Eating Healthier at Fast Food and Chain Restaurants

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The Health of It All

Eating Healthy at Fast Food Restaurants

Wendy's: a Nutrition Nightmare

Wendy's logo

Wendy's seems so wholesome.

Founder Dave Thomas used to do the commercials himself to make you feel good about the place. Homey and down to earth was the message. They used real beef: fresh and not frozen. On their website they use terms like fresh, made right, honest and craveable. Makes you feel all warm and squishy inside, doesn't it.

Heck, he named the place after his daughter. That's wholesome!

Wendy's burger

On the website they make it appear that they care about you and some of what Wendy's does is laudable. They talk about food allergens and gluten sensitivity along with their "commitment to quality choices". For example, they serve all white meat chicken and have reduced the sodium by 34% in their grilled chicken sandwich, they use lower calorie salad dressings and fry only in non-trans-fat oil. Let's look at this carefully (and mind you, that's hard because getting to the nutrition information on their website is now rather difficult).

1. That chicken sandwich? Who cares if it is white meat chicken? Serving dark meat does not bring all that many fat and calories to the dish so it is an empty nutrition claim.

2. That reduced sodium chicken sandwich? It comes in at a whopping 810 milligrams of sodium. Down from 1,190, sure, but this is still far too much to recommend that you have it for lunch (or dinner or breakfast or literally ever). Their Homestyle Chicken Sandwich contains 1,020 milligrams of sodium. Wowser! That's a lot, especially in the setting of 500 calories (over 2 to 1 ratio of sodium to calories) and a paltry 2 grams of fiber. It is all uphill from there and peaks out with their Homestyle Bacon Jalapeno Chicken sandwich at a whopping 1,940 milligrams of sodium.
I never thought that I might recommend chicken nuggets, but their 6-piece Chicken Nuggets contains only 510 milligrams of sodium and 250 calories (again at a 2 to 1 ratio of sodium to calories). Mind you, I am not recommending this or any of the chicken items on their menu. Likewise, there is no burger on their menu that we can recommend. The Jr. Hamburger is only 240 calories and contains 410 milligrams of sodium so you will have to decide if what is not all that great a burger is worth risking your health for.

3. Those lower calorie salad dressings? Pretty good as far as the calories at around 60 calories per serving, but they contain 150 milligrams of sodium per serving. This is in addition to the over 800 milligrams of sodium in every one of their salads. As such, it is hard to recommend their salads: all of them come in around 1,000 milligrams of sodium, and the Taco Salad is just shy of 1,900 milligrams of sodium. Really, Wendy's? Salad is supposed to be healthy. It is just not that hard to address the issue you have with added salt.

4. Cooking in oil that does not contain trans-fats is now the law of the land, so this is another empty claim.

This is usually the point in these columns about fast food where I make recommendations and offer you a table with calories, fat, fiber and sodium for those selections. We want you to be able to take great care of yourself and to eat great food. Wendy's will not help you do that.

In some ways I suppose I should thank Wendy's because it made writing this easier: Our recommendation is don't go to Wendy's.

If you do get stuck at a Wendy's and have to eat something, the Chili might be an OK choice. It is still 920 milligrams of sodium, but does have 7 grams of fiber. Having that over the top of a baked potato would make a half decent meal. That is the only choice that remotely approaches not being harmful to your health.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet