Top 5 Healthiest Fast Food Joints in America


According to Yahoo Health’s recent survey on the nation’s 100 largest fast-food chains, the following are the top healthiest fast food in the nation—from nutritious soups and healthy salads to fresh whole grains and sensible desserts. Even better: They’re offering good-news Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean fare.

Using criteria that was created with the help of expert panel, they scored the chains on such factors as the use of healthy fats and preparations, healthy sodium counts in entrees, availability of nutritional information, and the use of organic produce to determine the 5 highest-ranking restaurants.

1. Panera Bread: This bakery-cafe-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal. “Variety makes it easy for everyone to choose healthy,” praises registered dietitian and panelist Marisa Moore. What does that mean for you? For starters, you can pick from two whole-grain breads for your sandwich and have an apple with it instead of chips (though the chips are fine, too—they can be baked!). Half-size soups, salads, and sandwiches make it a cinch to control portion size. Also, most of the chicken is antibiotic- and hormone-free, a rarity for large chains.

Panera also won top honors for kid fare, dishing out RD-approved crowd-pleasers like squeezable organic yogurt, PB&J (with all-natural peanut butter), and grilled organic cheese on white whole-grain bread.

2. Jason’s Deli: How did this up-and-comer snag second place? Largely because of its devotion to organic food: About one-fifth of all its ingredients are organic, from blue-corn tortilla chips and whole-wheat wraps to field greens and spinach. Plus, its creative salads—like the Nutty Mixed-Up Salad with organic field greens, grapes, chicken breast, feta cheese, walnuts, dried cranberries, pumpkinseeds, raisins, and organic apples—make you actually want to order the greens.

3. Au Bon Pain: A pioneer in healthy fast food, Au Bon Pain serves up sandwiches, soups, salads, and hot entrees made with whole grains, veggies, and hormone-free chicken.

New this year: Portions, a 14-item menu of nutritious small plates—from appetizers like apples, blue cheese, and cranberries to salads like chickpea and tomato—all of which are less than 200 calories. Another impressive feature: Au Bon Pain provides on-site nutritional information via computer kiosks, so before you even order you know each option’s calories, fat, and sodium. “It’s a great way to empower customers,” praises judge Amy Jamieson-Petonic.

4. Noodles and Company:
Noodles and Company isn’t your typical greasy Asian food-court joint. In fact, it goes beyond Asian fare and cuts out the grease (only healthy soybean oil is used in sauteing). Here, you choose from three food types: Asian, Mediterranean, or American, then within each style, pick from four noodle bowl options. Lean proteins—hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu—can be added, too.

The result? Tasty combos like Japanese Pan Noodles with broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, Asian sprouts, and sauteed beef. Also key: “You don’t have to chow down on a giant bowl of noodles. You can opt for a small portion,” says judge Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, Health’s Senior Food and Nutrition Editor. The small Bangkok Curry bowl has just 250 calories.

5. Corner Bakery Cafe:
What sets Corner Bakery apart? A fantastic breakfast menu, which is rare in the quick-serve world. We love the Farmer’s Scrambler: eggs scrambled with red and green bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms, potatoes, and Cheddar cheese. (It’s only 260 calories when ordered with egg whites.) There’s also Swiss oatmeal, a chilled European breakfast cereal made with rolled oats, green apples, bananas, currants, dried cranberries, low-fat yogurt, and skim milk.

But Corner Bakery also has healthy salads, sandwiches, and soups made with whole grains, fresh, lean meats, and vegetables, as well as great portion-controlled combinations that make limiting calories a no-brainer.

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