These grab-and-go bites are the ultimate convenience foods, but choose wisely to avoid a diet downfall.
Text: Karen Ansel, MS, RD
August 03, 2011
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Best Fast Food Burgers and Sandwiches
Think your turkey sandwich is a better bet than a burger? Not necessarily. Often filled with too much meat, extra cheese, and fatty spreads, sandwiches and burgers aren’t always what they seem. Done right, they’re packed with good-for-you ingredients like lean protein, complex carbs, and fiber. On the flip side, they can be calorie, sodium, and fat nightmares. Our top picks show you how to get between the bread - the healthy way.
2 of 12Courtesy of Starbucks
Starbucks Roasted Vegetable Panini
The Starbucks menu boasts an uberhealthy veggie panini that makes it easy to rack up several servings of produce in one shot. Unlike other uninspired veggie sandwiches, this one is filled with a stick-to-your ribs combo of roasted zucchini, eggplant, and red peppers. Then it’s topped with melty provolone and served up on a hearty foccaccia. The result? Four grams of filling fiber and 13 grams of satiating protein. You’ll also score 40% of your day’s vitamin A, a fifth of your daily dose of iron, and as much calcium as half a glass of milk.
Stats: 350 calories, 12 grams of fat, 770 milligrams sodium
3 of 12Courtesy of Subway
Subway Veggie Delite
This crunchy combo of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and black olives from Subway is like a salad in a sub. With 2 servings of produce, you’ll score a third of your day’s calcium and 20% of your daily dose of vitamin C. Order yours on 9 grain wheat and ask for avocado and a drizzle of oil and vinegar to make it even more heart healthy.
Stats: 230 calories, 3 grams fat, 310 milligrams of sodium
4 of 12Courtesy of Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain Napa Chicken with Avocado Wrap
Au Bon Pain nails the wrap. Think all-natural chicken breast nestled in a tortilla with romaine, tomatoes, avocado, and cukes, then drizzled with lemon aioli and lemon vinaigrette. In addition to a hefty 26 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, you’ll also rack up an impressive 110% of your daily dose of vitamin A as well as at least a quarter of your day’s vitamin C, iron, and calcium. If the 24 grams of fat scare you, you can relax. They’re almost entirely heart-healthy fats with only 6 grams of saturated fat and a scant 60 milligrams of cholesterol.
Burger King really does let you have it your way. Visit their website and you can customize your burger and get updated nutrition stats to match. Before tweaking, one right-sized flame broiled Whopper Jr. with all the fixings sports a respectable 340 calories, 19 fat grams, and 530 milligrams of sodium. But you can make it even better. Lose the pickles and the mayo and you’ll trim 80 calories, 8 fat grams, and 180 milligrams of sodium.
If the oversized slices of bread put you in a carb coma, Einstein Bros is here to help. Their slender Garden Herb Turkey Bagel Thin boasts less than two-thirds the carbs of most take-out sandwiches yet plenty of protein and veggies to fill you up. Layered with turkey, garden herb schmear, tomato, lettuce, and spinach, you’ll walk away for only 310 calories and snag 25 grams of protein in the process. For an extra fiber boost ask for yours on a whole-wheat bagel thin.
A burger doesn’t need to be a diet deal breaker – if it’s done right. Grilled pineapple, Swiss cheese, and teriyaki glaze from Carl’s Jr. put a new twist on the turkey burger. The result is a poultry patty with 32 grams of muscle-building protein that weighs in with less than 500 calories. The weak link is the sodium. Ask for yours sans Swiss and you’ll shave off 220 milligrams of sodium plus 50 calories and 4 grams of fat.
Smashburger Grilled Chicken Spinach and Goat Cheese Sandwich
This newcomer elevates the grilled chicken sandwich to an entirely new level. Layered between a multigrain bun, you’ll find white meat chicken, creamy goat cheese, cucumbers, spinach, tomato, and onion, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Sounds like a diet dealbreaker? You’ll be glad to know it clocks in at only 410 calories. If you’d like to cut down the 14 grams of fat, ask for your bun without the gratuitous butter that’s added before grilling. Ditching the balsamic vinaigrette can help you trim nearly half the sodium.
This grilled sandwich from Chick-fil-A could be the skinniest chicken sandwich around. Marinated grilled chicken breast on a wheat bun with dill pickle chips, lettuce, and tomato equal 28 grams of super lean protein and only 4 grams of fat. Even though it’s more waistline-friendly than most chicken sandwiches, it’s still a bit of a sodium bomb. Ask for yours without the Honey Roasted BBQ sauce and you’ll shave off 70 milligrams of sodium.
Short ingredient lists have decided health perks. Sporting only oven-roasted turkey and a sesame seed bun, it doesn’t get much shorter than this. With less than 1 gram of saturated fat, 5 grams of total fat, and only 40 milligrams of cholesterol, this sandwich is super lean. If the 1,020 milligrams of sodium set off alarm bells, go for the Jr. Roast Beef Sandwich from the kids’ menu with just 210 calories and roughly half the sodium.
Jack in the Box Chicken Fajita Pita made with whole grain
Who says fast food has to derail your diet? This petite Mexican-style pita sandwich from Jack in the Box’s Healthy Dining menu lets you do take-out the healthy way. You’ll bite into grilled chicken, shredded cheddar, grilled onions, lettuce, and tomato tucked into a warm whole-grain pita. One sandwich delivers more potassium than a small banana plus 3 grams of fiber. By ordering yours without the shredded cheddar, you can trim 145 milligrams of sodium, 67 calories, and 7 fat grams.
Get your veg on with this plant-based sandwich from Cosi. Hummus, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and basil all spell a hefty dose of phytochemicals and a quarter of your day’s vitamin C and iron. It also serves up 13 grams of heart-smart plant protein and 7 grams of fiber. With 532 milligrams of sodium it puts the competition to shame.