Can Fast Food Actually Be Healthy?
NutritionWellness Jan 10, 2018
Can Fast Food Actually Be Healthy?

You’re committed to living a healthier lifestyle, but with your hectic schedule it’s hard to get a home-cooked meal on the table some days. So you turn to fast food between work, meetings or shuffling the kids around to activities. But is there a way to find healthy options when you’re eating on the go?

More than 200 million people in the U.S. eat at least one meal each month at a fast food restaurant and almost 70% of customers at quick-serve restaurants get their food from the drive-thru. Although convenience and speed are fueling Americans’ consumption of fast food, there are ways to make your meal on the go fit into your healthy diet.

More and more quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants are adding healthier selections to their menus, but it’s up to you to do your research to find out what is actually healthy and what just looks or sounds healthy. Some seemingly healthy options aren’t actually so good for you.

Take the fast food salad for example. You may think consuming a salad is better for you than grabbing a burger or a sandwich. And in some cases it is. But you have to know what’s in your salad if you’re concerned about eating healthy. In addition to calories, you’ll want to look at stats such as sodium, fat and sugar.

Here are some surprising comparisons when it comes to fast food options:


  • McDonald’s Big Mac – 540 calories, 28g total fat, 950mg sodium, 9g sugar
  • Burger King’s Double Hamburger – 310 calories, 15g total fat, 400g sodium, 6g sugar


  • Panera Bread’s Turkey Breast Sandwich on Whole Grain – 560 calories, 18g of total fat, 1170mg of sodium, 8g sugar
  • Subway’s 6” Turkey Sub on 9-Grain Wheat (no cheese, with veggies) – 280 calories, 3.5g total fat, 760mg sodium, 7g sugar


  • Chipotle’s Salad (with chicken, brown rice, black beans, tomato salsa, sour cream, cheese and vinaigrette) – 985 calories, 47.5g total fat, 2330mg sodium, 17g sugar
  • Wendy’s BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad – 590 calories, 30g total fat, 1340mg sodium, 27g sugar
  • McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad – 350 calories, 11g total fat, 1070mg sodium, 9g sugar

As you can see, many healthy-sounding options at fast food restaurants can pack a not-so-good-for-you punch and there are large disparities in calorie count and other nutrients within the same food categories. Even when some menu items tout lower calorie counts than other selections, sodium and/or sugar levels may be sky-high.

While an occasional salad packing a day’s worth of sodium probably won’t make a huge impact on your overall health, it can make a difference if you’re choosing that same salad day after day, thinking you’re making a healthy choice rather than consuming a day’s worth of sodium and almost half of your daily calories in just one midday meal.

It is possible to make healthy choices when you’re eating on the go. It’s just up to you to pay attention to nutrition information if healthy eating is a priority of yours. You can find nutrition info on company websites or you can request the info when you’re at the restaurant. Many food establishments now post their calorie and nutrition info right on the menu so you can make more informed choices as you’re ordering.