Fast-food menus seem to be getting more and more involved. Gone are the days of a simple burger and fries combo with whatever soft drink you like. Now menu boards are filled with chicken and fish sandwiches that are piled high with toppings or even pasta with heavy sauces and sides of garlic bread. While these menu items taste good, they also pack a punch in terms of calories, fat, and sodium.
We got some insight on the newest fast-food menu items from Hannah Cooper, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian from Houston, Texas. Cooper shared what to avoid in the drive-thru lane. But if you really want to indulge (because let’s be honest, a fried fish sandwich on a King’s Hawaiian roll does sound delicious) Cooper gave some tips on how to make each dish a little more balanced.
And for more, don’t miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Per 1 sandwich (228 g): 570 calories, 25 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 990 mg sodium, 65 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 20 g protein
One of two new dishes at Arby’s is the new Crispy Fish Sandwich. Cooper says it’s not the worst menu item to order in terms of nutritional value, but it is high in sodium. “Fortunately, it is high in protein, which will help keep you full a little longer. If you want to make this option healthier, skip the side of fries,” she says.
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Per 1 sandwich (301 g): 690 calories, 34 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 1,000 mg sodium, 74 g carbs (2 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 25 g protein
Let’s be honest; this new sandwich sounds delicious. The sandwich is piled high with tartar sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and a crispy fish fillet on a King’s Hawaiian bun. “Again, if you want to choose this, try omitting the fries or choose a side salad with lite dressing,” says Cooper.
This gluten-free and vegetarian dish makes the unhealthy list due to the lack of protein, according to Cooper. “The Cauliflower gnocchi dish is low in protein and high in saturated fat and sodium. If you want to try this, opt for the small size and choose a vegetable for a side,” she says.
Another new dish from Noodles is the Cauliflower Gnocchi with Pesto. This variation is even higher in sodium and fat than the garlic basil dish. “Although zoodles would be a good alternative, the Noodles & Company option is also high in sodium. Opt for the smaller serving side of this if you want to try a bowl,” says Cooper.
Per 1 8-inch sandwich with French bread: 850 calories, 50 g fat (12 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,890 mg sodium, 60 g carbs (6 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 37 g protein
Picking a chicken sandwich for lunch at the drive-thru can be a decent choice—or one that’s going to leave you hungry again in a few hours due to the lack of positives in the nutritional intake.
“A great way to make your sandwich healthier is to choose a whole-grain bread and add veggies,” says Cooper. “This sandwich has quite a bit of fat and sodium. I would recommend choosing the unwich or making this sandwich at home with better ingredients.”
Per 1 regular-size Oreo Shamrock McFlurry: 560 calories, 16 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 260 mg sodium, 92 g carbs (1 g fiber, 68 g sugar), 12 g protein
Shamrock Shakes are back at McDonald’s for a limited time, and this year, the fan-favorite shake is debuting a new friend, the Oreo Shamrock Mcflurry. “McFlurrys can be a sweet treat occasionally, but I would not recommend having this regularly. This shake has 59 grams of carbs (includes sugar) and minimal amounts of protein, meaning this is not going to keep you full or satisfied for very long. If you want to try it, choose the snack size for portion control,” says Cooper.
Per 1 sandwich: 980 calories, 64 g fat (19 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 2,380 mg sodium, 63 g carbs (4 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 40 g protein
Cheesesteaks are one of our favorite indulgences, but they’re not exactly healthy. “The majority of calories in this sandwich come from fat, which is not a great sign. If you want to try this sandwich, split it with someone and choose a vegetable or fruit for a side. Balance is key,” says Cooper.
Per 1 serving original Texas Tenders (40 g): 110 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 432 mg sodium, 6 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 8 g protein
Chicken tenders are easily one of the most-ordered items at fast-food restaurants, but they are also loaded with sodium. “Each chicken tender has over 400 milligrams of sodium,” Cooper says. “If you had six chicken tenders, you would already be over the recommended sodium intake. For this dish, opt for two to three tenders and choose a healthier side, like the green beans.”
Per 6-piece Spicy Chicken McNuggets: 250 calories, 16 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 540 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar),148 g protein
Spicy nuggets are a trend in fast-food drive-thrus, and while they taste good, they aren’t the best option to keep you full. “Although a six-piece nugget is relatively low in calories (250 calories), the majority of calories come from fat,” says Cooper. “Skip the fries and soda for this combo and choose water (or a diet soda option) and the apple slices. You’ll be full longer and will get some added fiber from the fruit.”
Portillo’s Mint Chocolate Shake is loaded with sugar. “Not only will you get a sugar rush after drinking it, but you are more than likely going to crash hard,” Cooper says. We would skip this and find a different sweet treat from the menu.
The newest breakfast item on the menu at Portillo’s is the Pepper and Egg Sandwich, but it’s loaded with sodium. “If you’re going to have this, maybe have half and choose a healthier side option, like the fruit cup or side salad,” says Cooper.
We’re usually a fan of anything red velvet, but these cookies max out on sugar and calories. “Tallying in at 50 grams of sugar, this cookie deserves a spot on the not-healthy list,” Cooper says. “Additionally, almost half of the 570 calories come from fat. If you plan on treating yourself to a red velvet cookie, split it with a friend!”
Note: Nutrition information is taken from each restaurant’s website and wasn’t available for all of the new dishes.