When you visit your favorite fast food restaurant, the menu items are familiar, the menu board is easy to read, and the fare is -- about what you expect. That goes for your friendly neighborhood drive-through as well as its clone halfway across the country in a town you've never even heard of. That's pretty consistent. It's also pretty scary when you consider the fat-laden, sodium-rich and calorie-packed offerings a lot of these chains are serving up to millions of Americans every day.
If you want to eat healthier without giving up your fast food habit, there are some low-cal, low-fat options out there that are still flavorful and filling. These 10 healthy fast food menu items taste great, so ordering one of them instead of your usual diet-busting indulgence will be less of a sacrifice.
With six grams of fat or less, these sandwiches are tasty and good for you. Just watch out for the added fatty extras, like mayonnaise and oil. Use mustard instead, and layer on the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Turkey Breast (6-inch)- 280 Calories, 3.5 grams total fat (1.0 gram of saturated fat) and 910 mg of sodium.
- Roast Beef (6-inch) - 310 Calories, 4.5 grams total fat (1.5 grams of saturated fat) and 840 mg of sodium.
- Oven Roasted Chicken (6-inch)- 320 Calories, 4.5 grams total fat (1.5 grams of saturated fat) and 750 mg of sodium.
Sometimes you've just got to have Chinese food, and finding an entree that's low in fat and sodium can be a challenge when you demand some flavor in your rice bowl. Panda Express broccoli chicken has a skinny 180 calories. With six grams of total fat and 650 mg of sodium, it's a heart- smart option that will give you a painless serving of broccoli too.
Breakfast on the road can be a dieter's nightmare. When you need more than a cup of bracing coffee to meet the day's challenges, try this fluffy egg white sandwich and a cup of java to go. This breakfast sandwich is an impressively light 280 calories, with 6 grams of total fat and 820 mg of sodium. One of Dunkin' Donuts' "DDSmart" menu options, it's a tasty way to greet the day.
We like this Asian-inspired sandwich from Blimpie's lighter menu because it has loads of flavor and fresh ingredients. With 7 grams of total fat in a 370 calorie package, we couldn't resist this one even though it has 1,090 mg of sodium. It's the soy sauce that makes it moderately more salty, but oh-so-good.
We love this chubby handful of soft taco goodness because it's so lean and flavorful that -- dare we say it -- you might even order two. At 170 calories, 4 grams of total fat each (1.5 grams of saturated fat) and 740 mg sodium, this yummy taco wins the pinata prize for the yummiest, guilt- free Mexican lunch munch. Look for it on Taco Bell's Drive-Thru Diet menu.
While the kids are enjoying their Happy Meals, why not try a premium grilled chicken classic? Served on a honey-wheat roll, this relatively low-cal sandwich will cost you 370 calories, 4.5 grams of total fat and 1,100 mg of sodium. It isn't the best option out there, but if you're going to McDonald's anyway, it's a solid choice. Just remember to pass on the mayo.
Chick-fil-A knows how to cook a chicken, and you'll have a better appreciation for fowl when you try a melt-in-your-mouth, moist, chargrilled chicken sandwich. What's the damage? Coming in at around 300 calories, 3.5 grams of total fat and 1,120 mg of sodium, it's a low-fat treat that's somewhat higher in sodium than we'd like but still doable. Just have a fruit cup or salad instead of waffle fries on the side.
We couldn't create a list of fast food options without including a bona fide burger in it somewhere. The Whopper Jr. isn't in the same league as a salad for sure, but for a burger it isn't too bad. At 340 calories, 20 grams of total fat and 650 mg of sodium, it's about as good as a flavorful, bad boy burger gets. Oh, we'd better mention that those 20 grams of fat include 5 grams of saturated fat and 0.5 grams of trans fat. When you compare it to its big brothers, the Whopper Jr. looks positively wholesome. Just keep in mind that it's a reduced-guilt option rather than a totally guilt free choice.
If you haven't heard about Kentucky Fried Chicken's new grilled chicken options, you've probably been in a coma. Walking on the unfried side of KFC's menu can be a good way to cut the fat for the whole family. Compared to regular recipe chicken, the grilled alternative may look more petite without all that breading, but it has big flavor just the same. A grilled chicken breast boasts 190 calories, 6 grams of total fat (1.5 grams saturated fat) and 550 mg of sodium. With a side of green beans at 20 calories, you can have a finger licking good lunch without a pang of self-reproach.
It may not be your first choice, but salad is filling, crunchy, zesty, high in fiber and low in fat (if you dress it right). There are some things to watch out for, though. Some cagey operators offer salads packed with fried meats, cheeses and fatty dressings. Before you buy, check the menu carefully to see exactly what you're getting. Pass on the added meat if it's breaded and fried, and opt for dressing on the side or choose a non-fat option. Better yet, lose the dressing altogether. We're not suggesting that you go for the greens every time you eat out, but an occasional salad for lunch is a great way to reduce your calorie intake, bulk up on fiber and watch the fat.
Here are a couple of our favorites:
- Wendy's Chicken Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast (no salad dressing added) - With about 250 calories and 7 grams of total fat, it'll satisfy your meat craving and give you a rewarding veggie crunch. You'll feel righteous and replete.
- Burger King Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad (no salad dressing added) - 270 calories and 9 grams of fat. If you like cheese, this tasty mouthful has three varieties to offer. It raises the fat count but might just make it easier to forget you aren't ladling on the dressing.
HowStuffWorks looks at the new FDA-mandated food nutrition labels.
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