You know you should bypass the burger joint when you travel, but when McDonald's is your only option, here's what nutrition pros recommend
5 Nutritionist Picks for Fast Food
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It's a fit girl's travel conundrum: Terminal C has three options—all of them fast food—and you forgot to pack snacks.
You don't want a burger and fries to derail your diet, but you also don't want hangry to set in. So what are you supposed to do? When it comes to looking good naked, you want to choose the most "naked" food options, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., the wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute.
That means skipping the sauces (ranch, BBQ, sweet and sour, and honey mustard are the worst offenders, she says), add-ons, and crispiness; and sticking with the simple LTO, mustard, and grilled meats.
As for the nitty gritty, we touched base with five top nutritionists for their go-to picks in sticky food situations. The good news: Fast food doesn't need to tank your diet—so long as you order like a pro.
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"There are really no fast food places that won't give you a meal where calories, sugar, fat, or carbs add up fast," says Kirkpatrick. Even salads can come with sugar-laden dressings and fried chicken, she adds. So your goal is to minimize the damage if you're in a crunch.
Order this: Anything from the kids' menu. "Smaller portions may trump anything else. I suggest adults go with the kids' meals," says Kirkpatrick. Why? A regular single, double, or triple patty can equal out to between 600 and 1,000 calories—and between 40 to 60 grams (g) of fat, she says. Kids' patties? Usually between 250 to 300 calories and 10 to 15g of fat. Another option: the all-day breakfast menu. "Opt for a high-protein egg sandwich, and hold the processed meats or oatmeal," suggests Kirkpatrick. (Psst... Australian outposts of Mickey D's offer burgers in lettuce wraps!)
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"People think Chipotle food is healthy because it is free of antibiotics and free-range. Those characteristics are favorable, but not the litmus test for health," says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., a nutritional consultant and an adjunct assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University. "Most Chipotle meals are calorie bombs!"
Order this: Roussell's go-to is a salad with extra fajita vegetables, chicken, salsa, and a small amount of shredded cheese. Toby Amidor, R.D., a nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day, goes for a bowl with rice, beans, salsa, beef, and sometimes guacamole. Just don't scarf the entire order! "Their bowls are still very large portions, so I will eat half for lunch and take the rest home for another meal—usually the next day," Amidor says.
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Starbucks takes its fair share of heat in the nutrition department—and for good reason. Some of the menu items are loaded with sugar and calories. "Skip the smoothies full of sugar or a slice of the 'how do they get so many calories in this?!' lemon pound cake," says Roussell.
Order this: Roussell says the Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Bowl and the Turkey & Havarti Sandwich are more nutritionally well-rounded than other items on the menu. Ilyse Schapiro, R.D., author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?, opts for the Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box (hummus, grilled chicken, grape tomatoes, cucumber, and pita bread) plus a banana—which is less than 400 calories. "Starbucks is also great for their Protein Bistro Box which contains a hard boiled egg, sliced apples, grapes, and white Cheddar cheese served with multigrain muesli bread and honeyed peanut butter also for less than 400 calories."
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"When I travel, I often leave the house before breakfast so picking up breakfast on the road is a common occurrence," says Roussell. "Dunkin' Donuts are everywhere and an easy stop if you need a quick bite to eat."
Order this: The Bacon, Egg, & Cheese on and English muffin breakfast sandwich is a good pick, says Roussell. The nutrition stats: 16g of protein and 7g of fiber for only 300 calories. "I'm fine with a lower calorie breakfast like this when I'm traveling as I usually will have a dinner function which means it will be a larger meal." (P.S. Check out Nutrition Experts' Favorite Brown-Bag Lunches.)
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It's OK to indulge every now and then—experts say so! So if you have a weakness for fries, make room for them by subbing out other carb-heavy parts of the meal. "If fast food restaurants are all that's available, I will look for a Burger King," admits Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet.
Order this: "My choice is simple: a veggie burger with lettuce and tomato and a small fries," says Gans. But know this: Most Burger Kings won't list the veggie burger on their menu. "They are available—you just have to ask," she says." Gans also ditches the top bun to save calories and make room for her true love: the fries.