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Can healthy and fast food go together?

Consumer Reports readers say they found healthful meal options at some restaurants. But many menu items are nutritional nightmares.

Published: July 2014

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A Subway sandwich

Although many restaurants are serving more soups, salads, and grilled-rather-than-fried items, and cutting down on ingredients such as sodium, most diners aren’t concerned about dieting when they eat out.

Only 20 percent of survey respondents to Consumer Reports’ latest fast­-food survey‚ covering 96,208 meals at 65 chains, consider the availability of healthful menu options when choosing a restaurant.  And just 19 percent of readers say they ordered a healthful meal during their most recent dining experience. Women were more conscientious than men. Forty-two percent (vs. 28 percent of men surveyed) were swayed to order lower-calorie fare from restaurants that conspicuously displayed nutritional information on the menu. But when we asked respondents whether their menus displayed calorie and fat counts, 51 percent said they were unsure.

The chains in the "Healthful Choices" list here topped the list for diners who said there were ample healthy alternatives from which to choose.

Another healthful consideration: Chipotle, Culver’s, and Panera are serving poultry raised without antibiotics, and Chick-fil-A is moving in that direction. Ans Subway says it has reduced the sodium content of its core menu items an average 28 percent in its low-fat sandwiches and an average 15 percent in all lunch and dinner subs over the last three years.

If healthy eating is a priority, steer clear of pizza and burger chains. Learn about the foods to fear, below.

Foods to fear

Though many chains have adapted their menus to make it easier to choose healthfulness over indulgence, our survey clearly shows that most diners aren’t eating healthier options. Lurking alongside all of those grilled chicken wraps are eye-popping gut-busters. As bad as calories and fat might be, sodium, which can adversely affect blood pressure and heart health, might be a bigger culprit; some items—excluding side dishes—contain almost a day’s worth. The good news: If you want to know about the dietary damage beforehand, it’s easy to find.  Almost all chains post nutritional information on their websites. Here are seven dubious guilty pleasures at well-known chains. For perspective, U.S. dietary guidelines generally recommend individuals consume no more than 2,000 calories, 65 grams of fat, and 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Item

Calories

Fat (g)

Sodium (mg)

Burger King Triple Whopper (shown above)

1,160

 

75

 

1,050

 

Firehouse Subs Sweet Thai Chili Pork Sub (large)

1,541

95

 

3,458

 

Hardee’s ⅔ Pound Monster Thickburger

1,330

 

95

 

2,820

 

Wendy’s Dave’s Hot ’N Juicy ¾ lb. Triple Cheeseburger

1,090

 

66

 

1,990

 

McDonald’s Premium Crispy Chicken Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich

750

 

38

1,720

 

Taco Bell Cantina Burrito (steak)

750

28

 

1,940

Subway Pepperoni Flatizza

500

26

 

1,340

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
   

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