Fast food restaurants may provide easy, on-the-go options, but most of their food can quickly derail your diet. In theory, the Affordable Care Act, which forces big restaurant chains to include nutrition labeling on their menus, seems like a good a idea to encourage people to eat more healthfully. Unfortunately studies are showing that these labels aren’t doing much to change ordering habits.
“Even though the information is there, there’s confusion throughout the country of what’s healthy, how much to eat, what to eat, what to avoid, what nutrients to pay attention to etc. Those eating at fast food restaurants on a regular basis typically are not focusing on healthy eating habits and those eating at fast food restaurants occasionally, only when a craving hits, or for convenience typically have a specific ‘treat’ in mind. In this case learning the nutrition facts won’t change their minds as they already view it as a splurge,” explains Selvera’s senior R.D., Amanda Foti.
There are few things as important as being mindful when we’re eating — whether or not nutrition facts are laid out — so we asked Foti to talk us through the best food choices at some of America’s most popular fast food destinations.
Now that their breakfast menu is offered all day long, it’s easier to find healthy options at McDonald’s, with some specific ordering. You can reach for their Egg McMuffin, which contains a good amount of protein from the egg and cheese, but not a lot of fiber, so try pairing it with some apple slices. You can also try the fruit and maple oatmeal, but without the brown sugar and without cream, which contains 5 grams each of fiber and protein. Your other best bets are the grilled snack wrap without the ranch sauce, which contains a good amount of protein or any salad with grilled chicken, with a small amount of oil-based dressing.
Subway is one of the easiest places to make a healthy order. First, always choose their 9-grain bread, which contains more fiber than other options, which will fill you up and keep you full. Choose a 6-inch sub to be wary of portion sizes. Then choose lean protein, such as oven roasted chicken or turkey breast. Skip proteins like tuna salad or chicken salad because these contain much more fat, especially saturated fat, than you need. Load your sandwich with tons of fiber-filled veggies too (lettuce, tomato, peppers, cucumbers) and then choose an minimal calorie dressing, like mustard or vinegar. Another good option at Subway is a chopped salad. Stick with a combination of fiber from veggies and lean protein, like grilled chicken, for your best order.
To place the healthiest order at Wendy’s, the key is to focus on size. Wendy’s has some great salads, but many with high-calorie ingredients, like nuts, bacon, full-fat cheese, and sweetened dried fruit. Luckily, Wendy’s allows you to order half-sized salads, which cuts the calorie count, but still provides adequate nutrients that will keep you full and satisfied. Try a half-sized Asian cashew chicken salad or Apple Pecan salad. A Garden Salad with oil-based dressing and a small chili is another better option at Wendy’s because you will fill up from the fiber and healthy fats in the salad and the protein in the portion-controlled chili will keep you full for hours.
If you’re stopping at Dunkin Donuts, your best bet is breakfast… and not the sweet kind! Opt for an egg white or turkey sausage flatbread or a ham egg and cheese sandwich to start your day with a significant amount of protein. Just keep in mind that the bread barely contains any fiber, so pair it with a piece of fruit to stay full until lunch.
These days Starbucks has some really nutritious food options when you’re on the go. For a meal, the spinach feta wrap, chicken and hummus plate, protein bistro box, or reduced fat turkey cheddar egg sandwich are packed with protein, which helps sustain energy for long periods of time. These are great options post-workout too if you’re rushing to get to work. The oatmeal with nuts (without sugar) is a great breakfast option because it combines fiber with protein, which is optimal to provide energy to sustain you through the morning, without a sugar crash. Other good options are the cheese and fruit plate or the Greek yogurt parfaits, but beware that the latter are fairly high in sugar, so avoid the syrupy fruit on the bottom.