Burgers and chips, sushi, noodles, pizza, wraps – we're spoilt for choice when it comes to convenient fast food. Whatever fast food outlet is your favourite, there's unhealthy and somewhat healthier options available to you. So in 2011, CHOICE took a look at what was available on the menus at some of Australia's biggest fast food chains to help you choose the healthiest option available. And it's not always just the garden salad!
Grilled Chicken Breast Strips with Garden Salad
This Portuguese-style chicken specialist styles itself as "nothing fried, nothing frozen", but the fine print points out that their chips, 100% premium chicken breast Bondi Bites and Veggie Burger are all fried. So it pays to choose wisely if you want to make a healthier choice. Some Oporto burgers come with two or three grilled fillets, so stick to a single fillet and avoid the skin if you choose a whole chook.
Save up to 2005kJ, 34.5g fat and 625mg sodium by:
- Grilled Chicken Breast Strip pack (four strips) with Garden Salad (with dressing) 1188kJ, 11.4g fat, 698mg sodium
- Single Fillet Norm Burger 1500kJ, 14.9g fat, 818mg sodium
- Rappa with small chips 3193kJ, 45.9g fat, 1323mg sodium
- Veggie Burger 2700kJ, 34.3g fat, 1080mg sodium
Some items here come crumbed and fried, but grilled and barbequed options are also available – just avoid those that come with bacon and cheese. Try salad or vegetables on the side to add some extra vitamins and minerals.
Save up to 2691kJ, 36.4g fat and 1190 mg sodium by:
- Free Range D'Lish Garden Salad 478kJ, 2.2g fat, 233mg sodium
- Free Range D'Lish Burger 1340kJ, 8.3g fat, 469mg sodium
- Rippa Sub 3170kJ, 38.6g fat, 1422mg sodium
- Real Bacon Burger 2130kJ, 24g fat, 1677mg sodium
Six Inch Ham Sub
Eating at Subway can be a minefield – with extra cheese. While some nutritious subs are available, others will have your arteries screaming in protest, and sometimes it's hard to tell them apart. Just adding sauce can turn your healthy sandwich into a fat bomb. Their Chipotle Southwest Sauce has 406kJ and 10g of fat per 21mL serving. Also worth bearing in mind is that their "6g of fat or less" range is calculated without sauce or cheese.
Save up to 900kJ, 16.3g fat and 411mg sodium by:
- Six Inch Ham Sub (without sauce or cheese) 1050kJ, 3.6g fat, 789mg sodium
- Six-inch roasted chicken sub (without sauce or cheese) 1180kJ, 4g fat, 438mg sodium
- Six Inch Meatball Marinara Sub (with cheese) 1950kJ, 19.9g fat, 1200mg sodium
- Six Inch Italian BMT Sub (with cheese) 1730kJ, 18.6g fat, 1280mg
Prawn and Spinach Ciabatta Pizza
Who doesn't love pizza? Make the right choice and keep your portions under control, and you can enjoy some guilt free. Domino's now offers a Good Choice range in single serves, taking the legwork out of finding the healthier choice.
According to Domino's and Pizza Hut, a serving of their regular range is just one slice – but we disagree. Asking around the CHOICE office, we found that even the most birdlike eater tends to eat two slices, so we've doubled the serving size.
Save up to 1352kJ, 31.5g fat and 685mg sodium by:
- Penne Pasta with Roasted Chicken, Mushrooms and Tomato 1548kJ, 1.7g fat, 575mg sodium
- Prawn and Spinach Ciabatta Pizza (Good Choice) 1645kJ, 2.2g fat, 606mg sodium
- Meatball and Rasher Bacon Edge Pizza (2 slices) 2060kJ, 22.8g fat, 1028mg sodium
- Chicken Carbonara Pasta Box 2900kJ, 33.2g fat, 1260mg sodium
Thin and Crispy Pizza
Unlike Domino's, Pizza Hut lacks a healthier choices menu. Don't have nutritional info at hand? Follow two basic rules: always go for the thin crust (which is usually tastier than a thick doughy base anyway) and avoid anything where the main topping is meat or cheese.
Save up to 904kJ, 12.6g fat and 546mg sodium by:
- Thin and Crispy Veggie Supreme Pizza (2 slices) 1162kJ, 9.2g fat, 612mg sodium
- Thin and Crispy Classic Hawaiian Pizza (2 slices) 1226kJ, 11.2g fat, 810mg sodium
- Deep Pan BBQ Meat Lovers Pizza (2 slices) 2066kJ, 21.8g fat, 1158mg sodium
- Stuffed Crust Cheese Lovers Pizza (2 slices) 2018kJ, 22.8g fat, 1000mg sodium
Chicken Fillet and coleslaw
Be careful at the Colonel's. Most menu items are deep-fried, and the closest you'll get to a salad is mayonnaise-drenched coleslaw, so all you can really do is pick the best of a bad bunch.
Save up to 1854kJ, 30.8g fat and 463mg sodium by:
- Original Recipe Fillet (1 piece) with a regular coleslaw 1169kJ, 10.3g fat, 820mg sodium
- Original Burger 1724kJ, 14.5g fat, 969mg sodium
- Original Recipe Chicken (2 pieces) and regular chips 3023kJ, 41.1g fat, 1283mg sodium
- Twister Wrap 2446kJ, 32g fat, 1200mg sodium
Garden Salad with Grilled Chicken
Hungry Jack's brings us the Whopper, the Double Whopper, and the Ultimate Whopper, with a patty, cheese, another patty and yet more cheese. Unsurprisingly, it's a whopping big kilojoule hit. Stick to a single patty to keep your energy intake under control.
Save up to 4294 kJ, 72.9g fat, and 1431mg sodium by:
- Hamburger with Garden Salad 1414kJ, 11g fat, 836mg sodium
- Garden Salad with Grilled Chicken and French dressing 791kJ, 7.6g fat, 955mg sodium
- Angry Angus (double) 3276kJ, 52.1g fat, 1775mg sodium
- Ultimate Double Whopper 5085kJ, 80.5g fat, 2386mg sodium
Hamburger, Garden Salad and a bottle of water
While many menu items at the golden arches aren't the healthiest, McDonald's has introduced Heart Foundation Tick meals and salads. There's also a seared chicken line, offering a more gourmet alternative to the usual burgers. Go easy on the sauces and opt for a salad instead of fries.
Save up to 2460kJ, 32.9g fat and 877mg sodium by:
- Seared Chicken Tandoori Wrap 1340kJ, 7.5g fat, 596mg sodium
- Hamburger with Garden Salad and Italian dressing 1110kJ, 8.8g fat, 578mg sodium
- Crispy Chicken Bacon Deluxe with small fries 3570kJ, 41.7g fat, 1455mg sodium
- Mighty Angus Burger 2870kJ, 35.7g fat, 1360mg sodium
All nutrition data was calculated per serve in 2011. The total daily intake for the average adult is 8700kJ, 70g fat and 2300mg sodium. Needs vary depending on your gender, size and activity level. Nutritional data accurate as of May 2011 and may also vary slightly between states.
You know how the saying goes: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. If you're going to stick with unhealthy fast food choices, you'll need to balance the kilojoule equation – whether that's by abstaining from indulgences the next day or extra exercise. To give you an idea of the energy in some of the fast food options, we did some kilojoule crunching.
- McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder = more than 2.5 hours of constant house cleaning (definitely no breaks to watch Ellen!) or walking.
- Hungry Jack's Ultimate Double Whopper = 1.5 hour run or 3 hours of helping your friend move house (if you lift all the heavy boxes).
- Wicked Wings Snack Box from KFC = almost 2 hours of cycling or 1.5 hours mowing the lawn.
We surveyed CHOICE members to find out how often they buy meals away from home, and what they buy. Almost half the members we surveyed buy lunch on the go up to twice a week, with the most popular choices being sandwiches and sushi.
At the sandwich shop
Ham and salad on whole grain bread
Most people would think a ham and cheese sandwich is a healthy lunch, but bread, ham and cheese are all high in sodium and it lacks nutrients. To make a better sandwich choice:
- Opt for wholegrain bread over white or focaccia.
- Ask for no butter, or substitute with avocado.
- The more salad the better, and the more colours in the salad the more vitamins and minerals you'll get.
- Go easy on the cheese and avoid fried fillings and processed meats.
- Choose mustard or vinaigrette over creamy sauces.
At the sushi bar
Mixed sushi tray
Japanese is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, but the Western palate has added some unfortunate twists, such as processed cheese. Japanese cuisine can be high in sodium, which is linked with many health problems including high blood pressure and kidney disease. To make a better sushi choice:
- Cut back on the salty soy sauce – use wasabi for flavour.
- Steer clear of tempura and battered or fried sushi fillings, and choose tuna, chicken or sashimi instead.
- Give mayonnaise and processed cream cheese a wide berth – they'll only add unwanted fat and kilojoules.
Miso soup is delicious but also very salty, so enjoy sparingly.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.