Health & Wellness
11 Foods Nutritionists Avoid at Fast Food Restaurants
Trying to eat smart? Study up on these fast food options nutritionists avoid.
Shutterstock / AS Food studio
We all love a cozy heartwarming soup—but if you’re eating out often, you should read the fine print. “Whether you’re ordering soup from a sandwich shop or your favorite food truck, skip anything described as creamy or cheesy,” says Peggy Woodward, Taste of Home’s senior food editor and resident registered dietitian nutritionist, “Those heavy, rich soups are high in calories, fat and saturated fat.” She recommends scanning the menu for soups that are both-based like chicken noodle or minestrone. Better yet, check out our healthy fast food copycat recipes for a homemade alternative.
Unless your favorite fast food joint is dishing out seafood that’s baked, grilled, or broiled without butter or oil, you should probably skip this food group. “If you order seafood at a fast-food restaurant, it’s going to be battered and fried,” she advises. It might seem counter-intuitive, as seafood has so many great health benefits, but if it’s fried it’s not the healthiest choice. Woodward says, “Fish sandwiches are almost always served with a hefty portion of mayonnaise or tartar sauce, too. Both of which are extras that really add on the calories.” This may leave you wondering if there is such a thing as healthy fast food? The answer is yes. Check out these good-for-you options from your favorite dining spots.
“The burritos at Chipotle are a humongous calorie bomb,” says Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN, clinical registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center. “You’re not only eating an abundance of calories, but you’re pushing sodium that’s greater than half of your daily intake.” In fact, one carnitas burrito has 1,350 calories and 2,590 milligrams of sodium. And it’s not the ingredients themselves that are too terrible for you, it’s the large quantities of rice and meats like the carnitas drenched in salty seasonings that overload your meal with carbs, calories, fat, and sodium. Instead, Romano swaps out the burrito for a burrito bowl with half a serving of brown rice, half a serving of beans, grilled chicken, and a small serving of tomato salsa, which cuts your calories down to just 400! And try to skip the guac, which adds an additional 230 calories to your meal. Don’t miss these 50 foods nutritionists say they never eat.
Nutritionists usually avoid selecting pastries and baked goods like muffins at fast food joints because they’re packed with bad fats like saturated fats and trans fats, a major contributor of obesity and diabetes. When Ilana Muhlstein, a registered dietitian and co-creator of the weight loss program, 2B Mindset, needs a quick breakfast pick-me-up at Starbucks, she never orders the apple bran muffin. “Bran, matcha, and chai are buzzy words that people immediately associate as being healthy,” says Mulhstein. “It’s so deceiving because they’re typically not.” In fact, the apple bran muffin has more fat and calories than the plain bagel at Starbucks. Here are 11 healthy Starbucks drinks you’ll feel good about indulging in.
Those hazelnut frappuccinos at Starbucks may be your daily morning fix, but nutritionists make sure they stay away from any of the sugary, blended beverages sold at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, to name a few places. “If you buy a tall hazelnut frappuccino at Starbucks, you can drink it in under five minutes with the lack of satisfaction and satiation,” says Muhlstein. “It has 45 grams of carbohydrates, it’s purely added sugar and artificial ingredients.” Instead, make these Starbucks copycat recipes at home and you can control the amount of sugar and natural ingredients go into your beverage.
Taste of Home
Foot-long Italian Subs
Be mindful of what you’re putting on your sub,” says Romano. “I steer clear of the spicy Italian sub at Subway because of its highly saturated meats like pepperoni and salami and I don’t do any of the premix mayo-based sauces or teriyaki sauce because those sauces can be high in sugar in fat.” But the ingredients aren’t the only things you should be conscious of; you should be wary of the portion size too. A foot-long sub can be calorically dense and packed with sodium pushing 1,300 mg or more, so stick to eating six inches one day and save the other half for the next. Another tip: ask them to scoop out the insides of the bread. “I personally like to ask them to scoop out the bread because it takes out an entire serving of carbs and lets you get more veggies in there,” says Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, a sports dietitian in Florida. “This tip is particularly great for people who need to manage their carbs like diabetics.” Trying to eat fewer carbs? Follow Ree Drummond’s brilliant trick.
Double Beef Patty Burgers
There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a big bite out of a juicy burger, but nutritionists agree that there’s no nutritional value in eating two burger patties on one bun. “It’s just a major salt and fat explosion, which tastes good, but doesn’t serve you well for energy throughout the day,” says Braddock. For instance, the Double Whopper at Burger King has 58 grams of fat, which includes 3 grams of trans fat and 20 grams of saturated fat. Consuming an abundant amount of fat will do nothing for you but zap your energy sources for the day and expand your waistline! If Braddock ever orders a burger, she gets one at a restaurant where the ingredients are fresh and homemade. Did you know your body sees junk food as a virus? Get the scoop here.
Nutritionists try not to waste their calories or nutrition on a milkshake and fries for dinner. A small chocolate milkshake at McDonald’s has 74 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent to eating 18 teaspoons of sugar! And that high sugar count is when the shake is made with reduced fat vanilla ice cream and light whipped cream. “We get a lot more satisfaction from chewing than we get from sipping,” says Muhlstein. “For the same amount of calories, you could probably have a burger.” If you’re looking to indulge, we tried the most popular fast food burgers and found the best burger for your buck.
Taste of Home
Fruit and yogurt parfaits
Braddock says that you’re better off making your own fruit and yogurt parfait at home than purchasing one at Starbucks or McDonald’s because the plain yogurts they use are sometimes high in added sugars, even if they’re lowfat. The Fresh Blueberries and Honey Greek Yogurt Parfait at Starbucks contains 29 grams of sugar to be exact. Learn a thing or two about these foods that seem healthy, but actually aren’t.
Fried Chicken Sandwich
You may think that ordering a chicken sandwich is the healthier option than ordering a burger at a fast-food restaurant, but, like fish, once you deep fry it, you can kiss its reputation for “lean, mean protein” goodbye. Braddock usually never orders the Chik-fil-A Chicken Sandwich. “It’s very greasy and I feel like I’m greasy after I eat it,” she says. “It’s also high in sodium at 1,350 milligrams, which can make you retain water and feel puffy.” Nutritionist Caroline West Passerello, MS, RDN, LDN, CLT and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cutting off the breading for a healthier take on the signature Chik-fil-A classic.
Taste of Home
Burgers with the Bun
“Never waste your time with a bun, it’s an easy way to reduce the fat and calories,” says Muhlstein. “If I eat a burger, I take off the top bun at least because an open face is a happy face!” Most buns you find at fast food places are made from nothing but flour, high fructose corn syrup, and tons of additives that you can’t pronounce. Muhlstein says that bread should only contain three key ingredients: flour, water, yeast, but the ingredients list for fast food buns can go on forever. Check out why chefs never order these foods when eating out at a restaurant.