It’s estimated that in the United States alone, there are more than 200,000 fast food restaurants, with nearly one million around the world. We know that fast food isn’t great for our health for the most part, with many warnings coming out on an almost daily basis. Despite some of those warnings, most of us find ourselves at fast food restaurants quite frequently. One poll showed that 80 percent of Americans eat fast food at least once per month, while nearly half stopped at a fast food restaurant at least once per week.
If you’re one of the many people that’s seemingly living life on the go and don’t have time to prepare good meals for yourself, there’s still some hope. These days, fast food restaurants are starting to cater to people that want to eat more healthily, presenting new options. So if you find yourself at a drive thru in the near future, take a look at some of the healthiest fast food options that you can find from the big chains.
McDonald’s is usually the first restaurant that we think about when it comes to fast food, as there are nearly 70 million customers on a daily basis with nearly 40,000 stores. It can be hard to find something healthy from McDonald’s, but it’s possible. McDonald’s salads have gotten a bad reputation for sneaking in a lot of calories, but the Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad is a decent option at 320 calories and just nine grams of carbohydrates. Eating it without the cheese knocks it down to just 260 calories, leaving enough room for some of their lighter dressings instead of the ranch.
McDonald’s biggest competitor, Burger King, is also trying to enter the healthy market with some friendlier food options. Going with the Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich is usually a decent choice here, as long as you skip the mayo. By doing so, you save yourself 100 calories, knocking down the total to 370. There’s also very little fat at just seven grams (only two grams of saturated fat), with plenty of protein at 36 grams to help fuel muscle. The sodium count is still a bit high, but relatively low compared to other sandwiches.
It might be surprising to some that many of Taco Bell’s items are actually fairly low in calories, but high on taste. Stick to the taco portion in the restaurant’s namesake, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For instance, the Shredded Chicken Soft Taco has just 160 calories with five grams of fat and 12 grams of protein. The Crunchy Taco is also similar at 170 calories, but doesn’t have quite the protein punch. Getting these options without cheese is, again, a great way to save a bit on your nutrition.
Subway is the largest fast food chain in the entire world in terms of stores open around the globe, and their growth has been possible due to marketing healthier options. However, Subway can be a lot sneakier than you might think with calories. Eating a footlong anything is going to have a lot of calories and carbs, so stick with the six inch sandwiches. With that said, the carved turkey is their best option at 330 calories (with standard toppings such as tomatoes and lettuce), with 25 grams of protein and just five grams of fat.
The fourth largest fast food chain in the world is the highest on the list that focuses on fried chicken. The options can be pretty limited since fried chicken is the main focus at KFC, but can be found. Most KFC locations offer grilled chicken now (Kentucky Grilled Chicken) that actually tastes pretty good. One drumstick comes out to just 90 calories, meaning you can have a couple of pieces with a healthier side dish such as corn or green beans instead of the mashed potatoes and gravy.
While it’s considered more of a coffee joint than anything, millions of people stop at Starbucks each morning and decide to grab something to eat while they’re there. Starbucks introduced a large menu of foods under 350 calories, including some surprisingly filling options. Nutritionists have said that if you find yourself at Starbucks for breakfast, try for the Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal. It contains just 22 calories with some solid fiber and very little fat. If you’re looking for a little more in the protein department, the Egg White Breakfast Wrap isn’t a bad way to go. Just make sure to skip the sugary coffees Starbucks offers.
Wendy’s might not be as globally recognized as some of the other burger joints that we’ve looked at, but the chain has a huge presence here in the United States. Wendy’s was one of the first burger chains to expand their menu beyond burgers and fries, adding salads and other items. One of the old staples of Wendy’s that dieticians have approves is the baked (or sweet) potato and chili combo (without the cheese sauce). Even keeping the sour cream that Wendy’s offers makes this a 500 calorie meal that’s fairly low in fat, while balancing carbs and proteins.
Eating pizza can be damaging to just about any diet, as it can be hard to stick with just one piece. The largest pizza chain in the world, Pizza Hut, has tried to come out with some options that are more diet friendly. If you’re looking to cut calories, stick with the Thin ‘N Crispy pizzas they offer. Many of their slices are 180 calories, including the pepperoni and mushroom, veggie lover’s and ham and pineapple. Once again, you could lose the cheese to really save a lot of calories on your pizza, but that’s usually sacrilegious to do to pizza unless you’re lactose intolerant.
Eating sliced roast beef from a deli usually isn’t that bad for a diet, but Arby’s tends to really pile up the meat in between a thick bun. Not only that, but the smell of curly fries alone is too much temptation for one person to handle. You’ll have to skip the sides at Arby’s if you want to eat healthy, which is easier said than done. The Roast Turkey and Swiss Wrap isn’t a bad option here without the mayonnaise. Each one of these is rather filling, and offers up 410 calories and 30 grams of protein. Arby’s isn’t exactly shy about touting their high calorie menu, which is why it’s harder to find a healthier option here.
Whether you’re in the western part of the United States where it’s known as Carl’s Jr. or everywhere else where it’s known as Hardee’s, this chain is one of the 15 largest in the world. Hardee’s loves showing off their massive burgers that add options like baby back ribs, but they do have some healthier options, as well. Hardee’s introduced a low carb menu that includes the Charbroiled Chicken Club. This bunless option without mayo still has bacon and cheese, delivering just 340 calories and 24 grams of protein. Though it’s a little high in the fat content at 22 grams, it’s still much better than most of the burgers offered.
The largest of the Chinese fast food diners, Panda Express orders typically include two entrees and a side. You can still go with this standard option and save on calories, especially if your side is the steamed vegetables at just 80 calories. If you add in the Broccoli Beef and the Black Pepper Chicken, you get a full meal at just 510 calories with 26 grams of protein. While options like the Orange Chicken and Beijing Beef might be sweeter, they’re also packed with calories. Adding those two items with the chow mein as your side combines for 1,360 calories and 170 grams of carbohydrates.