Are You Being Fooled By “Healthy” Fast Food Options?

We are familiar with the health hazards of fast food (or at least I hope so!). But what do you choose when stuck at a fast food restaurant? 

The answers may surprise you, as they can be a departure from the “healthy” choices at home:

 

1. Burger King

Hamburger OR Premium Alaskan fish sandwich? 

CHOOSE: Hamburger. Although the unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids present in fish are preferable to the saturated fat in red meat, in this case, the hamburger has less than half of the calories of the fish sandwich, about ¼ of the total fat, and happens to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. Plus, the fish sandwich contains more than three times the sodium – nearly an entire day’s worth! True, the hamburger is a smaller portion size. Let’s also consider the ingredients: the burger patty contains 100% ground beef, whereas the fish patty contains preservatives/additives. If you are choosing the burger, lose half the bun, skip the cheese and add extra lettuce and tomato.

LOSE: Premium Alaskan fish sandwich 

 

Hamburger

Premium Alaskan Fish Sandwich*

Calories

240

590

Total fat (g)

8

31

Saturated fat (g)

3.5

5

Trans fat (g)

0

0

Cholesterol (mg)

30

45

Sodium (mg)

460

1480

Fiber (g)

1

3

Protein (g)

12

21

Sugar (g)

7

8

 

 

*with tartar sauce

Soft serve ice cream cup OR vanilla milkshake?

CHOOSE: Soft serve ice cream cup. 410 fewer calories, ¼ of the total fat and saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, less than ½ of the cholesterol and sodium. While the milkshake may have slightly more protein, it also has 81 grams of sugar!!

LOSE: Vanilla milkshake

 

Soft serve ice cream cup

Vanilla milkshake (12 fl oz)

Calories

140

550

Total fat (g)

4

16

Saturated fat (g)

2.5

12

Trans fat (g)

0

0.5

Cholesterol (mg)

15

40

Sodium (mg)

125

310

Fiber (g)

0

0

Protein (g)

4

10

Sugar (g)

19

81

 

2. Wendy's

Baja chili salad OR chili?

CHOOSE: Chili (small). Don’t be deceived by “salad”: it has 1920mg of sodium and 47g of fat, 17g of which is saturated fat (21% of calories – per the American Heart Association, saturated fat should contribute less than 7% of total daily calories). The small chili will still be filling, saving you 520 calories, 41g fat and 14.5g saturated fat. Plus the chili has half the sugar, and less than half of the sodium and cholesterol of the salad. The downside is the additives in the chili. You may argue that the salad offers double the fiber and protein (it is a larger volume as compared to the chili), but the chili is still a source of protein and fiber, and you can add a side of sliced apples or small salad (dress yourself with oil and lemon) for greater fiber.

LOSE: Baja chili salad

 

Chili (small)

Baja chili salad

Calories

210

730

Total fat (g)

6

47

Saturated fat (g)

2.5

17

Trans fat (g)

0

1.5

Cholesterol (mg)

40

105

Sodium (mg)

880

1920

Fiber (g)

6

13

Protein (g)

17

34

Sugar (g)

6

12

 

3. Chipotle

Salad bowl with chicken*OR steak soft tacos**?

*Contains: lettuce, chicken, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, brown rice, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, vinaigrette

**Contains: 3 soft corn tortillas, steak, fajita vegetables, lettuce, guacamole

CHOOSE: Steak soft tacos.Again, while red meat is not necessarily the best source of protein for our health, this comparison just goes to show us that ordering a salad with chicken is not always a better answer! The salad bowl has 1150 calories, 68 grams of fat and 21g of saturated fat (more than 10% of calories from saturated fat)! Check out the sodium content of the salad bowl: 2515mg, which is greater than the daily recommendation for sodium (1500-2300mg per day; varies depending upon individual health status*). However, the soft steak tacos are still high in sodium. Better yet, to decrease sodium (and saturated fat), hold the steak and instead order vegetarian soft tacos with soft corn tortillas (fill 1 -2 shells instead of 3), heavy on lettuce and black beans and include a scoop of brown rice and a little guacamole. Surprising secret sodium trap? The “fresh” tomato salsa! (470mg per 3.5 oz serving)

LOSE: Salad bowl with chicken

 

Steak soft tacos

Salad bowl with chicken

Calories

575

1150

Total fat (g)

23

68

Saturated fat (g)

4

21

Trans fat (g)

0

0

Cholesterol (mg)

65

185

Sodium (mg)

725

2515

Fiber (g)

11

23

Protein (g)

36

57

Sugar (g)

4

22

*Per The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010: “Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300mg and further reduce intake to 1,500mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.” (p.21)

 

Starbucks

Reduced-fat banana chocolate chip loaf OR KIND bar?

CHOOSE: KIND bar. Don’t be fooled by the “reduced-fat” label: this slice of cake has double the calories of the KIND bar plus an additional 500mg sodium and 41 grams of sugar! Although the KIND bar has slightly greater total fat content, most of that fat is unsaturated. The two are approximately comparable in terms of fiber and protein, but the KIND bar will keep you satiated longer due to fewer refined carbs. Not to mention, the KIND bar is plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO and made from all natural fruit and nuts.

LOSE: Reduced-fat banana chocolate chip loaf

 

KIND bar (Fruit & Nut Delight)

Reduced-fat banana choc. chip loaf

Calories

200

400

Total fat (g)

13

8

Saturated fat (g)

1.5

4.5

Trans fat (g)

0

0

Cholesterol (mg)

0

0

Sodium (mg)

10

510

Fiber (g)

3

4

Protein (g)

6

5

Sugar (g)

9

50

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Jessica Katz

Jessie is a Registered Dietitian with a nutrition counseling practice in NYC (www.jessicakatzRD.com). She is currently completing a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition at New York University. She attended Princeton University.

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