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Healthy Chains?

So you're trying to eat healthy but you're on the run and no time to make yourself a healthy meal. Where do you go and what do you order?

I like Baja Fresh's chicken salads and it seems like el pollo locco is a good low carb choice (especially low fat is you tear off the skin). I also find myself ordering salads at Corner Bakery with dressing on the side (their chopped salad is so good).

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  1. Tropical Smoothie has Boar's Head meats and fantastic wraps/sandwiches. Plus a yummy smoothie, a healthful (and very filling!) meal!

    1. Actually, as someone now in the fitness industry, I have looked at all those places with "healthy" menus, read the nutrition info posted on the web or in the restaraunt.

      None of the mentioned above would qualify as "healthy". With the fats and preservatives, as well as mega salt content, you might as well just have a whopper. Smoothies are thought of as healthy, and I guess are better than milkshakes, but not by much. The whopping sugar content, as well as , believe it or not, salt in some of them are criminal. Fruit juice is just sugar, as most of the healthy fiber is removed. And how many of the smoothie joints use full fat ice cream or frozen yogurt, often from a commercial brand that uses trans fats?

      Also, the nutrition industry generally prefers lower, yet healthy multi grain and whole grain carbs to the famed "low carb" food choices, which remove carbohydrates but then replace the flavor with added fat-usually trans fats.

      I would say the healthiest chain is probably the deli or salad bar at your local supermarket chain. Any fast or regular food chain has to get most of their food to the location in a frozen, bulk and easily storable manner. This equals high volume purchasing, and also necessatates additives, preservatives and more. The necessity of having all locations provide consistant flavor calls for artificial and "natural" flavoring. Keep in mind that the basic definition of "natural flavorings" is basically "tastes that are like those found naturally" NOT "flavored by a natural food product".

      Ignore Subway, it really isn't much better than McDonald's, and most people order a foot long over the half sandwich, and then add baked, trans fat high chips and a sugar and sodium blitzing soda.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Diana

        I'm not being contrary - I'm curious: if I go to Jamba Juice and order a low-fat or no fat smoothie made with strawberries and soy powder and I watch them add whole frozen strawberries to the mix (thus keeping the fiber and at least some nutritional value) why is this not a healthy option?

        My understanding from my dietician was that low-fat plain yogurt with soy powder and fruit was a great, healthy option...am I deluded?

        While on tour last fall, Subway was often my only option aside from McDs or BK or Taco Bell. I'd get whole grain roll, double turkey, a cup of veggie soup and water to drink....I thought I was doing fairly well with that, too. I eat organic at home but unfortunately, the options on the road are limited. I'd take every Whole Foods I came upon by storm and try to stock up (until I found out that those damned Luna bars really aren't as good for me as I thought - too high in sugar....grrrrr)

        1. re: krissywats

          The subway veggie soup has tons of sodium and uses a lot of preservatives..not healthy. Are there preservatives in the Turkey? Chicken is leaner (white meat) DOuble turkey means double calories and fats. DO you have oil and vinegar? Mayo? any other dressing? IS the roll made with just whole wheat flour? That's not whole grain. Most Whole wheat rolls are just as bad as white flour bread..you nead a large percentage of whole grains (not, by the way, "made with" whole grains, the legal definition of "made with" is that some of the grains in there are whole, or were originally whole. There could be as small as 5% whole grains in that roll, I think, and the manufacturer can legally say "made with whole grains". How do you think Lucky Charms gets away with it?)

          IS the soy pwder at Jamba Juice low fat? What yogurt do they use? Is it frozen yogurt? Does it have trans fats? Keep in mind, the term "low fat" may mean lower in fat, but not calories, and doesn't say WHAT fats..and if its frozen yogurt, it probably has massive amounts of SUGAR. Its a HEALTHIER option than the regular smoothie (my dietician calls them "shakes", because they pretty much are). Read the calorie content, and all the nutritional info on your smoothie. The Jamba Juice is required by law to have them available for you.

          By the way, energy bars are really just candy bars...tons of calories, fats and worse. They are designed to give super athletes a quick boost, not to keep normal people slim. Avoid ALL of them, you're better off.

          Seriously..in truth NO fast food or chain place is healthy/ Perhaps just "not as really awful for you".

          1. re: Diana

            Thanks Diana. Sodium isn't an issue for me at all so thankfully I don't pay much attention to it. And if I don't have to worry about sodium, then the veggie soup is a better option than the chips!

            The reason I get double meat is because a portion for me (according to my dietician) is 6oz of meat and they do not put on 6oz at subway unless you ask for double. I'm really into organic foods and whole grains so I know of what you speak, I guess for me the issue was that in terms of eating out, and if you have NO other options subway can be a HEALTHIER option but not the healthiest (and no oil and vinegar on subs for me).

            Thanks for bringing up the smoothie issue (I use regular yogurt, not froyo in mine) - I'll check into all that and make sure that if they make me a smoothie it's as good for me as the one I make at home.

            And yes, I'm aware of the energy bar issue....ARGH!!!....my dietician pointed that out too (except there is one doctor prescribed brand that is supposed to be OK - I can't think of the brand name right now, but they are very expensive but supposed to be a good alternative).

        2. re: Diana

          I think you can do okay at Subway if you forgo the chips, soda, and cookie. Try to order your (small) sandwich on whole wheat bread, and order a lean meat, like turkey, and ask them to hold the mayo and oil. Eat one half of your sub for lunch and put the other half away for tomorrow or for dinner or split the sandwich with a friend.

          McDonald's fruit & walnut salad is a reasonably healthy choice for breakfast, lunch or snack on the go. It's just a sliced apple, a dollop of low-fat yogurt, and a small portion of candied walnuts.

          If you're with a group, a pizza place is okay. A single slice of thin crust cheese or veggie pizza is fine on occasion, especially if you combine it with a big green salad. Take care to avoid the high fat extras, salad dressings, grated cheese, etc. In fact, if you travel a lot, you might even consider carrying your own salad dressing.

          I've also heard Taco Bell's plain bean burrito is a reasonable choice if you're on the go and desperate, though, I've never tried it.

          Most convenience stores --7-11's, gas stations like SuperAmerica, etc.--carry nuts, string cheese, yogurt, milk, and fruit and sometimes hard boiled eggs. These are okay choices for snacks on the go as long as you control your portions of the cheese and nuts.

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            When my fiance was wrestling in college, his nutritionist said that a bean burrito from Taco Bell was the best option if he was going to eat fast food. I pity the poor fool that had to wrestle him though!! ;-)

        3. Two options that I think are pretty good and quite tasty for fast food:

          Chipotle's salads if you get beans, guac (high in good fat), grilled veggies, tomato and corn salsa and no meat/cheese/cream, etc. Don't even need the vinegrette cause the other stuff has so much flavor. Prob is pretty high in salt, but personally I don't worry that much about salt (don't eat tons of processed food).

          Wendy's chili: gives you some beans, some meat, some veggies (maybe) all in a tasty low-cal (and cheap!) package. Just avoid their hot sauce which is disgusting. And they'll give you sour cream if you want more flavor (and need more fat in that meal).

          Krissywat--I think Diana's point is that most of the smoothie chain's use a "base" that is high in sugar without a lot of fibor/nutrition. So when you order it with yogurt and soy powder that is added to their normal sugary base. When I make smoothies at home I just use fruit as the base with some milk if necessary. Adding low-fat milk or yogurt with fruit is definitely a health option.

          Diana, I have to disagree with you a little. My sense is that there is no evidence that trans fats are worse than saturated fat (even though they "seem worse" to me too).

          1. My healthy choices from restaurants (considering everything is relative).

            Five Guys: Small hamburger with tomato, lettuce, mustard, onion and pickles.

            Penn Station: lite size veggie sub...mushrooms, onions, green peppers, banana peppers, provolone (skip the provolone is trying to be REAL healthy), lettuce, tomato ,spices and vinegar (no oil)

            Chipolte: Vegetarian burrito bowl with lettuce, black beans, salsa and guacamole.

            Wendy's: Junior hamburger, side salad with FF dressing

            McDonald's: grilled chicken Caesar salad with low fat Italian dressing or the new Oriental chicken salad (grilled)

            1. Folks, a reminder please.

              "Healthy" is a relative term. If you want to debate the spectrum of meanings behind that description, please do so on our Not About Food board, where nutrition and diet discussions are appropriate.

              Please bring us back to the question of which chain restaurants serve (relatively speaking) "healthy" foods.