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Healthy Fast Food: Is It a Myth?

Healthy fast food isn't a myth. If you're short on time but still trying to eat healthy or lose weight, you can find a lot of great options from your local fast-food restaurants. Whether you're focusing only on lowering calories or want to cut down on fried food and carbohydrates, you may be surprised by the options available to you.

Switch It up at Your Favorite Places

Just because you want to be healthier doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite fast-food restaurants. For example, many spots that specialize in fried chicken offer grilled chicken as an alternative. Or instead of ordering fries, you might consider mashed potatoes or grilled corn. If you want to indulge -- because you really want those fries -- just do a little research and find a fast-food restaurant with lower-calorie fries. Sonic's fries, for example, tend to be lower in calories and fat than many other brands. Large-size Sonic fries have 280 calories, compared to McDonald's large fries with 570 calories and Wendy's with 540. You can even order your fries with no salt to cut down on the sodium.

Another way to make dishes healthier is by eliminating the worst ingredients entirely. Did you know that at Taco Bell you can order any dish "fresco-style?" This means that ingredients like cheese and sour cream are replaced by pico de gallo. Avoid mayonnaise when ordering a sandwich, and skip the full-calorie sodas and lemonades entirely.

Know the Healthy Fast Food Options

The best way to take advantage of healthier fast food is by planning ahead. When you're at the drive-through window, the pressure of the people waiting behind you might cause you to order your standby choices quickly rather than really reviewing your options. From Chipotle to Wendy's, healthier options are waiting for you if you know where to look.

  • Subway: Salads can be really low in calories, especially if you choose a light dressing or replace the dressing with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. For sandwiches, avoid extra cheese and full-fat mayo, and opt for Subway's light mayo. Turkey is one of the lowest-calorie meats at Subway.
  • Taco Bell: Instead of a cheese-filled gordita or quesadilla, choose a fresco-style soft taco. Cantina bowls are also good options if you eliminate the higher-calorie dressing and guacamole. If you really need some cheese, the $1 mini chicken quesadilla is only 180 calories.
  • Chipotle and Freebirds: Burrito places have healthy tweaks you can make, too. Instead of a burrito, order a bowl. Leave out the sour cream and cheese (or just go light on it), and load up on the veggies. Replacing the regular rice with brown rice will up the healthy quotient, too, adding fiber and nutrients while lowering the glycemic index. Both chains also offer vegan protein options: sofritas at Chipotle and calabacitas at Freebirds.
  • In-N-Out: If you're craving a cheeseburger, leave off the special sauce and don't double the meat. To cut calories even more, ask for it "protein-style" with lettuce instead of a bun -- though the fat is still pretty high here.
  • Chick-fil-A: You'll find lots of options here. The grilled chicken wrap is a solid choice with only 350 calories. Even the nuggets fare better than most places. Eight chicken nuggets are only 260 calories. Go for grilled nuggets, and you'll lower the calorie count further to 140.
  • Wendy's: Some Wendy's salads are pretty unhealthy, but you'll be just fine if you go with the Asian Cashew Chicken.
  • Burger King: Here you have an option that's pretty rare: a veggie burger. This is only 390 calories, including mayonnaise.
  • KFC: KFC has gone all out to provide healthier alternatives. Instead of fried chicken, you can order from their grilled chicken options.
  • Panda Express: Even Chinese can be healthy. Skip the orange chicken, and choose grilled teriyaki or black pepper chicken. Instead of fried rice, try mixed vegetables.

Remember that planning ahead is the biggest key to eating healthy fast food. When you have time, research your favorite places and the lowest-calorie, healthiest options. The suggestions above don't account for sodium or saturated fat, so if those are a concern, be sure to research them, too. Make a note of what you can order, and save the note on your phone. This way, you'll be prepared the next time you find yourself at the drive-through window.

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