Vegetarian fast food

How do the major chains stack up when it comes to healthy vegetarian fast food?
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We review more than 80 non-meat fast food meals from 12 national fast food chains.

Our analysis looks at and compares:

  • ingredients 
  • kilojoules
  • saturated fat, and
  • sodium 

There’s no denying the popularity and convenience of fast food, but finding healthy fast food isn’t easy, as our 2011 fast food survival guide demonstrates. 

So if you’re vegetarian or you’re attempting to reduce your meat intake and choose healthier food when eating out, what chance do you have?

Some chains don’t even give vegetarians a look-in on the menu. When they do, the veggie options are often limited. And don’t make the mistake of assuming the veggie meal will be the healthiest option on the menu – or even that it’ll be suitable for vegetarians. See Which chains cater to vegetarians? for the lowdown, and Choosing healthy veggie fast food for tips.

On this page:

For more information on Nutrition see Food and drink.

The problem with protein

Fast food chains are often guilty of creating a vegetarian meal by replacing the meat protein component of the dish with cheese. The result can be tasty, but it also bumps up both the salt and saturated fat content of the meal.

  • Dominos Simply Cheese pizza and Pizza Huts Signature Four Cheese pizza are prime examples. Eating just one slice can contribute a sizeable chunk to the maximum recommended intake of both, but chewing through two or more slices can break the nutritional bank – don’t even contemplate ordering these with the optional cheesy crusts both chains offer.
  • Cheese can even play havoc with a salad. A regular size Sumo Salad Balsamic Beetroot salad has 1908mg sodium – that’s 83% of the maximum recommended daily intake.

Veggie offerings using plant protein sources tend to be more nutritious. Protein sources such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts and tofu are higher in fibre, antioxidants and other protective phytochemicals – without the sodium and saturated fat of cheese.

May contain traces of cow

Strictly speaking, foods that contain animal by-products such as gelatine, animal-derived rennet and animal fat are a no-no for all types of vegetarians. The frequently cheese-laden veggie menu items in particular are a potential minefield for vegetarians, as cheese commonly contains animal-derived rennet. So we asked each chain if any of its non-meat menu items contain animal by-products.

  • McDonald's famously once used beef tallow as its frying oil, but told us it now uses a vegetable oil blend to cook its fries.
  • Hungry Jacks told us it doesn’t market any of its products as vegetarian and that the cheese in its Veggie Burger may contain animal rennet. It's website states that both the cheese and the patty contain animal rennet, but Hungry Jack's didn't respond to our requests for confirmation.
  • The four pizzas on the Dominos menu marked ‘V’ for vegetarian all come with animal-rennet-free cheese.
  • Subway told us its cheese contains animal rennet – but its vegetarian menu options are cheese-free.
  • Only Go Sushi and Sumo Salad told us its non-meat menu items are free from animal by-products.
  • The remaining chains didn’t respond to our queries.

Definitions of vegetarianism

According to Vegetarian Victoria, there are many different forms of vegetarianism.

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or seafood but still eat milk, dairy products and eggs.
  • The diet of pure vegetarians comprises vegetables, vegetable oils, grains, legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas and dried or canned beans), soy products (such as tofu and tempeh), nuts, fruit and seeds but no meat, poultry, fish, seafood, milk, dairy products or eggs (honey is usually seen as being optional).
  • Vegans are pure vegetarians who exclude animal products from their entire lifestyle (wool and leather clothing, for example).

Fast food chains reviewed

  • Dominos 
  • Go Sushi
  • Hungry Jack's
  • KFC
  • McDonald's 
  • Nandos
  • Noodle Box
  • Oporto
  • Pizza Hut
  • Red Rooster 
  • Subway
  • Sumo Salad 

How we test

We surveyed 12 national fast food chains asking them about their vegetarian menu offerings. We used their responses, plus menu, nutrition and allergen information from their websites to assess their offerings.

Our analysis of vegetarian fast food meals (see Compare veggie fast food meals) takes into account the following:

Serving sizes are those specified by the fast food chain. For all pizzas (except for Domino's single serve Prawn and Spinach Ciabatta Good Choice pizza), this is just one slice. At CHOICE, we believe that even the smallest eater is likely to eat two slices so bear that in mind when comparing nutrients per serve, or use the nutrients per 100g details in columns 8-12.

Nutrients are based on information provided by the fast food chain or available on the chain's website. Columns 3-7 show nutrients per serve, columns 8-12 show nutrients per 100g. For comparison purposes energy and sodium figures have been rounded to the nearest whole number and fat, sat fat and sugars have been rounded to the nearest decimal point.

Traffic light criteria are based on the latest nutrition recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and internationally. 

Fat (g/100g) Green light ≤3; Orange light 3.1-19.9; Red light ≥20. 

Saturated fat (g/100g) Green light ≤1.5; Orange light 1.6-4.9; Red light ≥5. 

Sugars (g/100g) Green light ≤5; Orange light 5.1-14.9; Red light ≥15. 

Sodium (mg/100g) Green light ≤120; Orange light 121-599; Red light ≥600.



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