Healthy food guide - fast food

Some "healthy" fast-food options aren't much better than a Big Mac.
 
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  • Updated:3 Jan 2006
 

01 .Introduction

healthy food - orange juice

Healthy fast-food options

Worst 10

  • HUNGRY JACK’S Country Chicken Baguette
  • SUMO SALAD Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad — with small-size dressing
  • HUNGRY JACK’S Caesar Salad with Chicken and Dressing
  • HUNGRY JACK’S Vegie Supreme Baguette
  • McDONALD’S Italian Supreme Deli Choice
  • McDONALD’S Bacon & Egg Deli Choice
  • HUNGRY JACK’S Salad with Dressing
  • McDONALD’S Chicken Caesar Deli Choice
  • McDONALD’S Crispy Cut Salad with Spicy Avocado Dressing
  • HUNGRY JACK’S Grilled Chicken Baguette

Best 10

  • McDONALD’S Garden Mixed Salad with French Dressing
  • SUBWAY Veggie Delite 6" under 6 g fat
  • SUMO SALAD Spicy BBQ Prawn Salad — with small dressing
  • HEALTHY HABITS Tuna & Salad Sandwich (on multigrain bread)
  • PURE & NATURAL Layered Vegetable Frittata
  • SUMO SALAD Malaysian Beef Salad — with small dressing
  • SUMO SALAD Tandoori Chicken Wrap — half
  • SUMO SALAD Pumpkin Pinenut Wrap — half
  • SUMO SALAD Moroccan Lamb Salad — with small dressing
  • HEALTHY HABITS Linseed Wrap with Sweet Chilli Chicken, Lettuce, Carrot, Cucumber and Mayonnaise

Please note: this information was current as of January 2006 but is still a useful guide today.


The worst

  • Three ‘healthy’ options out-Mac a Big Mac when it comes to fat and salt and seven more come close.
  • All 10 are fattier than a KFC Original Fillet Burger and seven have more salt.
  • These 10 all have a tablespoon of fat or more, the top three around one-and-a-half (beating a Big Mac).
  • All have more salt than a Big Mac. That’s more than a third of the maximum daily amount recommended for salt — most in fact much more than that, at around half the recommended limit.
  • They’re not the worst choices on the menu as a whole (the extra salad is a fast-food fibre bonus), but they don’t really live up to their image — and the very high salt content can be hard to balance out, even in an otherwise healthy diet.

For more details see the nutrition table or what our criteria for best and worst are.

The best

  • There's an increasing number of healthy options that only the most ferocious dietitian would be too disturbed about.
  • All have around two teaspoons of fat or less.
  • None has more than one quarter of the upper daily salt recommendation. This doesn’t mean they’re low in sodium — you won’t have much luck on that score in a fast-food place — but they’re not too over-the-top.

For more details see the nutrition table or what our criteria for best and worst are.

 
 

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Here’s our ‘healthy’ fast-food hall of shame:

The worst
Brand / product
(in order of total fat, most to least, then salt, most to least)*
Total fat (g / serve) Sodium (% upper RDI) Energy (kJ / serve) Serve size (g)
HUNGRY JACK’S Whopper (A) 39 41 2740 270
HUNGRY JACK’S Country chicken baguette 35 57 2760 220
SUMO SALAD Grilled chicken caesar salad (with small dressing) 31 38 1960 285
HUNGRY JACK’S Caesar salad with chicken & dressing 28 79 1860 250
McDONALD’S Big Mac (A) 25 35 2010 200
HUNGRY JACK’S Vegie supreme baguette 23 58 2250 235
McDONALD’S Italian supreme Deli Choice 23 52 1970 250
McDONALD’S Chicken Caesar Deli Choice 21 60 2360 245
HUNGRY JACK’S Salad with dressing 21 55 1370 185
McDONALD’S Bacon & egg Deli Choice 21 53 2080 200
McDONALD’S Crispy cut salad with spicy avocado dressing 21 39 1470 285
HUNGRY JACK’S Grilled chicken baguette 20 45 1850 225
KFC Original fillet burger (A) 18 47 1900 210

Table notes

Table Figures are rounded to the nearest 1 g fat, 10 mg sodium, 10 kJ energy and 5 g serve sizes.

RDI Recommended daily intake.

* KFC, Hungry Jack's, McDonald's and Subway are available in all states. Sumo Salad has stores in NSW and Victoria (and one in Brisbane) www.sumosalad.com has details. Pure and Natural isn't in Tasmania or the NT (www.purenat.com.au). Jesters has stores in NSW, Victoria and WA (www.jesters.com.au). Healthy Habits is in Victoria and Queensland, plus one store in each of the ACT, NSW and SA www.healthyhabits.com.au).

(A) Not marketed as a healthy option, but included for comparison.

Our best picks:

The best
Brand / product (in order of total fat, least to most, then salt, to least most)* Total fat
(g / serve)
Sodium
(% upper RDI)
Energy
(kJ / serve)
Serve size
(g)
McDONALD’S Garden mixed salad with French dressing 4 15 380 190
SUBWAY Veggie delite 6“ under 6 g fat 4 24 960 160
SUMO SALAD Spicy BBQ prawn salad (with small dressing) 6 24 700 295
HEALTHY HABITS Tuna & salad sandwich (on multigrain bread) 7 25 1130 465
PURE & NATURAL Layered vegetable frittata 8 9 1110 380
SUMO SALAD Malaysian beef salad (with small dressing) 10 11 1150 350
SUMO SALAD Tandoori chicken wrap (half) 10 21 900 155
SUMO SALAD Pumpkin & pinenut wrap (half) 11 21 940 160
SUMO SALAD Moroccan lamb salad (with small dressing) 11 16 1210 365
HEALTHY HABITS Linseed wrap with sweet chilli chicken, lettuce, carrot, cucumber & plain mayonnaise 12 16 1880 385

Table notes

Table Figures are rounded to the nearest 1 g fat, 10 mg sodium, 10 kJ energy and 5 g serve sizes.

RDI Recommended daily intake.

* KFC, Hungry Jack's, McDonald's and Subway are available in all states. Sumo Salad has stores in NSW and Victoria (and one in Brisbane) www.sumosalad.com has details. Pure and Natural isn't in Tasmania or the NT (www.purenat.com.au). Jesters has stores in NSW, Victoria and WA (www.jesters.com.au). Healthy Habits is in Victoria and Queensland, plus one store in each of the ACT, NSW and SA www.healthyhabits.com.au).

(A) Not marketed as a healthy option, but included for comparison.

The rest
Brand / product (in order of total fat, most to least, then salt, most to least)* Total fat
(g / serve)
Sodium
(% upper RDI)
Energy
(kJ / serve)
Serve size
(g)
SUMO SALAD Pumpkin & pinenut salad (with small dressing) 26 22 1170 310
SUMO SALAD Lemon & herb roasted chicken salad (with small dressing) 24 12 1466 305
PURE & NATURAL Chicken satay filo 18 31 2020 325
JESTERS Gorbachomp pie 17 22 1420 175
JESTERS Taj Mahal pie 16 24 1420 175
McDONALD’S Mustard beef Deli Choice 15 59 1760 265
PURE & NATURAL Spinach & ricotta filo pastry 15 27 1430 180
SUMO SALAD Chicken caesar wrap (half) 14 28 1180 160
KFC Boneless chicken 13 ns 1060 115
JESTERS Ned Kelly pie 13 23 1220 175
SUMO SALAD Tandoori chicken salad (with small dressing) 13 12 910 390
PURE & NATURAL Tuna, chive & black olive q’tata (B) 12 43 1120 180
HEALTHY HABITS Linseed wrap with Cajun chicken, lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomato & tzatziki 12 36 1940 430
PURE & NATURAL Basil, tomato & fetta q’tata (B) 11 32 960 180
HUNGRY JACK’S Steak sandwich baguette 10 58 2140 250
SUMO SALAD Smoked salmon & goat’s cheese salad (with small dressing) 10 43 920 330
KFC Original fillet salad bowl with dressing 10 41 990 270
McDONALD’S Vege pesto Deli Choice 10 37 1510 270
PURE & NATURAL Sweet chilli & chicken q’tata (B) 9 35 1050 180
PURE & NATURAL Greek spinach filo 9 31 900 185
McDONALD’S Lean beef burger 9 29 1250 175
HUNGRY JACK’S Spicy chicken baguette 8 43 1620 235
McDONALD’S Thai chicken Deli Choice 8 41 1480 240
McDONALD’S Turkey & cranberry Deli Choice 8 40 1780 235
PURE & NATURAL Thai chicken & coriander q’tata (B) 8 37 950 180
PURE & NATURAL Spinach & corn q’tata (B) 8 31 870 180
PURE & NATURAL Ham & zucchini frittata 8 30 840 215
McDONALD’S Chicken tandoori Deli Choice 7 52 1400 240
McDONALD’S Roast chicken salad with mango & sesame dressing 7 28 1040 335
SUBWAY Turkey 6“ under 6 g fat 6 43 1160 205
HEALTHY HABITS Roast beef baguette with lettuce, tomato, onion & English mustard 6 41 1690 350
SUBWAY Sweet onion chicken teriyaki 6“ under 6 g fat 5 63 1540 265
HEALTHY HABITS Turkey baguette with lettuce, tomato, cranberry sauce, cucumber & onion 5 60 1930 435
SUBWAY Club 6“ under 6 g fat 5 53 1210 220
SUBWAY Ham 6“ under 6 g fat 5 50 1170 210
SUBWAY Roast beef 6“ under 6 g fat 5 48 1150 210
SUBWAY Turkey & ham 6“ under 6 g fat 5 47 1160 205
HEALTHY HABITS Plain chicken baguette with lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, cucumber & plain mayonnaise 5 41 2190 510
SUBWAY Roasted chicken 6“ under 6 g fat 5 31 1280 225
McDONALD’S Herb fusion salad (with teriyaki dressing) 3 40 590 260

Table notes

Table Figures are rounded to the nearest 1 g fat, 10 mg sodium, 10 kJ energy and 5 g serve sizes.

RDI Recommended daily intake.

* KFC, Hungry Jack's, McDonald's and Subway are available in all states. Sumo Salad has stores in NSW and Victoria (and one in Brisbane) www.sumosalad.com has details. Pure and Natural isn't in Tasmania or the NT (www.purenat.com.au). Jesters has stores in NSW, Victoria and WA (www.jesters.com.au). Healthy Habits is in Victoria and Queensland, plus one store in each of the ACT, NSW and SA www.healthyhabits.com.au).

(A) Not marketed as a healthy option, but included for comparison.

Not all the chains we looked at got into our ‘best’ list, but most do have some better choices available.

Here’s the best of the rest

KFC

KFC's Original Fillet Salad (with dressing) that only has two teaspoons of fat — but it packs in the salt: over 40% of the daily maximum. KFC is also trialling a new product called Boneless Chicken, a coated chicken fillet product using breast, thigh and drum fillets that has less than half the fat of a serve of Original Recipe chicken.

SUBWAY

SUBWAY has eight subs on offer with no more than six grams of fat (a little over a teaspoon or less). No SUBWAY lower-fat offering made it into our worst list, and one made the best list. The other seven missed out because they have about 30% or more of the maximum recommended salt for a day in one sub. Take care when ordering other subs or wraps on its menu — many have one or even one-and-a-half tablespoons of fat, and plenty of salt too.

MCDONALD’S

Here’s a fast-food giant that’s really been trying to reinvent itself and deflect criticism about the nutritional quality of its food. All the items on the Salads Plus menu are a better choice than a Big Mac — they have less than two teaspoons of fat per serve, but all but one missed our best list because of the salt content. But watch out for some of the new healthy-sounding Deli Choices. Most have salad ingredients, but they’re not necessarily lower in fat or salt — a few made it into our worst list. McDONALD’S new warm salad range — Crispy Cut and Herb Fusion salads — aren’t part of the Salads Plus range. Herb Fusion is low in fat — less than one teaspoon — but it’s still high in salt. And Crispy Cut made it into our worst list when teamed with the higher-fat Spicy Avocado Dressing.

HUNGRY JACK’S

What can you say about a chain that tells us its baguettes are its healthy option, but manages to cram seven teaspoons of fat and nearly 60% of the daily salt limit into its Country Chicken Baguette? All is not completely lost, however. HUNGRY JACK’S Steak Sandwich Baguette and Spicy Chicken Baguette would have made it into our best list if it weren’t for the large whack of salt they provide. With only two teaspoons of fat, both are a better choice than a Whopper.

JESTERS

A pie shop with pies that the National Heart Foundation will tick? Yes, though only one sweet and three savoury pies (listed in the table) make the grade, so don’t assume all their pies get the tick. However, the ticked pies are not all that magically different gram for gram from some of the other pies on the menu — they’re just smaller (175 g vs 200 g).

PURE & NATURAL

This is a chain with a healthy image — its catch-cry is “fast fresh 100% healthy food”. In general most of the offerings we looked at were better than average, and all but the Chicken Satay Filo were heading for the best but the salt content knocked most of them out.

HEALTHY HABITS

HEALTHY HABITS claims to be “a cut above the rest”, and given how big their wraps and rolls are (400–500 g), it’s impressive that all those we looked at just barely topped the two-teaspoons-of-fat mark. What kept most of them off our best list was the salt content: one teaspoon of fat in a huge roll is impressive, but when it comes with 40% or even 60% of the maximum recommended daily salt, not so good.

SUMO SALAD

With its funky packaging, complete with New-York-style Chinese takeaway containers and chopsticks, you feel cool and healthy just buying something from SUMO SALAD. Five of its offerings made it into our best list, but the two wraps only get there if you buy the smaller half-serve size, and the salads only with the small dressing option. More of the salads and wraps would have made it in if it weren’t for the salt content, although a couple are pretty heavy on the fat and one made it into the worst list for that reason. They’re packed with vegies, though, and that’s a good thing.

06.How we checked them out

 

How they made the grade:

To make our Top 10 best choices a product had to have around two teaspoons of fat or less per serve and give you less than one quarter of the daily recommended limit for sodium (from salt) This is a fairly generous cut-off for salt, but if we were tougher nothing much would have made the list.

The meals in the Worst 10 list are up there with McDONALD'S Big Macs and KFC Chicken Fillet Burgers. They all have one tablespoon of fat or more per serve, some one-and-a-half. All have more than one third of the daily upper recommended limit for sodium, most more than half.

It always pays to go for something with heaps of salad or vegies in it, if your looking for fast food: you may still be getting fat and salt, but at least there's some fibre and vegie goodness there as well. Watch the dressings, too, unless you're sure they're low-fat and not packed with salt.

What we included:

We looked at are those products which the chains suggest are in some way their healthier or lighter, fresher options. They may not specifically claim to be lower in fat or salt, but they present a healthier image.

We only included a selection of menu items that have nutrition information available and are portable fast food, rather than sit-down options. We didn't include some very small items (such as small spring rolls and side dishes).

Where dressing is available we assumed you'd have some, but if there's a smaller size, we used that.

SUMO SALAD offers half or full wraps; we assessed half wraps, which are closer to the serve size of a Big Mac, but included its regular-size salads.

How much each day?

  • An average woman should be aiming for no more than 70 g fat per day, an average man 90 g.
  • One teaspoon of fat is 5 g, one tablespoon 20 g, or four teaspoons.
  • The daily recommended maximum sodium intake for adults is 2300 mg.