Healthiest Fast Food Options: Top 5 ‘Not-So-Bad-For-You’ Menu Items Experts Recommend

Do you like the convenience of a drive-thru, but not the high calorie value that comes with it? The healthiest fast food options tend to prioritize fresh, whole ingredients and lean protein sources, offering a more balanced approach to fast food. These choices often include salads, grilled chicken, and vegetable-based sides that provide essential nutrients while reducing excess calories and saturated fat. Choosing meals with fewer processed components and added sugars can help promote a healthier fast food experience.

But despite trying to provide healthy optionsa study Boston University found that fast food menus in the United States are unhealthier than 30 years ago. Researchers analyzed entrees, sides and desserts in 1986, 1991 and again in 2016 and found that total calories and sodium increased significantly. But it’s not strange, as portion sizes have also grown since the 1980s.

Just one meal at a fast food chain with an entree and a side (think: hamburger and fries) yields an average of 767 calories. That’s 40 percent of a 2,000-calorie daily diet! And if you add soda well, you’ll increase that percentage to 45-50 of your recommended daily calorie intake. But why would you choose such a high-calorie option instead of grabbing hummus with carrots in the supermarket deli section?

Fast food diets

In addition to ordering the options on our list, you can customize any product to be a little more diet-friendly. These hacks below are great for anyone trying to be healthier on the run.

Hack #1: Embrace the Grill (and Skip the Frying)

  • Swap fried for grilled:Grilled chicken, fish or veggie steaks are your low-fat protein heroes. Ditch the greasy goodness of fried options and opt for a smoky, healthier option.
  • Vegetable power:Don’t underestimate the protein content of veggie burgers. Made from beans, lentils or mixed grains, they are often lower in calories and fat than their meaty counterparts.

Hack #2: Pile Up Vegetables

  • Vegetable Feast: Salads, bowls and wraps can be transformed into nutritional powerhouses. Fill them with a rainbow of vegetables such as leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions.
  • Guac it up:Avocados are nature’s buttery goodness, full of healthy fats and fiber. Add guacamole to your order for an extra dose of deliciousness and nutrients.

Hack #3: Skip the creamy sauces

  • Lighten:Creamy sauces are often calorie and fat bombs. Opt for light vinaigrettes, mustards or hot sauces instead. You still get the taste without the guilt.
  • DIY dip:Bring your own low-fat yogurt or hummus for a healthy and tasty dip for your vegetables or pita bread.

Hack #4: Remember your side

  • Skip the potatoes:French fries are the best fast food, but they are high in unhealthy fats and carbohydrates. Swap them for a side salad, fruit cup or baked sweet potato for a satisfying and nutritious alternative.
  • Smart Soup:Choose broth-based soup as a light and rich starter. Avoid creamy soups, which are usually loaded with calories and fat.

Hack #5: Portion control is key

  • Halfsies please:Share a meal with a friend or family member or ask for a half portion. Fast food portions are often large, so it’s easy to overeat.
  • Pack it in a box:Take half of your meal home to enjoy later. This will help prevent overindulging and keep you on schedule to meet your diet goals.

Bonus tip: Don’t forget the H2O! Ditch the sugary soft drinks and opt for water or unsweetened tea for a refreshing, calorie-free drink.

Now that you’re ready to tackle all the temptations, let’s move on to our list below. MEach of us is looking for the healthiest fast food options. So when you’re on the go or short on time, here are the five menu items to order that were most recommended by 12 nutritionists and healthy eating experts.

Taco Bell Drive-Thru Sign (Photo by Ken Wolter via Shutterstock)

List: The healthiest fast food menu items according to Pros

1. Taco Bell: Fresco Crunchy Taco

By TODAY, [Fresco-style] remove the cheeses and sour cream and substitute tomatoes.

Taco bell hard Taco beef, tomato and salad
Fresco Crunchy Taco (Photo: Taco Bell)

That’s why it lands on the top spot The taste of home: With 150 calories, 8 grams of fat and 370 milligrams of sodium, this is one of the healthiest fast food options available. While most tacos fall in the 170-300 calorie range, keep the sodium content in mind and limit the extra sauces. For added flavor, choose fresh salsa instead of sour cream and cheese.

And Women’s health writes: Nutritional therapist Rosanne Rust, RDN, author The DASH Diet for Dummies, order a Beef Fresco Crunchy Taco at Taco Bell. “Surprisingly, crispy tacos have fewer calories and less sodium than soft tacos,” says Rust.

2. Panda Express Bowl or plate

Panda Express may not be the first fast food option that comes to mind, but it is a solid option for healthier food.

A bowl of teriyaki chicken, brown rice, carrots and broccoli
Panda Express Bowl (photo by Panda Express)

CNBC says to order: Black pepper Angus steak, super greens, half brown rice, a side of chili sauce. With Angus steak, you get a nice dose of protein. And steamed broccoli, kale and cabbage are also nutritious and satisfying without the calories. The entire meal contains only 465 calories. If you’re a volume eater or someone who needs a lot of food to feel full, I recommend doubling up on your vegetables.

And Really simple tells you what to keep in mind when ordering: While menus can vary by location, steamed vegetables or anything not deep-fried or drenched in sauce (like black pepper chicken or grilled teriyaki chicken) is usually a good option. Choose healthy order, Bruno chooses bowls with a side dish (you can do half and half to combine dishes) and an appetizer. If you’re hungrier, go for a plate.

Daily meal suggests, if you’re going there for dinner, you can always forgo the orange chicken and steer yourself towards healthier options, black pepper Angus steak, super greens and brown rice. These side dishes in particular may come as a surprise to those who have been ordering chow mein as a side dish for years. Panda Express has really upped the ante with items like the aforementioned super vegetables, which are typically a kale, cabbage and steamed broccoli stir-fry.

3. Wendys sour cream and chive baked potato

A baked potato is definitely a healthier choice than French fries, and Wendys offers that option. Wendys Baked Fries with Sour Cream and Chives can be satisfying and healthy, as long as you add just a touch of sour cream, says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, author of the article. A first-time mom’s pregnancy cookbook and Increasing male fertility. Baked potatoes are a natural source of vitamin C, fiber and potassium, and chives add serious flavor with very few calories, reports. Eat this, not that!

baked potato with butter and chives, sour cream on a red base
Wendy’s baked potato (photo Wendy’s)

And Food Network says: Whether you’re stopping in for a snack or a small meal, Wendys baked potatoes are always a good option. Sour cream and chives is a classic combination and a nice comfort food on the go.

4. McDonalds Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

At McDonalds, you can enjoy more than sausage biscuits for breakfast.SFGATE recommends fruit and maple oatmeal: Whole grain oatmeal for breakfast is a healthy choice to start your day. This McDonalds oatmeal contains diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins and comes with or without brown sugar.

black bowl of oatmeal with fruit
(Photo by McDonald’s)

Parade consulted a nutritionist, and she also chose oatmeal: for 320 calories, you get 4 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and you can save 30 calories if you skip the sugar. An incredibly delicious and nutritious shortcut, says Sylvia Klinger, DBA, MS, RDregistered dietitian and owner of Hispanic Food Communications.

5. Subway No Bready Bowl

Finally, the last place on the list goes to Subway. This chain has marketed itself as a fresh, healthy alternative to fast food, so it’s no surprise that it made the list. However, it is the closest option to the salad recommended by experts.

three bowls with meat and vegetables
Subway’s “No Bready Bowl” (photo by Subway)

This was originally launched in January 2021 as a protein bowl and was rebranded in late 2021. This is basically a sub sandwich served in a bowl inside the bread. This would be an excellent fast food healthy lunch or dinner option for those on the go. There are many combos for a low-carb No Bready Bowl. I usually use soup chicken and modify the veggie pile by adding an optional avocado for extra flavor and healthy fat, says The Wellness.

Health line also recommends without bread: You can also skip the bread completely and get a chicken breast salad and plenty of fresh vegetables.

There are definitely even more healthy options out there! And so many fast food restaurants are happy to customize your order. Leave us a comment and let us know your favorite healthy choice for when you’re on the go.

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