9 Foods Nutritionists Never Order at Fast Food Restaurants
You may still find your way to a drive-through occasionally, but you’ll probably never look at a fast food menu the same way again.
Fast food restaurants have a bad reputation when it comes to nutritional value—and for good reason. “The burritos at Chipotle are a humongous calorie bomb,” says Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN, clinical registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center. Not only are you eating an abundance of calories, but you’re pushing sodium that’s greater than your entire recommended daily intake. In fact, one carnitas burrito has 1,350 calories and 2,590 milligrams of sodium (current recommendations are 2,300 milligrams a day). And it’s not the ingredients themselves that are too terrible for you, it’s the large quantities of rice and meats like the carnitas drenched in salty seasonings that overload your meal with carbs, calories, fat, and sodium. Instead, Romano swaps out the burrito for a burrito bowl with half a serving of brown rice, half a serving of beans, grilled chicken, and a small serving of tomato salsa, which cuts your calories down to just 400! And try to skip the guac, which adds an additional 230 calories to your meal.
Nutritionists usually avoid selecting pastries and baked goods like muffins at fast food joints because they’re packed with bad fats like saturated fats, a major contributor to heart disease. When Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and co-creator of the weight loss program, 2B Mindset, needs a quick breakfast pick-me-up at Starbucks, she never orders the apple bran muffin. “Bran, matcha, and chai are buzzy words that people immediately associate as being healthy,” says Muhlstein. “It’s so deceiving because they’re typically not.” In fact, the apple bran muffin has more fat and calories than the plain bagel at Starbucks. If you love muffins, you’ll want to try these healthy muffin recipes.
Those hazelnut frappuccinos at Starbucks may be your daily morning fix, but nutritionists make sure they stay away from any of the sugary, blended beverages sold at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, to name a few places. “If you buy a tall hazelnut frappuccino at Starbucks, you can drink it in under five minutes with a complete lack of satisfaction and satiation,” says Muhlstein. “It has 45 grams of carbohydrates, it’s purely added sugar and artificial ingredients.” Here’s a healthy pumpkin spice latte recipe you can make at home instead.
Foot-long Italian Subs
“Be mindful of what you’re putting on your sub,” says Romano. “I steer clear of the spicy Italian sub at Subway because of its highly saturated meats like pepperoni and salami and I don’t do any of the premix mayo-based sauces or teriyaki sauce because those sauces can be high in sugar in fat.” But the ingredients aren’t the only things you should be conscious of; you should be wary of the portion size too. A foot-long sub can be calorically dense and packed with sodium pushing 1,300 mg or more, so stick to eating six inches one day and save the other half for the next. Another tip: ask them to scoop out the insides of the bread. “I personally like to ask them to scoop out the bread because it takes out an entire serving of carbs and lets you get more veggies in there,” says Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, a sports dietitian in Florida. “This tip is particularly great for people who need to manage their carbs like diabetics.”
Double Beef Patty Burgers
There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a big bite out of a juicy burger, but nutritionists agree that there’s no nutritional value in eating two burger patties on one bun. “It’s just a major salt and fat explosion, which tastes good, but doesn’t serve you well for energy throughout the day,” says Braddock. For instance, the Double Whopper at Burger King has 58 grams of fat, which includes 3 grams of trans fat and 20 grams of saturated fat. Consuming an abundant amount of fat will do nothing for you but zap your energy sources for the day and expand your waistline! If Braddock ever orders a burger, she gets one at a restaurant where the ingredients are fresh and homemade. Check out these healthier plant-based fast food options to get your fix.
Nutritionists try not to waste their calories or nutrition on a milkshake and fries for dinner. A small chocolate milkshake at McDonald’s has 74 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent to eating 18 teaspoons of sugar! And that high sugar count is when the shake is made with reduced fat vanilla ice cream and light whipped cream. “We get a lot more satisfaction from chewing than we get from sipping,” says Muhlstein. “For the same amount of calories, you could probably have a burger.” Try these healthy fruit smoothies that will satiate your sweet tooth.
Fruit and yogurt parfaits
Braddock says that you’re better off making your own fruit and yogurt parfait at home than purchasing one at Starbucks or McDonald’s because the plain yogurts they use are sometimes high in added sugars, even if they’re lowfat. The Fresh Blueberries and Honey Greek Yogurt Parfait at Starbucks contains 29 grams of sugar to be exact. Here are some greek yogurt breakfast ideas you can make at home instead.
Fried Chicken Sandwich
You may think that ordering a chicken sandwich is the healthier option than ordering a burger at a fast food restaurant, but once you deep fry it, you can kiss its reputation for “lean, mean protein” goodbye. Braddock almost never orders the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich. “It’s very greasy and I feel like I’m greasy after I eat it,” she says. “It’s also high in sodium at 1,350 milligrams, which can make you retain water and feel puffy.” Nutritionist Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, CLT and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cutting off the breading for a healthier take on the signature Chick-fil-A classic.
Burgers with the bun
“Never waste your time with a bun—it’s an easy way to reduce the fat and calories,” says Muhlstein. “If I eat a burger, I take off the top bun at least because an open face is a happy face!” Most buns you find at fast food places are made from nothing but flour, high fructose corn syrup, and tons of additives that you can’t pronounce. Muhlstein says that bread should only contain three key ingredients: flour, water, yeast, but the ingredient list for fast food buns can go on forever. Check out the healthiest kinds of bread you can eat without feeling guilty.
- Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN, clinical registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center
- Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and co-creator of the weight loss program, 2B Mindset
- Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, a sports dietitian in Florida
- Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, CLT nutritionist, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Chipotle: "Nutrition Calculator"
- Starbucks: "Hazelnut Frappuccino Blended Coffee"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- Starbucks: "Apple Bran Muffin"
- Starbucks: "Plain Bagel"
- Subway: "Spicy Italian Sub"
- Burger King: "Burger King USA Nutritionals"
- Medline Plus: "Facts About Saturated Fats"
- McDonald's: "Nutrition Calculator"
- Starbucks: "Fresh Blueberries and Honey Greek Yogurt Parfait"
- Chick-fil-A: "Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich"