Even though we all know how bad fast food is for our health, many of us still eat it on a regular basis. That’s probably because when we’re tired, pressed for time, or leaving a club at 3am, the ubiquitous and quick-serving chains with the big bright signs seem like the fastest, easiest way to fill our appetite. Convenience, speedy service, big portions, and greasy taste triumph in our moment of weakness over counting calories and measuring grams of fat, sometimes more often that we’d like to admit. In the most extreme cases, such as the Heart Attack Grill in the States, people make a regular diet out of unhealthy fast food meals, knowing full well that these meals put them in serious health risk.
1. The Unhealthiest Fast Food Meal Choices
1.4 Tim Horton's
1.5 Pizza Pizza
2. What to Choose Instead
2.1 Healthier Picks at McDonald's
2.2 Healthier Picks at Wendy's
2.3 Healthier Picks at KFC
2.4 Healthier Picks at Tim Horton's
2.5 Healthier Picks at Pizza Pizza
3. A Look at the ‘Healthier’ Fast Food Restaurants
There is some nuance with fast food feeding though. While it’s easy to just denounce everything on a fast food menu as unhealthy, not all meals are created equal. In fact, some fast food items may surprise you with their nutritional information, while offerings from seemingly healthier chains contain more calories and fat than you may think. Wondering about what’s really expanding your waistline at McDonald’s or KFC? And is Manchu Wok actually less fattening than you think? Read on to discover the best and worst in fast food nutrition in Toronto.
Fast Food by Tup Wanders
McDonald's by Collin Messer
We’ll start with the golden arches known all around the world, McDonald’s. The items that you should stay away from include the following:
- Any of the Angus burgers, carrying 740 to 780 calories and 44 to 47g of fat.
- The large fries, as delicious they are, are loaded with 560 calories and 27g of fat.
- The Big Breakfast, Sausage & Egg Biscuit sandwich, and Sausage, Egg & Cheese sandwich are close to or over 600kcals per serving, and carry 30 to 39g of fat.
- The Bacon & Egg Bagel and Breakfast BLT Bagel, each delivering around 500 calories and 23g of fat.
- Big Mac and Big Xtra sandwiches, each over 500kcals and close to 30g of fat.
- Any of the McBistro items, which load 500 to 600kcals and 20 to 30g of fat to your daily nutritional intake.
- The Quarter Pounder with Cheese, at 530 calories and 28g of fat.
- Any of the McFlurries except the small Smarties flavour, which contain close to or over 600 calories. Avoid the large Rolo at all costs—830kcals and 33g of fat from a dessert is not a good idea!
- Any of the milkshakes, which contain up to 700 calories.
Dave Thomas’ chain is known for its old-fashioned hamburgers and wide variety of chicken sandwiches. What are the worst nutritional selections here?
- Stay away from the W sandwiches, which start at 580 calories and 33g of fat for the Single and go up to a whopping 1060 calories and 67g of fat for the Triple!
- Not surprisingly, the Baconator and Bacon Deluxe sandwiches rank poorly; they start with 660kcals, 40g of fat and go up to 970kcals, 63g of fat.
- The Asiago Ranch Club sandwiches, containing 600 to 700 calories and 27 to 37g of fat.
- The Baja salad actually has 540kcals and 32g of fat, and that’s without dressing.
- Both the BLT Cobb salad and the Spicy Chicken Caesar salad also contain close to 500kcals and 25g of fat before you add the dressing.
- Large fries carry 530 calories and 25g of fat.
- Any of the Frosty Shakes, from over 500 calories all the way up to a frightening 1000 calories for the Caramel Large.
KFC by viZZZual com
The Colonel’s fried chicken is oh-so-tasty, but it can also be oh-so-fattening.
- The keel pieces are the worst fried chicken items, packing 320kcals and 16g of fat per piece. Multiple that by however many pieces you typically order, and the counts skyrocket.
- Avoid the Big Crunch and Zinger sandwiches; both contain over 500kcals and 26g of fat.
- The small Popcorn chicken carries 525 calories and an alarming 34g of fat.
- Medium and large fries are overloaded with calories, from 940 to 1530 calories, and a jaw-dropping 47 to 77g of fat.
- The poutine contains 860kcals and 48g of fat.
Good ol’ Timmy’s doesn’t have any particular items with startling calorie and fat counts. However, the danger comes whenever you combine items in one go, such as a sandwich with a donut, or a bagel with Timbits. Stay away from the following choices if you’re going to order multiple items:
- With 530kcals and 34g of fat, the Sausage, Egg, Cheese breakfast sandwich is not the best way to start your day.
- The Bagel BELT isn’t much better, bringing 460kcals and 15g of fat to your order.
- Surprisingly, the worst of the donuts isn’t the glazed but the Walnut Crunch, with 360kcals and 23g of fat.
- With the Timbits, the Sour Cream Glazed has the highest per Timbit calorie count (90kcals) and a high fat count too (4.5g).
- When it comes to the cookies, the peanut butter (280 calories, 16g of fat) is actually worse nutritionally than any of the chocolate ones.
- If you’re hankering for a muffin, stay away from the Triple Chocolate (450 calories, 16g of fat).
- Both the Frosted Cinnamon Roll and the Chocolate Danish are poor choices, with close to 500kcals and over 25g of fat in each.
- The tasty Iced Cappuccino and French Vanilla Cappuccino unfortunately add 250 calories and 8 to 11g of fat to your meal.
Pizza Pizza by The Pizza Review
Arguably the biggest pizza chain in Toronto, the key to eating healthier at Pizza Pizza is to not have too many slices! Having 3 large pizza slices can load you with 700 to 900 calories, plus 18 to over 30g of fat, depending on the toppings. If you do feel like going on a pizza binge, steer clear of the following toppings:
- The Sausage Mushroom Melt and the Bacon Chicken Mushroom Melt are each at 320 calories and 16g of fat for a large slice.
Now that we’ve seen the worst that fast food eateries have to offer, let’s look at the available options to reduce the calories and fat in your order.
If you want to eat healthier at McDonald’s, check out these items:
- The snack wraps all contain less than 300 calories and 6 to 13g of fat.
- Also, the standard hamburger has 250kcals and 8g of fat.
- The One Chicken Fajita carries 200kcals and 5g of fat.
- Hash browns are surprisingly lower in calories and fat than expected: 160 calories and 10g of fat.
- The Breakfast English Muffin has 180kcals and 5g of fat.
Wendy’s by Like the Grand Canyon
Here’s what to order if you’d like to cut your calorie and fat intake at Wendy’s:
- The Go Wraps are under 350kcals and contain less than 17g of fat.
- You can half-size your salads to reduce calories and fat.
- Chili, at 310kcals and 9g of fat for the large size, is another good option.
- The Cheesy Cheddarburger contains 300kcals and 15g of fat.
At KFC, you can have the fried chicken without going way overboard in calories and fat:
- Pick the Original Recipe drumstick (100kcals, 6g of fat) or wing (130kcals, 8g of fat) pieces. Refrain from the fattening Hot and Spicy recipe.
- Try the Colonel’s Snacker or the Toasted Wrap, both under 300 calories and 14g of fat.
- If you’re craving bite-sized chicken, the Crispy Strips (330 calories and 15g of fat) are healthier than the Popcorn Chicken.
- Also consider the regular Chicken Bowl, at 410kcals and 17g of fat.
- Finally, mashed potatoes (180kcals, 0g of fat for medium size) are better for you than fries.
The next time you order multiple items at Timmy’s, choose these healthier selections:
- Any of the soups, which are all under 240kcals and 13g of fat.
- The healthiest breakfast sandwich would be the English Muffin with Egg and Cheese (280 calories, 11g of fat).
- Despite their bad rep, the bagels without cream cheese or butter are actually not terrible nutritionally, with the highest calorie and fat counts at 330kcals and 9g for the Twelve-Grain Bagel.
- If you’re going to have a donut, get the dipped ones (210 calories, 8g of fat).
- With Timbits, the Dutchie and Apple Fritter are your best nutritional bets (50 calories, 1.5 to 2g of fat for each Timbit).
- Get the Low Fat Double Berry Muffin, with 290kcals and 2.5g of fat.
- If you want an Iced Cap, have it with milk (150kcals, 1.5g of fat) instead of cream.
- Another Iced Cap alternative would be the Iced Coffee; with milk, it contains only 70 calories and 1g of fat.
- Have a Yogurt & Berries snack, which carries 160 calories and 2.5g of fat.
Here are the pizza toppings with the least amount of calories and fat:
- Cheese and Garden Veggie are the absolutely lowest, at 220 calories and 10 to 11g of fat for a large slice.
- Want more choices? The Pepperoni, Mediterranean Veggie, and Pesto Amore are each at 230 calories and 10 to 12g of fat.
Fresh Sandwich by Justin & Elise
It’s worth noting that just because a fast food chain seems less, well, fast-food-like (i.e. fresher ingredients, smaller franchise), it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything on the menu is healthier.
The chain Select Sandwich would appear to offer selections that are lower in calories and fat than Wendy’s or Pizza Pizza. However, depending on what you order, this isn’t exactly true. The paninis range from carrying 626kcals and 24g of fat (Mediterranean Grilled Veg Panini) to 860kcals and 42g of fat (Zesty Chicken Caesar Panini).
If you choose a salad, watch the dressing! A chicken breast salad can jump from 394 calories and 2.3g of fat without dressing, to 760 calories and 42g of fat with ranch dressing. If you’re looking for healthier dressing, try the sesame ginger teriyaki sauce or the light Italian dressing.
Creating your own sandwich is also a good way to lower the calorie and fat count. Generally, assembling your own bread, meat, toppings and sauce can reduce your meal by 100 to 200kcals compared to the signature sandwiches.
If you’re craving Mexican, Quesada offers many items that are high in calories but relatively low in fat. Any of its large burritos or quesadillas contains 500 to 700 calories, but most of them contain less than 30g of fat per serving. For a healthier meal, go with their tacos, which all carry less than 250kcals and 11g of fat.
Chinese chain Manchu Wok boasts surprisingly good numbers on its menu, with popular items like General Tso’s Chicken, Spicy Beef, BBQ Pork, and Fried Rice all carrying under 450kcals and 23g of fat per serving. There are many low-calorie, low-fat choices here, such as the Spicy Chicken (140 calories, 8g of fat), the Beef and Broccoli (190 calories, 12g of fat), and the Mixed Vegetables (140 calories, 10g of fat).
The two major sub chains in Toronto score differing calories and fat counts due to a marked difference in serving sizes. Subway’s sandwiches are considerably bigger than Mr. Sub’s, from 50g to 100g more; correspondingly, their calories and fat counts are higher. A steak and cheese sub from Mr. Sub weighs 145g, contains 300kcals and 8g of fat; Subway’s version of the same sub weighs 245g, contains 380kcals and 10g of fat. Subway does have a health-conscious trump card up its sleeves: the 6 Grams of Fat selections. Without reducing sandwich size, these special subs all carry 200 to 250kcals, and 5g or less of fat.
Finally, the fast food chain with the most health-conscious image, Cultures, does contain some of the lowest-calorie, lowest-fat foods. Especially impressive are its paninis, which carry around 200 to 250 calories and less than 4g of fat (except if you have it with tuna), and its fully dressed salads, which manage to carry only 200 to 300 calories and 15 to 23g of fat even with dressing! However, beware of the sandwich filling you choose: grilled chicken, grilled veg, and turkey are the healthiest choices, but tuna, crab, and tofu can actually add up to 100kcals and 10g of fat to your sandwich.
Before you head to the nearest fast food chain, remember this: the recommended daily intakes for calories and fat are approximately 2000kcals and 65g (applies to adult women, the limit can go up to 2500kcals for able-bodied men). Also, keep in mind that when you order a combo meal, you’re adding up the nutritional values of the sandwich, the fries, and the soft drink (which typically contains 100 to 200 calories and up to 50g of sugar). To get the idea of what are the healthier choices while visiting your favourite fast food next time, just have a look at our infographic that compares some of the meals you could have!
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