The times, they are a-changin’. Once upon a time, fast food was what it was: A mess of greasy eats in varying shades of tan made from cheap, frozen ingredients and doused in salt. While you can still get your hands on plenty of traditional fast food, you may be over the usual fatty fare and looking for healthy meals that are more fuel than fodder.
Enter these fast food chains that are leading the industry in offering healthier fare for those who love fast food but not so much the high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sodium selections.
In addition to the classic finger-lickin’ good fried chicken, which has about 390 calories and 630 milligrams of sodium per breast, the Colonel offers a grilled, bone-in chicken breast with just 180 calories and a whopping 31 grams of muscle- and bone-lovin’ protein. Instead of opting for the mashed potatoes and gravy, add a side of sweet corn and a side of green beans to your order. Your meal will add up to just 310 calories, 36 grams of protein, and five grams of dietary fiber.
Chipotle is a big hit with the health-conscious crowd. This modern burrito joint strives to use high quality ingredients and offer tasty, filling meals that won’t set you back in your quest for good health. Although their burritos are satisfying and delicious, the tortilla alone adds a staggering 300 calories to your total. A bowl, on the other hand, has around 400 calories, 43 grams of protein, and almost 18 grams of dietary fiber. It also provides you with about half your daily requirements for vitamins A and C.
The whole point of Subway is to offer fast food that’s neither greasy nor salty. The veggie offerings—lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, black olives, spinach, and more—make your sandwich a powerhouse of vitamins. Lean deli meats like chicken and turkey bump up the protein without bombarding your body with fat and calories. But the condiments and cheese can bump up the calorie count, so when you build your sandwich, go easy on those and opt for a drizzle of oil and vinegar instead.
Starbucks is another chain that makes a point of offering healthy light meals and snacks. While you can certainly get yourself a pastry to start your day, it’s nice to know you have healthier options. Case in point is the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich, which has just 220 calories, six grams of fat, and 16 grams of protein.
Noodles & Company
In an effort to make their meals healthier, Noodles & Company uses antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken, pork, and beef, which is sautéed in healthy soybean oil to reduce the fat. They also offer a broad range of vegetarian and vegan selections as well as menu items that contain less than 10 grams of fat, including the Spaghetti and the Buttered Noodles. Looking to reduce salt in your diet? Try the Mushroom Stroganoff, one of four dishes that contains 460 grams or less of sodium. While a large bowl of noodles ranges from 690 to 1,330 calories, a small noodle bowl will set you back just 310 to 660 calories.
Healthy is as Healthy Does
Fast Food has long been demonized for its artery-clogging, obesity-inducing offerings. But more and more fast food establishments are listening to consumers, who are more health-conscious than ever before and want healthier options for meals on the go. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fast food joint that doesn’t offer at least a few low-calorie, low-sodium, lower-fat menu items.
So if you love your fast food but are trying to watch what you eat, all is not lost. Improving your diet while noshing on fast food is a simple matter of combing through the offerings and choosing the freshest, least-fried selections. Almost all fast food places have nutritional information for their menu items posted on their website, and many have pamphlets in-store for your perusal. Eating healthy isn’t hard if you’re armed with information and have the wherewithal to forego the milkshakes and fries. It may not be easy, but it can certainly be done.