Community Nutrition · Topic of the Week

Topic of the Week: Fast Food

This week has been jam packed with stuff and I woke up this morning feeling really worn out.  I only had a half day today and I was extremely thankful to be able to come home, go on a run, settled into some comfy clothes, and work in my room for hours with no distractions.

I unintentionally took on a fairly hefty project for this rotation that I was able to finish up this evening.  The hospital I’m at has a handout they give patients who come to out-patient counseling that talks about “better” choices at fast food restaurants.  The current handout is two years old and needed some revisions.  My process for making the revisions was not the best which is what contributed to the large amount of time it took, but I have a spreadsheet all ready to go to send off to marketing tomorrow so they can make it all fancy and my outpatient preceptor can start using it.

Basically, I scoured the nutrition information for 8 popular chain restaurants and picked out the better options at those restaurants.  My criteria was that they have <17 grams of total fat, <5 grams of saturated fat, <60 grams of carbohydrate, and <1000 mg of sodium.  I realize these criteria may not be ideal and that in general we should be aiming for lower fat, carb, and sodium content in foods, but it’s fast food guys.  It’s not health food.

At some point dietitians have to be prepared to meet people in the middle.  Not everyone who comes in for nutrition counseling is going to cook for themselves so if they’re going to eat fast food, the best thing we can do is provide them with the information to make the best choices they can make.

That’s my opinion at least….

If you are interested, here is my complete list of Better Choices at Fast Food Restaurants.

I thought it might be fun to talk about my personal top pick at every restaurant….

So here it goes!


Personally, this is at the bottom of my list is you want anything remotely healthy.  There’s just not much to an Arby’s sandwich.  If I had to chose something, it would be the Jr. Roast Beef.



210 calories, 8 grams total fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat, 530 mg sodium, 22 grams carb, 1 gram fiber

Nothing horrible, nothing remarkable.

It would be nice to see a little lettuce thrown on there, maybe a tomato…but that’s just me.

Baja Fresh

Baja Fresh’s downfall is their enormous portion sizes.  Literally everything on their menu, minus their tacos, was off the charts.  If you’re going to eat here, split your food between multiple people or multiple meals.  If you’re dining in, ask for  a to go box with your food and split it before you even start eating! Less temptation that way.

If I was trying to go for the best option, I would have the Shrimp Original Baja Tacos.

For one taco: 200 calories, 5 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 280 mg sodium, 28 grams carb, 2 grams fiber.

I chose this not only because of it’s respectable nutrition profile, but also because only a small percentage of American’s eat the recommended two seafood servings a week.

Burger King

If you’re going to Burger King, most likely you want a Whopper.  So why not a Whopper Jr. without mayo?



24o calories, 10 grams of total fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 410 mg of sodium, 27 grams of carb, 1 gram of fiber.

The simple hamburger has almost identical nutrition information but lacks the lettuce and tomato, so I say if you’re going to eat a burger, eat this.  It is still a hamburger though, it’s got a lot of fat.

Everything in moderation!


Dun dun dunnnn

Guys, I can’t lie, I do enjoy McDonald’s from time to time.  I was very thankful to see that my go to items when I go there are on my list.

I don’t eat here frequently.  Let me make that clear.

However, if I do, this is what I would get:

Egg White Delight



25o calories, 7 grams of fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 770 mg sodium, 30 grams of carb, 4 grams of fiber.

McDonald’s is usually a go to breakfast stop for me when I’m making the long trip back to California to visit my family or driving back to Oregon after  a visit.  I usually eat on the road since I leave so early. I know I would be much better with a bowl of oatmeal, but sometimes you just have to treat yourself a little.

Grilled Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap



250 calories, 8 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 670 mg sodium, 27 grams carb, 1 gram fiber.

On the rare occasion I stop at McDonald’s for something other than breakfast, I get one of these.  I like them.


This, surprisingly, also made it on my list of places not to go.  If you’re looking for low fat food here, you are practically limited to soup. Or the kid’s menu.

Sadly, I’m not exaggerating.

I was able to find one sandwich that is acceptable! A small size Honey Bourbon Chicken Grilled Flatbread.



290 calories, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 780 mg sodium, 43 grams carb, 2 grams fiber.

Honestly, I was disappointed to find that this was about the only thing they had to offer.  Step it up Quizno’s!


Let’s this say they put their sandwich competitor to shame.  There are too many things on this menu to even choose one.  Basically, choose a classic sandwich, 6″ size, and don’t add mayo or cheese. You’re golden!

Taco Bell

Oh the faithful drunk food.

Go Fresco style here if possible.  If the pico de gallo isn’t your thing (it isn’t mine) then the next best option would be a chicken soft taco.



160 calories, 5 grams total fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat, 480 mg sodium, 16 grams carb, 2 grams fiber.


This is another menu with slim pickings.  Not surprising but again, slightly disappointing. The Ultimate Chicken Grill appears to be the best choice here.



370 calories, 7 grams total fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 880 mg sodium, 43 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber.

BOTTOM LINE: I am in no way encouraging you to go eat fast food.  The best way to eat healthy is to prepare your own food as often as possible and limit fast food to an occasional thing.

I know that there are many circumstances that make fast food the only feasible option and if that is the case, I hope you take the time to really look over the nutrition information provided by the restaurant and take it into consideration when ordering.

Now go make smart choices!


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