Which Fast Food Chain Is Healthiest?

POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 - 8:16pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - 12:02pm

Believe it or not, Taco Bell and Chick-Fil-A are considered two of America's healthiest restaurants.

66 chain restaurants were put to the test.

Experts with "Eat this, Not that" calculated the total number of calories per entree, looked at serving size and looked at side-dish choices.

Restaurants were penalized for excessive amounts of trans-fat and gut-busting desserts.

Check out those restaurants that scored a B+ or higher:

Between the breakfast and lunch menus, there are only two entrées at Chick-Fil-A that break 500 calories, a rare feat in the fast-food world. What this means is that you can't possibly do too much harm-especially if you stick to the chicken. And unlike the typical fast-food chain, Chick-Fil-A offers a list of sides that goes beyond breaded and fried potatoes and onions. (Just beware the large cole slaw, which adds an extra 600 calories to your daily intake!) That's why we dub the Atlanta-based chicken shack one of our all-time favorite fast-food restaurants.

A menu based on lean protein and vegetables is always going to score well in our book. With more than half a dozen sandwiches under 300 calories, plus a slew of soups and healthy sides to boot, Subway can satisfy even the pickiest eater without breaking the caloric bank. But, despite what Jared may want you to believe, Subway is not nutritionally infallible: Those rosy calorie counts posted on the menu boards include neither cheese nor mayo (add 160 calories per 6-inch sub), and some of the toasted subs, like the Meatball Marinara, contain hefty doses of calories, saturated fat, and sodium.

Jamba Juice
Jamba offers a viable and tasty solution to the dearth of fresh fruits and vegetables in the American diet: Stick it all in a blender and let us slurp it up. But make this your rule: If it includes syrup or added sugar, it ceases to be a smoothie. Jamba Juice makes plenty of real-deal smoothies, but their menu is sullied with more than a few faux-fruit blends. Just make sure you choose the right one.

Au Bon Pain
Sure the menu has its pitfalls, but what menu doesn't? The bottom line is that Au Bon Pain combines an extensive inventory of healthy items with an unrivaled standard of nutritional transparency. Each store has an on-site nutritional kiosk to help customers find a meal to meet their expectations, and the variety of ordering options provides dozens of paths to a sensible meal.

Boston Market
With more than a dozen healthy vegetable sides and lean meats like turkey and roast sirloin on the menu, the low-cal, high-nutrient possibilities at Boston Market are endless. But with nearly a dozen calorie-packed sides and fatty meats like dark meat chicken and meat loaf, it's almost as easy to construct a lousy meal.

Cici's Pizza Buffet
Cici's began in Texas in 1985 and now boasts more than 600 locations, proving definitively that Americans love a good buffet. The good news for our waistlines is that the crust is moderately sized, and the pizza comes in varieties beyond simple sausage and pepperoni. But if you check your willpower at the door, you're probably better off skipping the pizza buffet entirely.

The world-famous burger baron has come a long way since the days of Fast Food Nation-at least nutritionally speaking. The trans fats are mostly gone, the number of gut-wrecking calorie bombs are now fewer than ever, and the menu holds plenty of healthy options such as salads and yogurt parfaits. Don't cut loose at the counter just yet, though. Too many of the breakfast and lunch sandwiches still top the 500-calorie mark, and the dessert menu is fodder for some major belly-building.

Taco Bell
Taco Bell combines two things with bad nutritional reputations: Mexican food and fast food. The result should be horrendous, yet somehow it works out so that a little prudence at the ordering window can bag you a meal with fewer than 500 calories. The potential for belly-building is still there, but the calorie bombs are generally easy to spot. And to limit the chances of a mistake, Taco Bell reengineered some of its classic items and listed them under the Fresco Menu for a savings of up to 10 grams of fat per item.

Scoring a decent meal at Wendy's is just about as easy as scoring a bad one, and that's a big compliment for a burger joint. Options such as chili and baked potatoes offer the side-order variety that's missing from less-evolved fast-food chains like Dairy Queen and Carl's Jr. Plus they offer a handful of Jr. Burgers that don't stray far over 300 calories. And for our money, the ¼-lb single is one of the best substantial burgers in the industry. Where they err is in their recently expanded line of desserts and a lackluster selection of beverages. But you're happy just drinking water, right?

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