Fast Food Nutrition Info: Which Items are Healthy?

Fast Food Nutrition Info: Which Items are Healthy?

Are there really healthy items to find when you scrutinize fast food nutrition info? Since it's cool to be green and healthy right now, lots of fast food restaurants are trying to cash in on the trend with low-fat, lite options on their menus. But healthy doesn't just mean "lite." It also means low in fat and sodium, high in unprocessed ingredients and not too high in calories. Don't let them confuse you with buzz words.

Determining What is Healthy

Without a registered dietician at your beck-and-call, the task of finding healthy items on a fast food menu can seem daunting. Your eyes immediately flash to the terms "lite," "low-" and "reduced" and pretty soon you're not sure what to choose. But with a few key pointers, you'll be able to scan for the best choices and make a "healthier" selection.

Healthy is:

  • Grilled, broiled or baked proteins
  • Salads with lots of colorful veggies and low-fat dressing on the side
  • Whole grain breads and pastas
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Lean, unprocessed deli meats
  • Low in unsaturated fats.

What's Disguised as Healthy But Isn't

In many cases, the lite menu of a fast food restaurant contains choices that start healthy, but end unhealthily--beware! For example, not all salads are healthy.

Salads with fried proteins, chips and heavily applied dressing are loaded with fat and calories, but limited in nutrition.

Deli sandwiches are advertised as fresh and healthy, but can be packed with processed meats, fattening condiments and white flour breads.

Yogurt parfaits boast calcium and lots of fresh fruit, but can also have high sugar granola, high fat dairy products and sugary fruits.

Chicken sandwiches are a popular diet selection. But if the chicken is fried, prepared with mayo and served on a white flour roll, the unhealthy fat, cholesterol, sodium and processed flour far outweighs the lean protein nutrition.

Some Healthy Suggestions

There very best way to zero in on the healthiest selections (on any fast food menu) is to do your homework ahead of time, and check the nutritional labels on the food at your favorite restaurants. In addition, there are lots of online guides that you can download for free (to compare nutritional options). As a matter of fact, there are even national, non-profit websites that provide useful information on special dietary concerns like heart health, diabetes and even weight loss. 

But if you want less homework, there are some restaurants that are known for focusing on natural, high quality food that is nutritious. You can patronize those establishments for more healthy choices, and use the "determining what is healthy" tips above to make the best choice for you. 

Some restaurants that have a reputation for high quality, natural food selections include:

  • Panera Bread
  • Jason's Deli
  • Noodles and Company
  • Chipotle

When it comes to fast food, be skeptical of any "healthy" labels. After all, fast food was created for speed not quality. Look for the most nutritious items, portion control your selection and don't be afraid to "undress" your choice, or ask for a special order if it comes with unhealthy items you want to avoid.