Healthiest fast food: 16 low calorie fast food options
While fast food isn't usually associated with a sensible eating plan, what is the healthiest fast food we can enjoy occasionally?
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From McDonald's breakfast to KFC popcorn chicken, from Nando's chicken wings to Taco Bell beef taco, we've rounded up the healthiest fast food options from a variety of popular fast-food restaurants.
Fast food is often associated with a high calorie and saturated fat count however there are a few items on the menu that are actually considered healthy takeout (opens in new tab). These items tend to be under the 500 calorie mark as well as being less than 5g of saturated fat per portion. They're a good option if you're dieting and don't want to ruin your progress.
Rachel Clarkson, a Doctify (opens in new tab) dietician, and nutritionist, and the founder of The DNA Dietitian (opens in new tab), says; "Fast food options are usually not the healthiest as they are high in inflammatory fats such as saturated and trans fats as well as sodium. They are also high in calories and processed sugar and low in healthy nutrients like high-quality protein, fiber, and whole-grain carbohydrates. So how can fast food be enjoyed in a healthy way? The best way to enjoy fast food is as a mindful indulgence instead of making it a habit."
"Enjoying fast food from time to time in a portion that is right for you whilst being mindful. You can also make some simple swaps and adjustments when ordering to make the meal more nutritious," adds Rachel.
"For example; try and order items labeled as grilled instead of fried, swap out a carbohydrate-rich side like fries for a salad option with dressing on the side (most fast food places will have a salad option), opt for water or sparkling water instead of a high sugar soda drinks or remove the top bun from a burger or sandwich and enjoy it as an open-faced sandwich." Making these swaps is a healthier choice, especially if you're hoping to lose weight without diet or exercise.
Healthiest fast food
1. McDonald's: Spicy Veggie Wrap
Calories: 363 | Saturated fat: 1.4g
Often you'll find that vegan and vegetarian options – particularly ones without cheese – are healthier and less calorific. This spicy veggie wrap contains veggie dippers, lettuce, tomato, and spicy relish instead of fattening mayo.
Skip the soda and plump for a flat white coffee, which contains bone-building organic milk. This will add another 86 calories and 1.9g of saturated fat, making your McDonald's lunch just 449 calories and 3.3g of saturated fat.
2. KFC: Regular popcorn chicken
Calories: 285 | Saturated fat: 1.7g
Made from 100% chicken breast, KFC's Popcorn Chicken is a great option over a more calorific burger. Eat with two large corn cobettes rather than fries and that will add another 165 calories and 0.4g saturated fat. That's 450 calories and 2.1g saturated fat and a sizeable portion of veg towards your daily recommendation. And not a fried chip or white burger bun in sight.
3. Pizza Hut: Gluten-free Veggie Supreme x 3 slices
Calories: 363 | Saturated fat: 5.1g
Lovely as it is, pizza is notoriously calorific so opt for slices over a whole one. Gluten-free bases are often lower in calories so if you share a Gluten-free Veggie Supreme three slices will come to 363 calories and just over 5g saturated fat. This comes with veg, too – green chillies, jalapeños, peppers, and red onions – which will nurture your body more than processed red meat such as pepperoni.
4. Nando's: Grilled Chicken Burger
Calories: 438 | Saturated fat: 2.2g
Grilled meat is usually healthier than fried or deep-fried meat and Nando's has a range of grilled options. Its Grilled Chicken Burger contains PERI-PERI-infused chicken breast grilled with a spice of your choice plus lemon & herb mayo, lettuce, tomato, and PERI ketchup.
All in a Portuguese Roll for under 450 calories. Eat alongside a large mixed salad of four types of leaves, baby plum tomatoes, cucumber, and dressing, and your protein-rich lunch will come to just 465 cals and 2.3g saturated fat.
5. McDonald's: Chicken McNuggets Meal
Calories: 275 | Saturated fat: 1.7g
McDonald's is now offering meal ideas under 400 or 600 calories and we're lovin' it. Its meal suggestion of Chicken McNuggets (6 pieces) with a side salad and medium Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is just 275 calories and 1.7g saturated fat. Even the 600 cal and under meals are free of French fries – the consensus is that if you don't add fries you'll make a huge difference to your calorie intake.
6. Pizza Express: Leggera Pizza
Calories: 432 | Saturated fat: 4.3g
Pizzas aren't a low calorie option but there are ways to treat yourself without over-consuming. The Pizza Express Leggera range offer pizzas under 600 calories. Calories are kept down by the whole in the middle which is filled with fresh, dressed salad.
Opt for the Leggera La Reine – a combo of ham, black olives, mushrooms, light mozzarella and tomato on a thin base – and you'll get some veg and salad with your meal, and a pizza for under 500 calories.
7. Costa Egg Mayo Sandwich & Cappuccino
Calories: 432 | Saturated fat: 2.5g
There are some nice but rather naughty treats to be had at Costa. The toasties, while delicious, are too high in saturated fat to make it onto this list. But Costa's healthier choice (by the company's own admission) is a protein-enriched Free Range Egg Mayo Sandwich on oatmeal bread.
Containing 316 calories and 2.1g saturated fat if you combine it with a medium cappuccino made with skimmed milk (a great source of calcium, by the way) you've got yourself a meal for 432 calories and just 2.5g saturated fat.
8. KFC: Zinger Salad
Calories: 350 | Saturated fat: 2.3g
For fans of the Zinger Burger this is the healthier option. A sliced spiced chicken fillet over crisp lettuce, diced tomato, and sweetcorn drizzled with a garlic dressing, the calorie content comes in at a respectable 350 calories. By choosing this you avoid the refined white bun and creamy dressing that comes in the burger of the same name.
9. Starbucks: Banana Bread & Almond Latte
Calories: 448 | Saturated fat: 2.6g
If you're partial to sweet treats avoid highly refined products such as almond croissants and go for a slice of banana loaf bread with pecans and walnuts. The nuts provide protein and a slow release of energy, plus the loaf contains bananas rather than chocolate or oodles of butter.
A portion is 374 calories and 2.3g saturated fat – combine this with a tall latte made from almond milk (low in saturated fat compared to other milk options) and you have a sweet breakfast that won't send your blood sugar levels soaring. And all for 448 cals and 2.6g saturated fat. Add one of these low calorie Starbucks drinks (opens in new tab) and you've got yourself a much healthier fast food option.
10. Leon: Crispy Chicken Korean Burger
Calories: 471 | Saturated fat: 3.4g
There are more and more Leons popping up around the country and while they offer fast food the company is arguably better focused on health and the environment than other brands.
The Korean burger is stuffed with chicken nuggets, good-for-your-gut raw kimchi slaw, and Korean mayo. Not only that it's a carbon-neutral product so you're doing your bit for the planet, too. Fast food you can enjoy without the guilt.
11. Burger King: Kids Hamburger Small Meal
Calories: 462 | Saturated fat: 7.6g
Burger lovers will be hard-pushed to find low calorie fast food at Burger King. The best we could find is the kid's hamburger small meal containing a hamburger (no cheese), small fries, and a bottle of water for 462 calories but 7.6g saturated fat.
You could eat the kid's hamburger (245 cals and 3.7g saturated fat) with 6 onion rings (225 cals and 2.2g saturated fat), which is marginally better, but if you're really craving a burger and want to keep your calorie intake down perhaps avoid BK for now.
12. Taco Bell: Crunchy Beef Taco
Calories: 159 | Saturated fat: 3.5g
A favourite at Mexican chain Taco Bell, the crunchy corn tacos come with a choice of seasoned beef, grilled chicken, or black beans, plus lettuce and Cheddar cheese. One Crunchy Beef Taco will provide 159 cals and 3.5g saturated fat – fine if you want just one but two will increase your saturated fat intake to 7g.
So, if you're hungry, opt for one chicken and one black bean taco. This duo contains 263 cals and 3.9g of saturated fat combined. Not only that but lean white meat and protein-rich black beans are better for you than red meat. If you want to throw something green into the mix, add a side of guacamole for 23 cals and 0.3g saturated fat.
13. Greggs: Honey Roast Ham & Egg Salad Roll
Calories: 329 | Saturated fat: 1.2g
Tempting as it is to munch on one of Greggs' famous sausage rolls, you'd be eating 12g saturated fat instead of only 1.2g if you eat this white and wholemeal roll stuffed with honey roast ham, free range egg, tomato, cucumber, mixed salad leaves, and a little mayonnaise.
Add a small Fairtrade Orange Juice to your lunch and you're still only consuming 398 cals, plus the juice will provide you with one of your 5-a-day.
14. Pret A Manger: Tuna Nicoise Salad
Calories: 455 | Saturated fat: 4.9g
You can rely on Pret to serve fresh, filling salads full of lean protein such as salmon, tuna, chickpeas, hummus, and edamame beans. This classic salad is a mouthwatering medley of pole & line caught tuna, free-range boiled egg, Kalamata olives, and red onion, as well as salad leaves, cucumber, baby plum tomatoes, and a pot of Pret's French dressing.
The healthiest fast food around, though we appreciate not everyone wants to opt for a salad.
15. Nando's: 3 Chicken Wings and Coleslaw
Calories: 499 | Saturated fat: 4.5g
Although garlic bread is off the menu, eat three flame-grilled chicken wings infused with the PERI-PERI heat Nando's is loved for, plus your choice of spice, alongside a regular serving of coleslaw and you've got yourself a protein-and-veg filled lunch for 499 calories and 4.5g saturated fat.
16. McDonald's: Egg & Cheese McMuffin Meal
Calories: 347 | Saturated fat: 4.8g
A McDonald's breakfast is nothing short of iconic, so it's heartening to know you can get a healthier version. McDonald's currently offer two low-cal breakfast ideas but we like the Egg & Cheese McMuffin with an Apple & Grape Fruit Bag and a regular black coffee option.
This meal provides protein from the egg, a serving of fruit which equates to one of your 5-a-day, and an unadulterated coffee to perk you up. Keep in mind that McDonald's breakfast starts (opens in new tab) at 5am and finishes at 11am.
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Debra Waters is an experienced online editor and lifestyle writer with a focus on health, wellbeing, beauty, food and parenting. She currently writes for Goodto and Woman&Home, and print publications Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly. Previously, Debra was digital food editor at delicious magazine and MSN. She’s written for M&S Food, Great British Chefs, loveFOOD, What to Expect, Everyday Health and Time Out, and has had articles published in The Telegraph and The Big Issue.
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