The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants AND The Not So Healthy

I know some people cringe at the thought of eating at a fast food restaurant, but for the majority of us, it’s simply a way of life.

While fast food tends to get a bad rap, I think the occasional fast food is fine as long as it fits your macros (Flexible Dieting).

In fact, when it comes to eating out, it is a lot easier to track your macros and calories at fast food restaurants opposed to mom and pop restaurants that are not required to post the calorie and nutritional information of the food they serve.

For those of us that do eat fast food, we are blessed with an abundant choice of restaurants, so we can at least choose to eat at fast food restaurants that have the healthiest ingredients as well as healthy options on their menus.

9 Places to Get the Healthiest Fast Food

Here’s my take on which are the healthiest as well as which are not so healthy respectively. This is based on calories, healthy options as well as their use of hormone and antibiotic tainted meats.

Panera Bread

panera

  • Panera Bread has a wide variety of lower calorie choices and 15 salads to choose from.
  • They use a variety of healthy ingredients.
  • Calorie and macro information are easily available.
  • They received an A grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats.

Chipotle

chipotle logo

  • Chipotle’s “build your own” method allows consumers to create meals that fit their calorie and macro requirements as well as allows them to choose healthier options like salad bowls.
  • Chipotle’s Calorie and macro amounts are available but are bit tricky to nail down because of the varying amounts different workers dispense.
  • They received an A grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats.

Chick-Fil-A

chick-fil-a

McDonald’s

mcdonalds

  • McDonald’s is probably the first thing most people think of when they think of unhealthy fast food, but McDonald’s has been working hard to improve their image.
  • They offer an ever-increasing variety of healthier options like salads, fruit, and grilled chicken options.
  • Their portions are highly standardized for accurate calorie and macro information.
  • They received a C grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats.

Subway

subway-logo

  • Subway has established themselves as the go-to place for healthier fast food options.
  • They have many lower calorie sub options available and their nutritional information is readily available.
  • Customers can pile on as many veggies on their subs as they want.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but seem to be making steps to improve this.

Starbucks

starbucks logo

  • Starbucks offers many healthier options for all of their beverages like low-fat, non-dairy, and sugar-free syrups.
  • They have a fair variety of healthy food options for both breakfast and lunch.
  • Calorie and macro information are easily accessible as well as caffeine content information.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted animal products.

Wendy’s

wendy's

  • Wendy’s offers a nice selection of salads and grilled chicken options.
  • Consumers can swap the fries for healthier sides like a side salad for no additional cost.
  • Wendy’s nutritional information is easy to find and utilize.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do publish their policy online.

Dunkin Donuts

dunkin

Burger King

BK

  • BK offers some healthier options like salads, grilled chicken, and even a veggie burger option.
  • Nutritional information is easily accessible.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Not So Healthy Fast Food Restaurants

If it fits your macros, feel free to eat at the following nine, but, they just don’t seem to focus too much on those that want to eat healthier or seem very concerned about the quality of meats that they serve to their customers.

Arby’s

arbys logo

  • Very limited healthier options.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Taco Bell

taco bell

  • Not many healthy options at all and their salads are some of their highest calorie options.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • Many of their items have 1000+ mg of sodium per serving.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

KFC

kentucky fried chicken

  • Very limited healthier options available but do offer grilled chicken and one healthier side option of green beans.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Dairy Queen

DQ

  • A few healthier options available but only at their full menu restaurants.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Papa John’s Pizza

papa johns pizza

  • A few lower calorie pizza options are available.
  • Their nutritional information is easily accessible online.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Domino’s Pizza

domino's pizza

  • Limited healthier options.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Sonic

sonic logo

  • Healthier options aren’t available.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.

Little Caesar’s Pizza

little caesar's pizza

  • Healthier options aren’t available.
  • Their nutritional information is available.
  • They received an F grade from Friends of Earth for their policy against the use of factory farmed animals and antibiotic/hormone tainted meats but do post their policy online.


There you have it, and, of course, there are many other restaurants that could be included on this list, but this gives you some good places to start when you’re searching for fast food, but healthier options align better with your macros and health goals.

Friends of Earth put their list together based on surveys sent to the various fast food companies as well as by looking at each restaurant’s website. You can download their complete report here.

    Scientific References

  • Donovan, C. (2015). If FDA Does Not Regulate Food, Who Will? A Study of Hormones and Antibiotics in Meat Production. American Journal of Law and Medicine, 41(2/3), 459. Study link
  • Lerma, L. L., Benomar, N., Gálvez, A., & Abriouel, H. (2013). Prevalence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics and/or biocides on meat processing plant surfaces throughout meat chain production. International journal of food microbiology, 161(2), 97-106. Study link
  • Block, J. P., Condon, S. K., Kleinman, K., Mullen, J., Linakis, S., Rifas-Shiman, S., & Gillman, M. W. (2013). Consumers’ estimation of calorie content at fast food restaurants: cross sectional observational study. BMJ, 346. Study link.

4 Comments

  1. happyskydiver

    I’ve had some recent health issues, looking to cut salt intake, but having a tough time finding tasty, quick options so am looking for help wherever I can find it.

    A lot of the foods used are preserved; preserving uses a lot of salt. How do these places stack up when salt content is considered?

    Your help will be invaluable, thank you.

    Reply
    • Ted

      All of them range between low and high depending on your choices. Some of the salads at Panera have 500 mg, while some of their sandwiches have over 2000 mg! Have you looked into using a smartphone app to find lower sodium choices at restaurants? This one might work. http://appcrawlr.com/ios/sodium-one-sodium-counter

      Reply
  2. Danielle Robertson

    What a fantastic review! Good points and data. For Panera specifically, those wanting to learn more about the ingredients on Panera’s NoNo List will like this review : http://greeneyedguide.com/2015/09/25/panera-know-no-list-part-v-meet-the-texture-modifiers

    Reply
  3. JamesF

    Interesting to see the F grade on Subway. Things are not going well for their brand.

    Reply