Aug. 10, 2004 -- Opting for a chicken salad or sandwich over an old-fashioned burger isn't always the healthiest choice at fast-food restaurants. A new report shows some fast-food chicken salads pack more fat and calories than a Big Mac.
Although chicken itself is lower in fat and calories than beef, researchers say the devil lies in the details, or in this case the fatty toppings and dressings that come with the chicken in many fast-food offerings.
For example, the chicken in Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad has only 120 calories and 3 grams of fat, but the bulk of the calories and fat come from the dressing, crispy noodles, and almonds that come with it. Those additions bring the total calorie and fat count to 630 calories and 35 grams of fat, more than the 570 calories and 25 grams of fat in Burger King's Chicken Whopper.
Researchers also found that many fast-food restaurants are offering or testing new low-carb foods, but these items aren't usually low-cal. The highest-calorie, low-carb option they found was the Low-Carb Breakfast Bowl at Carl's Jr. with eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, and cheese with 900 calories and 73 grams of fat, including 33 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat.
Healthiest Fast Food
In the report, Consumer Reports compared nutrition information for 36 chicken sandwiches and salads from 16 chains and sent taste-testers to evaluate the offerings.
The findings show that calories varied widely from 360 to 950 calories in a chicken sandwich and 310 to 800 calories for an entrée salad with chicken.
Boston Market's Marinated Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad tipped the scales with the most calories and fat at 800 calories and 62 grams of fat, and Wendy's Ultimate Chicken Grill was the lightweight of the bunch with only 360 calories and 7 grams of fat.
Other picks for the best combination of nutrition, taste, and price include:
- Baja Fresh Original Baja Style Taco with Charbroiled Chicken (370 calories and 8 grams of fat for $3.80)
- Quizno's Sub Honey Bourbon Chicken on wheat bread (400 calories and 5 grams of fat for $4.30)
- McDonald's Chicken McGrill sandwich (400 calories and 16 grams of fat for $3.10)
- Subway Garden Fresh Salad with Chicken (310 calories and 8 grams of fat for $5.80)
- Baja Fresh Baja Ensalada with Charbroiled Chicken (325 calories and 7 grams of fat for $6.80)
Overall, the tasters said the chances of getting high-quality, good-tasting food was higher at the newer, fancier fast-food outlets. But the downside is that their dishes tend to be bigger and have more calories and fat.
How to Order Smart
Nutritional information usually isn't posted at many fast-food restaurants, but it is normally available online or by request from the company. In addition, federal legislation has been introduced that may make displaying nutritional information a requirement in future.
Until then, experts say it is possible to cut calories by following these tips:
- Order grilled food rather than breaded or fried.
- Avoid or limit toppings, such as cheese, bacon, or "crispy" noodles or croutons.
- Hold the mayo and high-calorie salad dressings. Ask for mustard on sandwiches or a reduced-fat dressing on salads. Also ask for dressing on the side and use sparingly.
- Control portion size: Choose the smallest burger or sandwich or share a larger one.