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21 Healthier Fast-Food Meals

Headed for a fast-food chain? Here's how to keep it healthy.

Hey, it happens to the best of us. When you're hungry and have only a few minutes (or a few bucks), fast food calls out to you. Yes, fast food is higher in sodium than it should be. Yes, fast food tends to be devoid of fruits, vegetables, and fiber. But, there are some healthier fast-food options out there. You just need to know how to order.

I'm going to list 21 healthier fast food entrees below, but that's only part of the story. First, keep these three restaurant rules in mind:

Healthier Fast-Food Rule No. 1: Be Cautious About Condiments

Half the fat grams in Arby's Southwest Chicken Wrap and their Ultimate BLT Wrap come from the ranch sauce or mayonnaise. Believe it! Some fast food condiments add a lot of fat and calories -- like mayonnaise- and oil-based sauces. Others are lower in calories and have no fat, though they will add some sodium. Use a little catsup, mustard, marinara, or BBQ sauce instead of creamy sauces and spreads. Half a packet of BBQ sauce or honey-mustard sauce from most fast-food chains, for example, will add about 23 calories, no fat grams, and about 80 milligrams of sodium.

Healthier Fast-Food Rule No. 2: Watch Out for Side Dishes

Anything on the side that's fried is suspect, like French fries and onion rings. If you need something to keep your entree company, look for fresh fruit cups or side salads (and use half a packet of the reduced-calorie dressing). The other option is to bring your own fruits and vegetables from home. Don't laugh -- I've done this plenty of times!

Healthier Fast-Food Rule No. 3: Look Out for Liquid Calories

The last thing you need when eating at a fast-food chain is to drink something that gives you calories without nutrients, like soda, sweetened tea, lemonade, and fruit drinks. It's even worse if your drink is also loaded with fat -- like shakes. Choose either a no-calorie beverage (like water, unsweetened tea, or diet soda) or one that contributes some nutrients along with its calories (like low-fat milk or 100% orange juice).

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That said, here are 21 healthier entree alternatives from popular fast-food chains:

1. KFC Honey BBQ Sandwich

  • 280 calories
  • 3.5 grams fat
  • 1 gram saturated fat
  • 60 mg cholesterol
  • 780 mg sodium
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 32 grams carbohydrate
  • 14 grams protein

2. KFC Tender Roast Sandwich (without sauce)

  • 300 calories
  • 4.5 grams fat
  • 1.5 grams saturated fat
  • 70 mg cholesterol
  • 1,060 mg sodium
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 28 grams carbohydrate
  • 37 grams protein

3. Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich

  • 270 calories
  • 3.5 grams fat
  • 1 gram saturated fat
  • 65 mg cholesterol
  • 940 mg sodium
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 33 grams carbohydrate
  • 28 grams protein

4. Hardee's Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich

  • 340 calories
  • 4 grams fat
  • 1 gram saturated fat
  • 60 mg cholesterol
  • 1,070 mg sodium
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 40 grams carbohydrate
  • 33 grams protein

5. Carl's Jr Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich

  • 360 calories
  • 4.5 grams fat
  • 1 gram saturated fat
  • 60 mg cholesterol
  • 1,150 mg sodium
  • 4 grams fiber
  • 48 grams carbohydrate
  • 34 grams protein

6. Wendy's Ultimate Grill Sandwich

  • 320 calories
  • 7 grams fat
  • 1.5 grams saturated fat
  • 70 mg cholesterol
  • 950 mg sodium
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 36 grams carbohydrate
  • 28 grams protein

7. Arby's Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich (without mayo)

  • 390 calories
  • 8 grams fat
  • 2 grams saturated fat
  • 25 mg cholesterol
  • 1,563 mg sodium
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 49 grams carbohydrate
  • 41 grams protein

8. In-n-out Hamburger (with onion, mustard, and catsup instead of spread)

  • 310 calories
  • 10 grams fat
  • 4 grams saturated fat
  • 35 mg cholesterol
  • 730 mg sodium
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 41 grams carbohydrate
  • 16 grams protein

9. Taco Bell Fresco Style Bean Burrito

  • 330 calories
  • 7 grams fat
  • 2.5 grams saturated fat
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 1,200 mg sodium
  • 9 grams fiber
  • 54 grams carbohydrate
  • 12 grams protein

10. KFC Oven Roasted Twister (without sauce)

  • 330 calories
  • 7 grams fat
  • 2.5 grams saturated fat
  • 50 mg cholesterol
  • 1,120 mg sodium
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 39 grams carbohydrate
  • 28 grams protein

11. McDonalds Grilled Snack Wrap with Honey Mustard OR Grilled Snack Wrap with Chipotle BBQ Sauce. Each:

  • 260 calories
  • 8 grams fat
  • 3.5 grams saturated fat
  • 45 mg cholesterol
  • 820 mg sodium
  • 1 gram fiber
  • 27 grams carbohydrate
  • 18 grams protein

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12. Taco Bell Fresco Style Steak Burrito Supreme

  • 330 calories
  • 8 grams fat
  • 3 grams saturated fat
  • 20 mg cholesterol
  • 1,250 mg sodium
  • 7 grams fiber
  • 48 grams carbohydrate
  • 16 grams protein

13. Jack in the Box Chicken Fajita Pita (no salsa)

  • 280 calories
  • 9 grams fat
  • 3.5 grams saturated fat
  • 60 mg cholesterol
  • 1,110 mg sodium
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 30 grams carbohydrate
  • 21 grams protein

14. Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Cool Wrap

  • 410 calories
  • 12 grams fat
  • 3.5 grams saturated fat
  • 70 mg cholesterol
  • 1,310 mg sodium
  • 8 grams fiber
  • 46 grams carbohydrate
  • 34 grams protein

15. Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad

  • 180 calories (260 with 2 Tbsp. Reduced Fat Raspberry Vinaigrette)
  • 6 grams fat (8 grams with raspberry vinaigrette)
  • 3 grams saturated fat
  • 65 mg cholesterol
  • 620 mg sodium (810 mg with raspberry vinaigrette)
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 9 grams carbohydrate (24 grams with raspberry vinaigrette)
  • 22 grams protein

16. Taco Bell Fresco Style Zesty Chicken Border Bowl (without dressing)

  • 350 calories
  • 8 grams fat
  • 1.5 grams saturated fat
  • 25 mg cholesterol
  • 1,600 mg sodium
  • 10 grams fiber
  • 51 grams carbohydrate
  • 19 grams protein

17. McDonalds Southwest Salad With Grilled Chicken

(includes cilantro lime glaze and a Southwest vegetable/bean blend)

  • 320 calories
  • 9 grams fat
  • 3 grams saturated fat
  • 70 mg cholesterol
  • 970 mg sodium
  • 7 grams fiber
  • 30 grams carbohydrate
  • 30 grams protein

18. Arby's Martha's Vineyard Salad -- not including dressing

(includes grilled chicken, diced apples, cherry tomatoes, cheddar, cranberries, and lettuce)

  • 277 calories
  • 8 grams fat
  • 4 grams saturated fat
  • 72 mg cholesterol
  • 451 mg sodium
  • 4 grams fiber
  • 24 grams carbohydrate
  • 26 grams protein

19. Carl's Jr Charbroiled Chicken Salad (with low-fat balsamic dressing)

  • 295 calories
  • 8.5 grams fat
  • 3.5 grams saturated fat
  • 75 mg cholesterol
  • 1,190 mg sodium
  • 5 grams fiber
  • 21 grams carbohydrate
  • 34 grams protein

20. Arby's Santa Fe Salad With Grilled Chicken -- not including dressing

(includes cherry tomatoes, red onion, corn and black beans, cheddar, and lettuce)

  • 283 calories
  • 9 grams fat
  • 4 grams saturated fat
  • 72 mg cholesterol
  • 521 mg sodium
  • 6 grams fiber
  • 21 grams carbohydrate
  • 29 grams protein

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21. McDonalds Asian Salad With Grilled Chicken

(includes mandarin oranges, almonds, edamame, snow peas, and red bell peppers)

  • 300 calories
  • 10 grams fat
  • 1 gram saturated fat
  • 65 mg cholesterol
  • 890 mg sodium
  • 5 grams fiber
  • 23 grams carbohydrate
  • 32 grams protein

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 29, 2015
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