Fast Food That Won't Supersize You

The best bets from your favorite fast-food chains

From the WebMD Archives

It's easy to understand why Americans gravitate toward fast-food chains. Where else can you go when you need to grab a quick bite and have only a 5-spot in your pocket? And when you're traveling, it can be comforting to go into a restaurant where you know exactly what to expect, no matter where you are.

That's the good news. The bad news is that:

  • Americans eat a lot of fast food.
  • At most fast food chains, you'd be hard-pressed to find much in the way of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Fast-food servings tend to be big, and the calorie and fat totals tend to be high.

Recent research has confirmed what we probably all guessed anyway: The more fast food we eat, the more calories we take in -- and the more likely we are to be overweight.

A study of more than 3,000 young adults showed that, over a 15-year period, those who ate fast food more than twice a week gained about 10 pounds more than those who ate fast food less than once a week. The more frequent fast-food eaters also doubled their insulin resistance (an early sign of diabetes).

Another recent study showed that on days when young Americans (4-19 years old) ate fast food, they took in more calories, more total fat, more saturated fat, and more added sugars. They also took in less fiber, less fruit and nonstarchy vegetables, and less milk.

Researcher Shanthy A. Bowman, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had very similar findings with adults. Adults who ate fast food on two consecutive survey days tended to have higher mean body mass indexes (BMIs) and were more likely to be overweight than those who didn't eat fast food on those two days. It also found that adults took in about 10% more calories on days when they ate fast food.

Bowman says that, because most fast food doesn't contain much fiber, its calories don't make us feel very full afterward, so we tend to eat more later in the day.

Continued

So what's a fast-food lover to do?

Well, aside from avoiding "value meals" and "super-size" deals like the plague, our best bet is to know which menu items are the lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories.

The better choices listed below for six of the top fast-food chains have 15 grams of fat or less (compare that with some menu choices with 30 grams of fat or more, such as the Burger King Double Croissanwich with double sausage and cheese. This item would add 770 calories and 63 grams of fat to your diet -- all before lunch!). Of course, it also matters whether the fat is the unhealthy saturated kind; the fewer saturated fat grams, the better.

Another thing to watch for: The sodium tends to be high at fast-food restaurants, so beware if you are on a sodium-restricted diet.

Here are some of the best offerings of several popular fast-food chains, as of January 2005.

McDonald's

Item Calories Total fat (g) % cals from fat Sat. fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches:
Hamburger 260 9 31% 3.5 30 530 1
Cheeseburger 310 12 35% 6 40 740 1
Chicken McGrill 400 16 36% 3 70 1,010 3
Filet-O-Fish (no tartar sauce) 310 9 26% 2.5 30 520 1
Egg McMuffin 290 11 34% 4.5 235 850 2
McVeggie Burger* 350 8 20% 2 0 1,200 8
*Available only in New York and California.
Best Desserts:
Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait (with granola) 160 2 11% 1 5 85 <1
Vanilla Reduced-Fat Ice Cream Cone 150 3.5 21% 2 15 60 0
Apple Dippers 35 0 0 0 0 0 0
Best Salads*:
Grilled Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad 240 9 34% 4 85 940 3
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad 200 6 27% 3 70 820 3
Grilled Chicken California Cobb Salad 270 11 36% 5 145 1,060 3
California Cobb Salad (no chicken) 150 9 54% 4.5 85 410 3



*Totals do not include dressing; for 1/2 packet of Low-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette, add 20 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat and fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, and 375 mg sodium to each total.

Note: The best sauces at McDonalds are:

  • Ketchup, with 10 calories and 0 gram fat, 100 milligrams sodium per package
  • Barbeque sauce, with 45 calories, 0 gram fat, 260 milligrams sodium per package
  • Hot Mustard sauce, with 50 calories, 2 grams fat, 260 milligrams sodium per package

Continued

Burger King

Item Calories Total fat (g) % cals from fat Sat. fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches:
Whopper Jr. (no mayo) 310 13 38% 5 40 490 2
Hamburger 310 13 38% 5 40 550 1
Chicken Whopper (no mayo) 410 7 15% 2 60 1,280 4
BK Fish Filet (no tartar sauce) 360 13 33% 5 40 700 2
Chili 190 8 38% 3 25 1,040 5
BK Veggie (no mayo) 300 7 21% 1.5 0 870 4
Best Salads:*
Fire-Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad 270 7 23% 3 50 1,140 1
Fire-Grilled Shrimp Caesar Salad 260 10 35% 3 120 1,120 2
Fire-Grilled Chicken Garden Salad 280 7 23% 3 50 1,150 2
Fire-Grilled Shrimp Garden Salad 270 10 33% 3 120 1,130 3
*All totals include one packet Fat-Free Honey Mustard Dressing.

KFC

Item Calories Total fat (g) % cals from fat Sat. fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches and Entrees:
Original Recipe sandwich, no sauce 320 13 36% 4 60 890 0
Tender Roasted sandwich, no sauce 260 5 17% 1.5 65 690 1
Oven Roasted Strips meal (strips, green beans and rice) 420 7 15% 2.5 90 2,410 6
Oven Roasted Twister Wrap, no sauce 320 13 36% 4 60 890 0
Chicken breast, without skin or breading 140 3 19% 1 95 410 0
Honey BBQ sandwich 300 6 18% 1.5 50 640 4
Best Sides:
Green beans 50 1.5 27% .5 5 460 2
Mashed potatoes, no gravy 110 4 33% 1 0 260 1
Mashed potatoes, with gravy 120 4.5 34% 1 0 380 1
Corn on the cob 150 3 18% 1 0 10 7
Best Salads:
Chicken BLT Salad, no dressing 220 7 29% 2.5 70 1,070 4
Chicken Caesar Salad, no dressing 240 9 34% 5 70 1,020 3
Hidden Valley Fat Free Ranch, one packet 40 0 0% 0 0 370 0
Hidden Valley Low-fat Italian, one packet 40 0 0% 0 0 350 0

Continued

Wendy's

Item Calories Total fat (g) % cals from fat Sat. fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches and Entrees:
Plain potato with a small chili 470 6 11% 2.5 35 805 12
Sour cream and chive potato 330 5 14% 3.5 20 40 7
Jr. Hamburger 280 9 29% 3.5 30 600 1
Jr. Cheeseburger 320 13 37% 6 40 810 1
Ultimate Chicken Grill sandwich 370 7 17% 1.5 75 1,230 2
Home-style Chicken sandwich with ketchup instead of creamy tangy sauce 480 15 28% 3 50 1,320 2
Hamburger Kids' Meal, with Mandarin oranges and diet soft drink 360 9 23% 3.5 30 630 3
Best Salads:
Fruit Bowl 220 1 4% .5 <5 85 3
Mandarin Chicken salad, with 1/2 pack low-fat honey mustard dressing 191 4.5 21% 1 50 910 3
Mandarin Chicken salad, with crispy noodles and low-fat honey mustard dressing 370 8 19% 2 50 1,250 4
Taco Supremo Salad with salsa (no chips or sour cream) 390 16 37% 8 65 1,530 9
Best Dessert:
Jr. Frosty (6 oz.) 160 4 23% 2.5 15 75 0



Chicken Strips vs. Nuggets

Do chicken strips beat nuggets in grams of fat and calories? When you compare them ounce for ounce, home-style strips have a lower percentage of calories from fat, as well as fewer calories and total grams of fat. Ten nuggets equal three chicken strips, by weight. Chicken strips have 39% calories from fat, while nuggets have 57% calories from fat.

Taco Bell

Item
Calories
Total fat (g)
% cals from fat
Sat. fat (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Fiber (g)
Best Entrees:
Beef soft taco
210
10
43%
4
25
620
1
Chicken soft taco
190
6
21%
2.5
30
350
<1
Grilled steak soft taco, no sauce
190
7
33%
3
25
550
1
Bean burrito
370
10
24%
3.5
10
1,200
8
Tostada
250
10
36%
4
15
710
7
"Fresco Style" options

(order the following items "fresco style"):
Grilled steak soft taco
170
5
26%
1.5
15
560
2
Baja-Chicken Gordita
230
6
23%
1
25
570
2
Baja-Beef Gordita
250
9
32%
3
20
640
4
Chicken Burrito Supreme
350
8
21%
2
25
1,270
6
Chicken Enchirito
250
5
18%
1.5
25
1,230
5
Steak Enchirito
250
7
25%
2
15
1,220
6
Tostada
200
6
27%
1
0
670
8

Continued

Carl's Jr.

Item
Calories
Total fat (g)
% cals from fat
Sat. fat (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches:
Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
367
4
10%
1
62
1,072
3
Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich, no mayo
441
12
24%
4
84
1,252
3
Charbroiled Chicken Salad-To-Go
327
6
17%
4
76
882
5
Charbroiled Sirloin Steak Sandwich, no mayo
417
14
30%
2
65
973
2
Hamburger
284
9
29%
4
34
479
1
Carl's Catch Fish Sandwich, no tartar sauce
432
16
33%
5
65
3,752
2
Best Breakfast Sandwiches:
Sunrise Sandwich, no meat or margarine
281
12
38%
5
240
484
2
Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich, no meat or whirl
380
17
40%
6
253
518
2
Best Potatoes:
Broccoli and cheese, no margarine
415
10
22%
3
13
830
7
Sour cream and chive, no margarine
313
2
6%
2
10
75
7
Salads & Dressings:
Buffalo Ranch Chicken Salad-To-Go, no dressing
384
16
38%
2
37
1,182
6
1 packet Fat-Free French Dressing
60
0
0
0
0
656
1
1 packet Fat-Free Italian Dressing
14
0
0
0
0
773
0

Jack in the Box

Item
Calories
Total fat (g)
% cals from fat
Sat. fat (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches and Entrees:
Chicken Fajita Pita
315
9
26%
4
65
1,080
0
Southwest Pita
260
4.5
16%
1
40
880
4
Hamburger
310
14
41%
5
45
590
0
Taco
160
8
45%
3
15
270
2
Best Breakfast Sandwich:
Breakfast Jack
305
14
41%
4
205
715
0
Best Salads and Dressing:
Chicken Caesar Salad
220
8
33%
4
55
1,030
3
Low-Fat Balsamic Dressing
40
2
45%
0
0
600
0

Continued

Subway

Item
Calories
Total fat (g)
% cals from fat
Sat. fat (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Fiber (g)
Best Sandwiches:

(Totals do not include dressing or cheese)
Veggie Delite
230
3
12%
1
0
520
4
Savory Turkey Breast*
280
4.5
14%
1.5
20
1,020
4
Savory Turkey Breast & Ham
290
5
16%
1.5
25
1,230
4
Ham*
290
5
16%
1.5
25
1,280
4
Roast Beef*
290
5
16%
2
20
920
4
Subway Club
320
6
17%
2
35
1,310
4
Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast
330
5
14%
1.5
25
1,420
4
Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki
380
5
12%
1.5
50
1,230
4
Honey Mustard Ham
320
5
14%
1.5
25
1,420
4
Cheese Steak (hot)
360
10
25%
4.5
35
1,100
5
*Nutrition values are listed for the 6-inch sandwiches, but these choices also make the "best" list for "deli style" sandwiches as well.
Best Breakfast Sandwich:
Western Egg
300
12
36%
3.5
180
530
3
Best Salads:
Grilled Chicken Breast and Baby Spinach
140
3
19%
1
50
450
4
Grilled Chicken Breast Strips Salad
140
3
19%
.5
50
400
4
Ham Salad
120
3
23%
1
25
850
4
Roast Beef Salad
130
3.5
24%
1.5
20
490
4
Subway Club Salad
160
4
23%
1.5
35
880
4
Veggie Delite Salad
60
1
15%
0
0
85
4
Best Dressings:

(Totals are for one packet)
Kraft Fat-Free Italian
35
0
0%
0
0
720
0
Red Wine Vinaigrette
80
1
11%
0
0
910
0
Best Sauces:

(Totals are for 1.5 tablespoons, the amount on a 6-inch sub)
Fat-Free Honey Mustard
30
0
0%
0
0
140
0
Fat-Free Red Wine Vinaigrette
30
0
0%
0
0
340
0
Fat-Free Sweet Onion
40
0
0%
0
0
100
0
Best Soups:

(Totals are for 1 cup)
Chili Con Carne
240
10
38%
5
15
860
8
Spanish Style Chicken With Rice
90
2
20%
.5
5
800
1
Roasted Chicken Noodle
60
1.5
22%
.5
10
940
1
Vegetable Beef
90
1
10%
.5
10
1,050
3
Tomato Garden Vegetable with Rotini
100
.5
5%
0
0
900
2
Chicken and Dumpling
130
4.5
31%
2.5
30
1,030
1
Minestrone
90
4
40%
1
20
1,180
1
WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES: Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2004; vol 23. Pediatrics, January 2004. Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action Healthletter, September 2002. Press release, The Lancet, Dec. 30, 2004. Shanthy Bowman, PhD, researcher, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. McDonald's web site, Burger King web site, KFC web site, Wendy's web site, Taco Bell web site, Carl's Jr. web site, Jack in the Box web site, Subway web site.

© 2005 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

Pagination