Healthy Fast Food Diet Choices

A burrito from one of the fresh Mexican grills is my choice for the best tasting and healthiest fast food around, but you wouldn’t want to order yours looking like this. Find out what else you can eat and how to order your burrito that will save your waistline.

It’s a fact of life today that too many people rely on a fast food diet to keep them going. The demands of time, screaming kids, and sometimes outright laziness,  get us going up to the drive through window way more often than is nutritionally prudent. What if I told you that you could maintain your fast food lifestyle, but live a healthier one as well? It’s true, you can do just that! Here are some healthy fast food choices that make it possible.

Healthy Fast Food Choice Numero Uno

If you read my post on Quick and Easy Weight Loss Tips earlier this month you will have already been introduced to my favorite healthy fast food, the fresh Mexican grill style burrito, preferably eaten naked (the burrito, not you). That means that you order the thing in a bowl, sans tortilla. Tortillas are made primarily from one of the banes of your existence if you are trying to lose weight, white flour. They are between 275 and 425 calories, depending on the size, so you can see how avoiding them will put quite a dent in your calorie count. While Qdoba calls the zero tortilla option “Naked”, Chipolte Mexican Grill prefers the more pedestrian term “burrito bowl”.

Why do I like the fresh Mexican grill as a place to get fast food? Well as the name implies, the ingredients are whole and fresh, plus they are cooked to drain off much of the saturated fat. The same can’t be said for many of the menu items found at your local Wendy’s or McDonald’s, can  it? That’s not to say those restaurants don’t have some healthy food choices too, and I’ll get to some of them in a minute. It wouldn’t mean much if the fresh Mex food didn’t taste fantastic, but oh, it does!

You can do some minor menu modifications to improve the health quotient even further when selecting your burrito. I already mentioned the wisdom of ordering it naked in such a way that won’t command stares from the other patrons. Something else you can do is to eliminate the scourge of white rice, by substituting beans. The food already comes with beans, but most places give you a choice of 3 different kinds; black, whole pinto, or re-fried. You can have both black and whole pinto beans instead of beans and rice.

Healthy Fast Food Choices : BurritoBowls

At Chipolte Mexican Grill, you can get a burrito bowl, but at Q-doba, you can order it naked!

Another way to make your burrito even healthier is to forgo any kind of fatty sauce. One popular choice is queso sauce, but it is not on the weight loss plan, so go with pico de gillo or verde instead. They are much healthier choices and taste great. One more thing; when they ask if you want sour cream, just say no. The sour cream is about 120 calories, and loaded with saturated fat. Your waist line will thank you for it. About the only downside to any of these fresh Mex places is that they don’t have drive throughs.

Chipolte Mexican Grill uses naturally raised chicken and about 25% of their beans are organically grown. As an added bonus, Chipolte even has an ordering app for your i-Phone. Could it get any easier?

Healthy Fast Food Choice 2 – Sandwiches

Just because I love fresh mex burritos doesn’t mean you will, and besides, a little variety never hurt anyone. Maybe you could stop in and visit Jared’s place. After all, he lost hundreds of pounds eating Subway sandwiches, maybe you could lose a few pounds by eating there too. As with just about any food, making some judicious choices when they ask you what on it will go a long way toward determining the ultimate healthiness factor.

One bad thing about subs is that they have comparatively large amounts of bread, which is something that you should steer clear of if you’re trying to lose weight. You won’t be able to do that with a sub sandwich, so at least order the whole grain, instead of sourdough or white. It’s marginally better as weight loss food, due to the extra fiber content and added nutrition found in the whole grain flour.

The meat you choose can make a big difference in the success of your weight loss program as well. For example, getting the 6 inch turkey breast sandwich instead of the chicken breast will have you downing only 280 calories, instead of 320. Tuna may be really healthy, but after you mix all the stuff with it that they use to make a sandwich, it is decidedly less so.

How Many Calories???

The 6in tuna is a whopping 520 calories, almost twice (okay, so I took some liberties with the math on that one) what you’ll be eating by choosing the turkey breast. The tuna does have about 30% more protein than the turkey, however, but also about 6 times the saturated fat. Again, it’s not the tuna itself, but what goes in the mix with it that does that. Skip the 12in and get the 6in sandwiches, unless you’re going to save half for later, in which case it is a pretty good value if you choose one of the popular $5.00 foot longs.

Healthy Fast Food Choice 3 –  Salads from the drive through, but it’s all in how you tweak them.

Salads can be really good for you, but too many times, that’s not the way they come out of the drive through window. There are some relatively good for you fast food salads, and you can often tweak them to make them even better.

Case in point, the Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken® Salad with Grilled Chicken Fillet. Out of the chute, this treat has 540 calories, and 31 grams of sugar. Not quite as healthy as you thought, huh? With a few small changes, we can turn this salad around and make it much better for you and your weight loss program.

One simple substitution and a small deletion, and you’ll be on a much better path. First, substitute the oriental dressing that it comes with for some vinaigrette then lose the crispy noodles. The result of these changes is that your formerly 540 calorie delight now has only 430 calories. To top it off, it has only 19 grams of sugar, down from 31 grams.

Before you congratulate yourself too much however, take a look at what is in the chicken, besides the bird itself. How about sugar, disodium idosinate, disodium guanylate, dextrose, artificial flavors? Is there any room in there for the chicken? With all those disodiums in there, it’s no wonder that the salad contains more than a full gram of sodium, even with the two changes. Without them, there’d be even more.

Healthy Fast Food Choices : Salads

Here is McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad. If you order it with grilled chicken, it passes for a healthy meal, and it doesn’t taste half bad either

How does a different salad selection stack up against the Wendy’s contender? Looking at another popular choice, the McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, this first thing that jumps out is that it has 100 calories less than the Wendy’s offering, at only 330. Saturated fat for the Mickey D’s salad is a fairly healthy 3 grams, and it has 30 grams of both carbs and protein. Protein wise, it’s about the same as the Wendy’s salad, which has 29 grams of protein. Only 11 grams of carbs come from sugars, however, so that it is probably a better choice for those of us trying to cut back on refined sugar and simple carbohydrates(and that should be everybody).

Healthy Fast Food Choice 4 – Grilled Chicken Sandwiches, but which ones?

You guessed it, it’s the ubiquitous chicken burger. Actually, a grilled chicken breast on a whole wheat bun isn’t half bad, either for you, or tasting. Don’t let them bamboozle you with one of those fried chicken breast patties. That doesn’t count as healthy fare, even though is is chicken. The deep frying and the breading kill any healthy aspirations it may have.

Just how healthy is an honest to goodness grilled chicken burger? Just about every restaurant has one, but not all of them come on whole wheat buns, which are a healthier choice than are the plain, white bread buns used by others.

One of the best is The Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich from Chick-fil-A. It sports a whole wheat bun and is only 300 calories with only half a gram of saturated fat! It complements that with 27 grams of protein and 33 grams of carbohydrates (10 of which is from sugars), courtesy of the bun, BBQ sauce and two tomato slices contained within. You can make these a staple of your diet, and if you leave off the BBQ sauce, you’ll eliminate 90 calories and almost all the sugar. That means thae sandwich would have only 210 calories and 1 gram of sugar. One problem with Chick-fil-A is that you can travel far and wide without spotting one. Their presence is limited, and in many states, nonexistent.

Healthy Fast Food Choices : Chili

Just about nothing beats chili, too bad Wendy’s doesn’t have lena turkey or chicken chili like Taco Time.

Healthy Fast Food Choice 5– Baked Potato and chili at Wendys

Sure it’s loaded with carbs, something I usually recommend cutting back on significantly. If you eat the outside skin, a baked potato is full of goodness, and it’s cheap, which is a solid attribute in this day and age. Just one caveat, no bacon, sour cream and cheese. I can hear you complaining now “So what the heck am I supposed to put on it then?” Well, chili, of course.

A small Wendy’s chili is only 190 calories and has 14 grams of protein with 2.5 grams of saturated fat. Just the thing to pour on a protein deficient spud. Order just the bare, baked spud, without all that stuffed nonsense, and you can be out of there with a good, filling lunch for only $2.00.

Any way you slice it, the combo has a lot of carbs, about 80 grams total, so don’t have this for dinner or whatever you call your late meal. The two combined have 460 calories, with 70% of your USRDA of vitamin C and 30% of your iron. How’s that for healthy eating on a budget?

If you live in the northwest, don’t forget to check out Taco Time’s chicken chili. It tastes good, and has only 98 calories, but packs 9 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fat. Not that fat is bad, but you need to get it from the right sources.

NOTE: If You have Taco Time in your neck of the woods, they may have white chicken chili. This is delicious, and actually good for you. Downside? This is not available everywhere.

Healthy Fast Food Choice 6 – Burgers?

Sometimes you just gotta have a burger; a real burger, not one of those chicken burger poseurs. On those days, what should you be eating, if you’re trying to stay on the healthy side of the fence? One burger you should run away from of it ever gets anywhere close to you is the Wendy’s Baconator Triple. That even sounds like an artery clogger, and some things are just as they appear.

The Baconator Triple probably is a culinary orgasm, but at what cost? Well one of these ¾ lb beauties will infuse you with a robust 1,330 calories. That’s about ½ of your entire day’s allowance if you’re a 200lb man who is relatively active. It greases you up with 38 grams of saturated fat and over 3 full grams of sodium for good measure.

Now that you’ve seen what you shouldn’t eat, here are some better burger choices, when you’re caught in a must have burger situation.

First, let’s compare some popular quarter pounders, all without cheese –


Sat fat

Quarter Pounder
Dairy Queen
Classic Grillburger
Jack n the Box
Jumbo Jack
Burger King

You’ll note that none of these burgers could be confused with anything truly healthy (even if you leave the tomato slice on). Here’s something you can do; leave the mayo off the Whopper. Do that, and it drops from 670 calories down to 520, and out of first place. It’s saturated fat content dips to 9 grams, from 11.

These can’t hold a candle to buffalo burgers, however. The downside to bison patties is that you won’t find them at any of the big name fast food places that I’m aware of. You can find them in many smaller and mom and pop fast food joints strewn throughout the U.S. When you do, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious burger that is lower in fat and tastes great too.

One more thing:

I’m exceedingly lucky in that I hate mayonnaise. It just makes my skin crawl and stomach turn, so I order everything without it. That helps keep things healthy, because many fast food restaurants slather their offerings with enough mayo to lube up a porn star convention. Mayonnaise is just about all fat, and not the healthy kind, either. It adds plenty of calories to your meal, so if you can convince yourself that it plain tastes terrible, ask them to please hold the mayo.

It should go without saying, but do the same for the fries. There may be a way around that, though. If you can find them, substitute sweet potato fries for regular French fries. They are much healthier. Sweet potato fries have 4 times the protein, one tenth the fat, and about one fourth the carbs of traditional spud-based fries, like you’ll find at the major fast food chains. My kids love ’em, and they don’t even know they are good for you!

Leave your healthy fast food favorites in a comment to let others know about them too.