Fast foods have become a staple in our American culture. Hectic work schedules, family responsibilities and limited free time force many of us to get our nutrition outside the home. While most health professionals agree that eating foods like hamburgers, French fries and soft drinks are not a part of a heart-healthy diet, they also agree that fast food restaurants aren’t going anywhere soon. So, how can you fit fast foods into your life and still reap the benefits of a heart-healthy diet? Read on for some helpful hints and tips.

Healthy Diet

Hamburgers

Hamburgers

Hamburgers have gotten a lot of bad rap over the years, primarily because high fat cuts of beef contain a lot of artery-clogging saturated fats. But, it’s not necessarily beef that’s the problem at fast food restaurants. The biggest problem is size of the burger, what goes on, and what’s served with that patty.

To help you cut back on fat and calories when ordering hamburgers, try these suggestions:

  • Choose a single patty, preferably 3-4 ounces in size
  • Choose from the children's menu or pick a junior size
  • Skip the cheese
  • Opt out of bacon
  • Skip the mayonnaise or special sauce; try ketchup or mustard instead

Key

(g = grams, sat = saturated fat & trans fat = trans saturated fat)

Before your next hamburger trip, check out our Best Choice list first! These choices tend to have fewer calories and fat then other hamburger options.

Best Choices - Burger King

Whopper Jr.

  • Calories: 260
  • Fat: 11g
  • Saturated fat: 4g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Plain hamburger

  • Calories: 260
  • Fat: 11g
  • Saturated fat: 4g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Veggie burger

  • Calories: 420
  • Fat: 16g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - McDonald's

Plain hamburger

  • Calories: 250
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0.5g

Best Choices - Wendy's

Junior hamburger

  • Calories: 230
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Kid's meal hamburger

  • Calories: 220
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - White Castle

2 plain hamburgers

  • Calories: 270
  • Fat: 14g
  • Saturated fat: 6g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - Arby's

Jr.roast beef sandwich

  • Calories: 300
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Ham & Swiss melt

  • Calories: 300
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Chicken Sandwiches and Strips

You may think that chicken is a heart-healthier choice over beef; however, the fast food industry has managed to turn a low-fat serving of chicken into an artery-clogging mess, often higher in fat (and sodium) than a burger! And because partially hydrogenated oils are still used to fry the chicken patties and nuggets at some establishments, they may also be high in cholesterol-raising trans fat. Here are a few suggestions on making healthier fast-food chicken choices:

  • Make sure the chicken is baked, broiled or grilled instead of fried
  • Skip the cheese, mayonnaise or special sauces - see if reduced-fat options are available or try ketchup or mustard
  • Order fat-free honey mustard, teriyaki or barbecue sauce on the side
  • Top chicken sandwiches with lots of lettuce, tomato and onion
  • If you do order a fried chicken option, choose the smallest portion available.
  • Ask for a whole grain bun

Best Choices - Burger King

TENDERGRILL chicken sandwich

  • Calories: 490
  • Fat: 21g
  • Saturated fat: 4g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - McDonald's

Classic chicken sandwich

  • Calories: 420
  • Fat: 10g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Trans fat: 0g

4 pc McNugget

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 12g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - Wendy's

Grilled chicken sandwich

  • Calories: 350
  • Fat: 7g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Grilled chicken go wrap

  • Calories: 250
  • Fat: 10g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - Arby's

Roast chicken sandwich

  • Calories: 400
  • Fat: 16g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Roast chicken ranch

  • Calories: 340
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Fish Sandwiches

Studies have shown that fish contain heart-protective fats called Omega-3. Although most fast food outlets have stopped using frying oils high in artery-clogging trans fat, fried foods are still not ideal food choices. Because grilled or baked fish options aren’t usually available, there are no Best Choices in this category.

Some tips when ordering fish sandwiches:

  • Since fish sandwiches aren’t usually found on the Children’s Menu, eat half of the sandwich and share with a friend - filling up on a side salad or baked potato
  • Pass on the tartar sauce or order on the side and eat ½ of what’s given
  • Omit the cheese

Sub & Deli Sandwiches

Sub sandwiches offer consumers a wider variety of mealtime choices. However, just because a sub isn’t fried doesn’t mean it’s heart-healthy. For example, check out our Worst Choices below.

Worst Choices - Subway

6" Meatball sub on white

  • Calories: 580
  • Fat: 23g
  • Saturated fat: 9g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Spicy Italian

  • Calories: 620
  • Fat: 28g
  • Saturated fat: 11g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Worst Choices - Arby's

Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon Market Fresh sandwich

  • Calories: 850
  • Fat: 37g
  • Saturated fat: 10g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Roast beef & Swiss Market Fresh sandwich

  • Calories: 820
  • Fat: 37g
  • Saturated fat: 11g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Worst Choices - Mr. Hero

Romanburger hot sub

  • Calories: 717
  • Fat: 47g
  • Saturated fat: 15g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Tuna & Cheese sub

  • Calories: 666
  • Fat: 47g
  • Saturated fat: 9g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Hot Buttered Cheesesteak Deluxe

  • Calories: 566
  • Fat: 33g
  • Saturated fat: 18g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Ultimate Italian sub

  • Calories: 608
  • Fat: 33g
  • Saturated fat: 11g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Now that’s a lot to chew! Here’s a few beginner tips on making wise sub or deli sandwich choices:

  • Ask for a whole grain bun, bread or tortilla
  • Ask the clerk to put ½ the amount of meat on the sub or sandwich (some fast food restaurants will give you over a half a pound of meat on one sandwich alone!)
  • Skip the mayonnaise and cheese and ask for a light dressing on the side
  • Top sub or sandwich with vinegar and salt-free seasonings
  • Share the sub or sandwich with a friend and enjoy half the fat and calories
  • Top the sub with lots of veggies like green and red peppers, onions, tomato, lettuce, spinach, pickles and olives

Here is a list of our Best Choices deli and sub sandwiches:

Best Choices - Subway

6" Ham sub*

  • Calories: 290
  • Fat: 4.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Roast beef*

  • Calories: 310
  • Fat: 4.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Oven Roasted chicken*

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 4.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Subway club*

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Turkey breast*

  • Calories: 280
  • Fat: 3.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Turkey breast and ham*

  • Calories: 290
  • Fat: 4g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Veggie delight*

  • Calories: 230
  • Fat: 2.5g
  • Saturated fat: 0.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

6" Sweet onion chicken teriyaki*

  • Calories: 380
  • Fat: 4.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

*These subs contain no mayonnaise or cheese

Best Choices - Arby's

Market Fresh Roast Chicken Ranch

  • Calories: 340
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Roast Chicken Sandwich

  • Calories: 400
  • Fat: 16g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Arby-Q

  • Calories: 370
  • Fat: 10g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Take note that sub and deli sandwiches, and virtually all fast-food sandwiches, are very high in sodium. If you have high blood pressure, keep your fast food intake to a minimum!

Tacos & Burritos

Taco Bell offers a “Fresco Style” menu in which the cheese and sauce are replaced by “fiesta salsa.” This fiesta salsa offers a negligible 5 calories per serving and 0 grams of fat.

See below for the “Fresco Style” menu, which provides 7 taco choices with less than 10 grams of fat per serving.

Best Choices - Taco Bell (All are "Fresco")

Fresh Crunchy Taco

  • Calories: 150
  • Fat: 7g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Soft Taco (Beef)

  • Calories: 180
  • Fat: 7g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Ranchero Chicken soft taco

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 4g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Grilled Steak soft taco

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 4.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Bean Burrito

  • Calories: 340
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Burrito Supreme (Chicken)

  • Calories: 340
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Burrito Supreme Steak

  • Calories: 330
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Chipotle Mexican Grill is another fast food venue that offers a variety of burritos, tacos and salads. A plus is that you get to choose what goes into the flour tortilla, and how much. Buyer beware: if you’re not careful, putting all the fixin's into a burrito can add up to more than 1,200 calories and 19 grams of saturated fat!

Some tips when dining at Chipotle:

  • Choose any of their tasty and nutritious corn or tomato salsas.
  • If calories are a concern, skip the large burrito flour tortilla; it racks in almost 300 calories and 9 grams of fat (3 of which are saturated). Instead, choose a burrito bowl (no tortilla), taco sized flour tortilla, or crispy taco shell.
  • Ask for ½ of the rice, cheese or meat to be added on your burrito or taco – this will help control calories.
  • Double up on the veggies and salsa to add bulk to the meal but not excess calories or fat.
  • Cheese adds 100 calories, 8.5g fat and 5 g saturated fat – keep this in mind when watching calories and fat intake.

Look at (accompanying nutritional info) to help you build your own burrito, taco or taco salad:

Best Choices - Chipotle

Taco flour tortilla

  • Calories: 90
  • Fat: 2.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Crispy taco shell

  • Calories: 60
  • Fat: 2g
  • Saturated fat: 0.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Black beans

  • Calories: 120
  • Fat: 1g
  • Saturated fat: 0.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Pinto beans

  • Calories: 120
  • Fat: 1g
  • Saturated fat: 0.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Cilantro lime rice

  • Calories: 130
  • Fat: 3g
  • Saturated fat: 0.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Fajita vegetables

  • Calories: 20
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Barbacoa

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 7g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Chicken

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 6.5g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Carnitas

  • Calories:190
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Steak

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Trans fat: 0g

When selecting dishes at Mexican restaurants, choose flour tortillas (that are not fried), skip the cheese, sour cream and guacamole; and double up on the vegetables. Choose lean meats to keep saturated fat within healthy limits.

Gourmet Foods

Many gourmet food eateries offer healthier food options, but that doesn’t always mean menu choices are low in calories or saturated fat. Stick to the nutritional guidelines provided for sandwiches above and avoid choosing selections that contain cream cheese, regular cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream or salad dressing. Choose whole-grain breads and limit breads and tortillas that are baked with added fats and cheese. Add some flavor by replacing high-fat items with extra vegetables, salsa, tofu or hummus.

Best Choices - Panera Bread Sandwiches**

Mediterranean Veggie

  • Calories: 610
  • Fat: 13g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Smoked Turkey (no mayo)

  • Calories: 460
  • Fat: 6g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Kid's Smoked Turkey

  • Calories: 300
  • Fat: 10g
  • Saturated fat: 5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Peanut Butter and Jelly on French Bread

  • Calories: 450
  • Fat: 15g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Whole Grain Bagel with ½ serving
(1 oz) reduced fat cream cheese

  • Calories: 430
  • Fat: 9.5g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - Panera Bread Soups

Low Fat Garden Vegetable w/ Pesto

  • Calories: 610
  • Fat: 13g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Low Fat Chicken Noodle Soup

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 3.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 4g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Salads & Sides

Many gourmet food eateries offer healthier food options, but that doesn’t always mean menu choices are low in calories or saturated fat. Stick to the nutritional guidelines provided for sandwiches above and avoid choosing selections that contain cream cheese, regular cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream or salad dressing. Choose whole-grain breads and limit breads and tortillas that are baked with added fats and cheese. Add some flavor by replacing high-fat items with extra vegetables, salsa, tofu or hummus.

Increasing pressure from health-conscious consumers has forced the fast-food industry to begin offering more healthful menu items, such as salads and side dishes. But be cautious: some salad items are not necessarily heart-healthy. Here are a few tips to ensure your choice is a healthy one:

For Salads:

  • Eliminate the “extras” such as croutons, tortilla chips, bacon bits, cheese, sour cream, and Chinese noodles - these can add (individually) anywhere from 60 to 220 calories, 2.5 to 12 grams of fat, and up to 3 grams of saturated fat.
  • Substitute regular salad dressings with light, reduced fat or fat-free salad dressing. Regular salad dressings add between 180 and 250 calories per packet, 20 to 30 grams of fat, and up to 6 grams of saturated fat.
  • If meat is already on the salad, skip the cheese.

For Sides:

  • Skip the fries, or choose the smallest portion. French fries can add 210 calories (kid’s portion) to 610 calories (large), 11 to 45 grams total fat, and 1.5 to 5 grams saturated fat. If you choose the largest portion of French fries and eat a high-fat sandwich, you’ve exceeded your daily fat allowance in one sitting.
  • Choose a side salad with light dressing instead of French fries
  • If ordering chili on the side, order the smallest portion and skip the cheese.
  • When ordering baked potatoes, pass on the cheese and ask for sour cream and butter on the side (and try not to use all of it). Try steamed vegetables, salsa, barbecue sauce or a nonfat salad dressing to top your potato
  • Avoid special side dishes or starters like fried mozzarella sticks, cinnamon sticks, fried vegetables, etc.
  • Make the best of low-fat ice cream available at some restaurants and purchase a small cup or cone instead of apple pie, chocolate ice cream pies, shakes or flurries.
  • Fruit drinks, colas, cappuccino and hot chocolate contain a significant amount of calories, and fat. To reduce your heart-disease risk, choose water, 100% fruit juice, 1% fat milk, plain coffee or tea and diet sodas. Choosing these beverages can save you up to 450 calories.

Best Choices - McDonald's side items

Snack size fruit & walnut salad

  • Calories: 210
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Side salad

  • Calories: 20
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Fruit & yogurt parfait (w/o granola)

  • Calories: 130
  • Fat: 2g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Fruit & yogurt parfait (w/ granola)

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 2g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Apple dippers

  • Calories: 35
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Low fat caramel dip

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Vanilla reduced fat ice cream cone

  • Calories: 150
  • Fat: 3.5g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices -Wendy's side items

Plain baked potato

  • Calories: 270
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Mandarin oranges

  • Calories: 80
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Small chili

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 6g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Side salad

  • Calories: 130
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - Burger King side items

Kid's Apple "French fries"

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices -Panera side items

Strawberry parfait (w/o granola)

  • Calories: 120
  • Fat: 1.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Small fruit cup

  • Calories: 60
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Apple

  • Calories: 80
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Coffee Houses

Regular coffee or tea takes the sidelines at most coffeehouses these days. Oversized coffee drinks containing syrups, whole milk, and whipped cream take center stage. One would think they were at an ice cream parlor if it weren't for the smell of espresso! Then there are the super sized cookies, muffins, danish and sandwiches. It goes without saying that keeping it simple at coffee houses is the way to go. We’ve got some good and poor choices for you to consider.

Worst Choices - Starbucks

Double Chocolaty Chip Frappucino

  • Calories: 510
  • Fat: 19g
  • Saturated fat: 11g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Venti Caramel Macchiato

  • Calories: 300
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Blueberry scone

  • Calories: 460
  • Fat: 22g
  • Saturated fat: 12g
  • Trans fat: 0.5g

Worst Choices - Dunkin Donuts

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Croissant

  • Calories: 640
  • Fat: 43g
  • Saturated fat: 17g
  • Trans fat: 0.5g

Chicken Biscuit

  • Calories: 500
  • Fat: 25g
  • Saturated fat: 10g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Blueberry scone

  • Calories: 550
  • Fat: 37g
  • Saturated fat: 13g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Best Choices - Starbucks

House brew coffee of the week

  • Calories: 5
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Short Chai Tea Latte

  • Calories: 100
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Grande Cafe Americano

  • Calories: 15
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Perfect Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts

  • Calories: 340
  • Fat: 11.5g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Low Fat Red Raspberry Muffin

  • Calories: 340
  • Fat: 6g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Multigrain bagel

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 4g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Egg White, Spinach & Feta Wrap

  • Calories: 280
  • Fat: 10g
  • Saturated fat: 3.5g
  • Trans fat: 0g

If you desire a coffee drink, opt for nonfat milk, sugar-free syrup and hold the whipped cream

Best Choices - Dunkin Donuts

Small Coffee

  • Calories: 5
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Small Coffee with Skim & Splenda

  • Calories: 25
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Latte Light Medium

  • Calories: 120
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Multigrain Bagel with ½ serving Reduced Fat Cream Cheese

  • Calories: 440
  • Fat: 12g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Egg White & Cheese English Muffin

  • Calories: 270
  • Fat: 4g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Egg White & Veggie Flatbread

  • Calories: 290
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated fat: 4g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Egg White & Cheese Wake Up Wrap

  • Calories: 150
  • Fat: 6g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Trans fat: 0g

Low Fat Cranberry Orange Muffin

  • Calories: 390
  • Fat: 3g
  • Saturated fat: 1g
  • Trans fat: 0g

As you can see, fast foods CAN fit into a heart-healthy diet. But just like everything in life, you must plan ahead and follow the principles of moderation. Even if you choose from our Best Choices list, it is not recommended that you frequent fast food outlets more than a few times each week. Add some variety to your heart-healthy diet by bringing lunch to work and preparing a few more meals each week at home. Your pocketbook and your heart will thank you!

For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation.

*The information used to create this guide was obtained from individual restaurant websites. Please refer to the websites for the most current nutritional information.

Web Sites and Resources for Fast Food Nutrition Information

Reviewed: 05/10

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy