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'Healthier' fast food options may not be as nutritious as they appear

July 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A lot of fast food restaurants are offering what seem like healthier options nowadays, but don't be fooled at the drive-thru. Dietitian Patricia Bannan says make sure you check the nutrition information before you order because those salads, wraps and sandwiches can have more fat and calories than a burger.

For example, McDonald's new crispy Premium McWrap actually has more fat, calories and sodium than a Big Mac. Yet the grilled McWrap can save a calorie bundle, averaging 12 grams of fat not 30.

Salads may seem like the healthiest choice, but read the fine print. Taco Bell's chicken or steak Cantina Bowl is swimming in sodium at over 1000 milligrams and near 600 calories. But they have better options. Just ask for "Fresco Style," which means salsa not fatty sauce.

"They've got 7 Fresco Style items, they all have 350 calories or less and less than 10 grams of fat," said Bannan.

Depending on how you order at Wendy's your meal could be a food felony or a food find.

Their Baja Chili Salad has nearly 700 calories -- all the fat you need in a day. And the Asiago Ranch Flatbread sandwich has 840 calories with all the extras. Try the Berry Almond Chicken salad or their Smokey Honey Mustard Flatbread instead, you'll get a flavorful calorie smart meal.

Don't forget Subway's Fresh Fit for kids and adults, with meals at 340 calories and 10 grams of fat or less.

Bannan says a good ball park for a day's worth of fat is about 45 grams. Some of these offer that in one sitting. But there's hope as all offer good options.

"Aim for a meal that has about 500 calories and 15 grams of fat or less," said Bannan.

So if you're looking at the nutrition facts, here's an easy rule of thumb. For every 100 calories you want about 3 grams of fat, that's the government average. Example: a hamburger at 300 calories and 10 grams of fat.

Here are some nutrition facts found in the stores and online (provided by dietitian Patricia Bannan):

MCDONALD'S

  • Premium McWrap Chicken & Bacon (crispy) - 31 g fat, 620 calories, 1490 mg sodium
  • Premium McWrap Chicken & Ranch (crispy) - 29 g fat, 580 calories, 1290 mg sodium
  • As a comparison: a Big Mac - 29 g fat, 550 calories, 970 mg sodium

Better options:
Opt for grilled instead of crispy to decrease fat and calories (but fat on the grilled is still high at 16-18 grams and sodium doesn't budge).

  • Premium McWrap Chicken & Bacon (grilled) - 18 g fat, 430 calories, 1330 mg sodium
  • Premium McWrap Chicken & Ranch (grilled) - 16 g fat, 420 calories, 1130 mg sodium
  • Premium McWrap Sweet Chili Chicken (grilled) - 9 g fat, 360 calories, 1030 sodium
  • Small hamburger - 250 calories, 9 g fat, 480 mg sodium (burger has half calories/sodium than some crispy wraps -- even a small cheeseburger is better)
  • Small cheeseburger - 300 calories, 12 g fat, 680 sodium

WENDY'S

Flatbread sandwiches sound healthy to consumers, but not all of them are.

  • Asiago Ranch Flatbread Grilled Chicken Sandwich - 510 calories, 27 g fat, 940 mg sodium (with toppings 840 calories, 38 g fat, 1620 mg sodium)

Salads should be at least marginally healthy, right?

  • Baja Chili Salad - This one has 690 calories, 45 g fat, 1810 mg sodium

Better options:

  • Smoky Honey Mustard Flatbread Grilled Chicken Sandwich - 370 calories, 15 g fat, 610 mg sodium
  • Berry Almond Chicken Salad - 460 calories, 16 g fat, 1130 mg sodium

You can go for a 1/2 size salads at Wendy's, like the 1/2 order of Baja Chili Salad has 450 calories, 30 g fat (still high!), 1090 mg sodium

TACO BELL

Taco Bell's Cantina Bowls are marketed as a fresher, brighter take on fast food Mexican. And customers may think that means they're healthy. But they have 21-23 grams of fat, the calories range from 540-580 and the sodium on these are sky high too!

  • Chicken Cantina Bowl - 560 calories, 22 g fat, 1520 mg sodium
  • Steak Cantina Bowl - 580 calories, 23 g fat, 1430 mg sodium

Better options:
Go for the "Fresco" Menu items: 7 signature Fresco items with 350 calories or less and all under 10 grams of fat - they are topped with pico del gallo instead of other high fat toppings/sauces

  • Fresco Bean Burrito - 350 calories, 9 g fat, 950 mg sodium
  • Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco - 160 calories, 4.5 g fat, 430 sodium

SUBWAY

Better options:

  • They have 7 Fresh Fit menu options
  • 6" Veggie - on 9-Grain Wheat with all veggies with avocado, no sauce or cheese = 290 calories, 8 g fat, 530 mg sodium
  • 6" Turkey, Spinach & Avocado - on 9-Grain Wheat with no sauce or cheese = 330 cal, 9 g frat, 8 g fat, 330 mg sodium
  • Go for 6" option for automatic portion control
  • 4 Fresh Fit for Kids options that can come with sliced apples and veggies, water or lowfat milk, they have less than 5 percent of calories come from added sugar


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