diet Lemonade — it has only 30 calories for 12 ounces and is very tasty.
Jack in the Box
- Asian Chicken Salad (no wonton strips) with Low Fat Balsamic Dressing: 295 calories, 11.5g fat, 31g carbs, 17g protein.
- Chicken Fajita Pita: 315 calories, 9g fat, 33g carbs, 22g protein.
- Chicken Sandwich (ask for Low Fat Herb Mayo Sauce instead of regular mayo), a Side Salad (hold the croutons) and Low Fat Balsamic Dressing: 440 calories, 19.5g fat, 50g carbs, 18g protein.
Fit Tip: The specialty breads (e.g. Pannido or sourdough) have about 250 calories each — stick with a regular bun or go bunless!
- Regular Roast Beef Sandwich: 320 calories, 13g fat, 34g carbs, 21g protein.
- Chicken Club Salad with Light Buttermilk Ranch Dressing: 250 calories, 7g fat, 28g carbs, 19g protein.
Fit Tip: Avoid Market Fresh sandwiches (including turkey) — they’re all over 700 calories.
- Tender Roast Sandwich: 390 calories, 19g fat, 24g carbs, 31g protein.
- Caesar Salad without dressing or croutons: 220 calories, 9g fat, 6g carbs, 29g protein.
Fit Tip: If you take the skin and breading off the Original Recipe chicken breast, you’ll save a whopping 240 calories and 16g fat! And if you want a side, choose green beans (50 calories) or corn on the cob (150 calories).
Long John Silver’s
- Baked Cod with two corn cobettes: 300 calories, 10.5g fat, 28g carbs, 27g protein.
- Shrimp and Seafood Salad with Fat Free Ranch Dressing: 380 calories, 15g fat, 42g carbs, 19g protein.
Fit Tip: Fish and seafood can be healthy for you … as long as they’re not battered and fried!
- Grilled Chicken Salad: 350 calories, 27g fat, 9g carbs, 18g protein.
- Garden Vegetable Soup: 80 calories, 0.5g fat, 14g carbs, 5g protein.
- Hot Grilled Chicken Sub: 370 calories, 9g fat, 50g carbs, 25g protein.
Fit Tip: If you want potato salad, go with the mustard version over the regular to save 110 calories.
- Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich: 367 calories, 4g fat, 48g carbs, 35g protein.
- Charbroiled Chicken Salad-To-Go with fat-free Italian dressing: 341 calories, 6g fat, 22g carbs, 33g protein.
Fit Tip: Watch some of the fancier hamburgers (e.g., Chili Burger, Super Star) — they are very high in calories.