healthy fast food options

Fast food options are the quickest way to bring relief to growling stomachs. However, these food choices can lead to an increase in health problems. According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), every 1 in 3 individuals and 2 in 5 adults are overweight or obese. 

Considering the growing population of obese and overweight individuals, healthy fast food options have gained traction.  To make the most of the available choices, you must be cautious in ordering snacks and meals. 

But how? Here you’ll learn about the healthy options at fast food chains. 

Can there be healthy options at a fast food chain? 

With loads of sodium, fat, and calories, it seems like an impossible task to find a healthy fast food option. In addition, these food choices are really low in nutrients, causing an imbalance in your diet. The combination of low nutrient-high calories leaves less scope to pick a healthy option. 

But you can do it. The primary element that must be kept in mind is moderation. If you're keeping a tab on your weight, low-calorie fast food choices can satisfy your hunger pangs. 

Here’s how you should go about it! 

1. 500 calories or less 

Every meal at a fast food restaurant comprises half of a person's daily calorie requirement. It's wise to keep a close watch on the nutritional information of the items you're aiming to eat healthy options at a fast food chain. Generally, you can find such details on the website of the food outlet. For instance, McDonald's offers a nutrition calculator to check your carb and calorie intake.  

2. High in protein foods 

Making a healthy choice at a fast food restaurant can be like finding the most cost-efficient items at Walmart. You might have to invest significantly to understand which ingredients are healthier in a particular dish. The healthiest fast food options at such outlets will be the ones low in calories but rich in macronutrients like protein. 

On top of this, you must steer clear of trans fat to get a more nutritious meal. 

3. Low in Sodium 

Every 1 in 5 fast food meals exceeds the daily prescribed sodium levels as per the Food and Drug Administration. To keep the nutritional intake balanced and heart healthy, it's essential to limit the sodium intake. The problem is that it can get tricky to restrict consumption to 2300 mg when you want healthy snacks at a fast food chain. 

The easiest way to achieve this is by controlling your consumption beforehand. Plan your food schedule and eat less sodium before venturing out. 

4. Go high in greens 

The most convenient method to incorporate healthy eating at a fast food restaurant is ensuring increased portions of greens. Whether you're choosing a salad or a side dish, vegetables are fantastic for fulfilling your fiber requirements. Choose the options which contain high-protein ingredients like chicken. 

Keep in mind not to include high-fat dressings and deep-fried toppings in your salad. 

5. Opt for grilled choices 

The difference between fried and grilled chicken is approximately 160 calories. That's to say, in a 3.5-ounce friend breast, you will consume 320 calories, but the grilled version will only fill you up with 160 calories. 

As delicious as deep-fried food items, they're far from being healthy and active. Grilling helps in caloric reduction from edible items by dripping off the fat. Additionally, it also aids in preventing nutritional loss due to low-temperature cooking. 

6. Avoid high-calorie drinks 

One of the most common sights at a fast food diner is the presence of beverages along with food plates. Not only are these choices harmful to your heart, but they also prevent weight loss

A single can of soft drinks like Cola contains 140 calories. According to USDA, American residents consume approximately 18% of their daily caloric budget through beverages. These beverages also lack any nutritional components, making them even more harmful. 

By restricting the intake of ‘empty’ calories, you can turn your on-the-go foods into the best healthy fast food option.  

7. Pay attention to the descriptions 

Quite often, restaurants mention the overall calories available in a meal on their menus. To avoid overindulging in unhealthy fast food options, you must go through the caloric details before ordering meals. 

How to Get Healthy Fast Food Options at Different Chains?

If you're keen to know about the alternatives to regular fast food choices, pay close attention to total carbs, salt, sugar, and fat constituents. Here are some healthy fast food choices you must consider in your snacking routine to maintain health and demand for taste. 

1. Burger Joints 

A single burger meal can take up your daily caloric intake by 400 calories. That's about a burger. The side platter of fries and coke can notch up the caloric intake by 800 calories. To keep the fat down and calories low, you must keep a watch on portion size and burger accompaniments. 

Don’t get Do get
Cheeseburger with double patty Regular hamburger without cheese
French fries Baked potato
Fried chicken nuggets Grilled chicken
Milkshake or Coke Yogurt parfait

2. Chicken Restaurants  

The main culprit behind making protein-rich chicken a fast food is the high amount of sodium. Additionally, each chicken part varies in calories. For instance, breasts and thighs are loaded with calories. 

You can refer to these substitutes to make your chicken meals healthy at a fast food restaurant. 

Don’t get Do get
Fried chicken Skinless chicken 
Chicken popcorn Barbecued chicken
Fried chicken in a sandwich Grilled chicken sandwich
Extra gravy A small portion of gravy

3. Sandwich Options 

While sandwiches are healthy options at a fast food chain, people end up eating bigger portion sizes per meal. It is because people feel less guilty about having these healthy meals, so they overdo it. 

But you can control your intake with only a few substitutions recommended by nutrition experts. 

Don’t get Do get
Foot-long sub 6-inch sub
White bread Whole grain bread
Extra mayo dip Go easy on condiments
Calorie heavy sauces Low-fat dressing

4. Breakfast Outlets 

Do you want to consume an entire day’s worth of fat and sodium in the morning only?

If your answer was no, breakfast alternatives must be in your mind. Look for a few substitutes in your meal, such as: 

  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Chia Seeds 
  • Oatmeal
  • Berries or any fruits 
  • Cottage cheese 
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Nuts 
  • Protein shakes 

The key to making your breakfast options healthy and delicious is the richness of protein and fiber in your meals. Make the following changes to your breakfast: 

Don’t get Do get
Donut/ Pastry Bran Muffin
Smoothie Granola in yogurt with fruits 
French toast with Nutella Oatmeal
Bagel with cream cheese English muffin with low-fat butter

To Conclude 

Swearing off a fast food outlet isn't sustainable for health-conscious individuals. However, keeping your portion size fixed and getting healthy substitutes is way easier. 

That’s to say, any meal can be turned into a healthy fast food option if you're willing to pay attention to its calorie and nutritional aspects. Your aim must be to acquire every nutrient in a caloric budget while having meals at a fast food restaurant.

So, from now on, you can relish your favorite meal on the go by adding your preferences to the food choices. Guilt-free! 


1. What are the easily available fast food options at a restaurant? 

Ans: The most commonly served fast food choices at an outlet include hamburgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, ice cream, french fries, sandwiches, and salads. 

2. Do you believe fast food can be considered healthy? 

Ans: Fast food can be converted into healthy variants with lesser inclusion of high fat and calories dense elements. For instance, a hamburger with a deep-fried cheese patty can be substituted with a whole wheat sandwich with vegetables on the side and low-fat dressing. 

3. What should be the calorie limit for healthy fast food options? 

Ans: Due to the high fat and sodium percentage, every meal at a fast food outlet can exceed the daily caloric intake. Additionally, the lack of adequate nutrients makes it difficult for the consumer to get all the essentials through fast food meals. That's why limiting caloric intake to 500 calories is crucial to make room for nutrition-dense meals. 

4. Which is the healthier fast food option – grilled chicken sandwiches and hamburger patties?

Ans: Grilled chicken is a healthier option at a fast food outlet than a hamburger patty. Most restaurant servings of grilled chicken contain less than 50-60% calories and lower fat proportions by 90%. 

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Oliver Nelson

Oliver Nelson is a New York based Health Specialist Writer who completed his graduation from Syracuse University back in 2015. His writings were published in the top Healthcare brands in the United States.

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