Heart Healthy Fast FoodLast updated: Feb 01, 2018
Eating at fast food restaurants is a part of weekly life for about 27% of adults.1 In a Michigan study, approximately 80% of adults went to fast-food restaurants at least once per month and 28% went more than twice each week.2 Fast-food has been associated with poor diet quality and higher fat, saturated fat, and sugar intake, which are known contributors to heart disease. Fast food is also associated with higher body mass index (BMI), weight gain, and less successful weight-loss maintenance. Since most fast foods contain highly processed meats and refined carbohydrates, they tend to be high in sodium, total fat, saturated and trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. The combination of high fat, high saturated fat, high sodium, high levels of added sugar and low amounts of fiber is a pattern that is directly opposite the guidelines for a heart-healthy diet.3 Excess sodium is an important cause of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Approximately 80% of the sodium we consume is found in processed foods and restaurant foods, including fast foods.4
Most people know that fast food isn’t a healthy choice. In one study, 68% of adults who go to fast-food restaurants stated they would choose healthier fast-food items when available, yet only 16% said they ever use nutritional information when ordering.2 Among respondents who reported going to fast-food restaurants at least once per month, the reason for choosing this type of restaurant was that it was quick and convenient (64%), followed by taste of the food (16%), sociability, and good value in terms of cost. Lunch was the meal most frequently eaten at a fast-food restaurant, followed by dinner.2
The reality is that many of us routinely choose to eat fast food. Since eating fast food more often is associated with a variety of negative health consequences including increased risk of heart disease, it makes sense to choose the healthiest options as often as possible. Use these six tips to improve the nutrition quality of fast food meals:5,6
- Choose a smaller portion. Instead of a double cheeseburger, opt for a single cheeseburger and you’ll save 130 calories, 10 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat and 360mg sodium. Instead of large fries, get the medium fries and you’ll consume almost half the calories, total fat, saturated fat and sodium.
- Choose grilled instead of fried chicken. Fried chicken is breaded and deep-fried, increasing the calories, total fat, and saturated fat.
- Skip the bacon, which adds 100 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 360mg sodium.
- Use ketchup, mustard, lettuce and tomato on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise to reduce saturated fat and calories.
- When ordering salads, choose grilled chicken instead of crispy, and use less salad dressing. You’ll save almost 200 calories and decrease the fat by half by choosing grilled instead of crispy chicken. Choose a low-calorie salad dressing or bring your own favorite low-calorie dressing.
- The calories, fat and sugar in beverages adds up quickly. A large chocolate shake contains 850 calories – more than a cheeseburger. It also packs in 122 grams of sugar which is equal to over ½ cup table sugar.
Choose from these heart-healthy options at favorite fast food restaurants:
- Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap: 350 calories, 14g fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 15g fiber, 960mg sodium
- Grilled Market Salad: 360 calories, 14g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 6g fiber, 670mg sodium
- Bonus item: Fruit cup7
El Pollo Loco
- Power Bowl: 470 calories, 15g fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 8g fiber, 650mg sodium
- Mexican Caesar Bowl with Chicken: 440 calories, 20g fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 2g fiber, 540mg sodium
- Bonus items: Broccoli, brown rice8
- Hamburger: 220 calories, 8g fat, 3g saturated fat, .5g trans fat, 1g fiber, 380mg sodium
- Grilled Chicken Sandwich without Mayo: 370 calories, 7g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 6g fiber, 740mg sodium
- Bonus item: Applesauce9
- Hamburger: 240 calories, 8g fat, 3g saturated fat, .5g trans fat, 1g fiber, 480mg sodium
- Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich: 350 calories, 9g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 3g fiber, 820mg sodium
- Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken: 290 calories, 8g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 7g fiber, 680mg sodium
- Bonus item: Apple slices10
- Fresco Soft Taco Shredded Chicken: 150 calories, 6g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 2g fiber, 440mg sodium
- Fresco Soft Taco Steak: 140 calories, 4g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 1g fiber, 470mg sodium
- Bonus item: Black beans11
- Bowman SA, Vinyard BT. Fast food consumption of U.S. adults: impact on energy and nutrient intakes and overweight status. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Apr;23(2):163-8.
- Anderson B, Lyon-Callo S, Fussman C, Imes G, Rafferty AP. Fast-Food Consumption and Obesity Among Michigan Adults. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2011;8(4):A71.
- Bahadoran Z, Mirmiran P, Azizi F. Fast Food Pattern and Cardiometabolic Disorders: A Review of Current Studies. Health Promotion Perspectives. 2015;5(4):231-240. doi:10.15171/hpp.2015.028.
- Jacobson MF, Havas S, McCarter R. Changes in Sodium Levels in Processed and Restaurant Foods, 2005 to 2011. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(14):1285-1291. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6154
- McDonalds. Nutrition Calculator. https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-our-food/nutrition-calculator.html Accessed 1-28-18.
- American Heart Association. Tips for Eating Fast Food. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/DiningOut/Tips-for-Eating-Fast-Food_UCM_308412_Article.jsp#.WmPBHainHyE Accessed 1-27-18
- Chick-Fil-A. https://www.chick-fil-a.com/ Accessed 1-29-18
- El Pollo Loco Nutrition Guide. http://www.elpolloloco.com/contentAsset/raw-data/865b8079-86ee-4266-8f60-a37c85270ab6/fileAsset/www.fda.gov last updated January 2018. Accessed 1-29-18
- Burger King USA Nutritionals. https://www.bk.com/pdfs/nutrition.pdf October 2017. Accessed 1-29-18
- McDonald’s USA Nutrition Facts for Popular Menu Items. http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/usnutritionexchange/nutritionfacts.pdf 7-23-14. Accessed 1-29-10
- Taco Bell Full Nutrition Info. https://www.tacobell.com/food/nutrition/info last updated 1-25-18. Accessed 1-29-18