Top high calorie Health Halo fast food

HealthHaloCan fast food be healthy?  Well, it depends on how you define “healthy”.  There’s no official definition.  Health Magazine recently convened a panel of experts who came up with their version of the Ten Healthiest Fast Food restaurants.  Their definition of “healthy” included:

  • healthy fats
  • healthy sodium counts
  • availability of nutrition information
  • use of organic produce

Hmmm.  Nothing about reasonable calorie counts for meals?  And sorry, having nutrition information available does not make the food healthy.  The majority of fast food restaurant chains publish plenty of detailed nutrition information on their websites, even for the high fat/high sugar/high calorie items.  That’s a non-issue.

The main contributor to health problems in the US, and increasingly around the globe, is obesity.  And obesity is the result of too many calories.  So portion sizes and calorie counts for meals have to be part of the discussion.  Unfortunately, certain chain restaurants have been handed a Health Halo, thanks to the presence of salads or low fat menu items or organic food, even though the meals turn out to be extremely high calorie.  And a calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from locally sourced pork, organic avocados, olive oil vinaigrette, super-sized fries or giant caramel lattes.

With that in mind, here’s a very different list: national chain restaurants that make it extremely easy to order too many calories, while patting yourself on the back for going to a Health Halo restaurant:

  1. Chipotle: Health Magazine gushes over the organic ingredients, and touts the tortilla-free Burrito Bowl as a calorie-saving option, but Chipotle is really all about giant overstuffed burritos, with plenty of added fat calories from sour cream, guacamole and cheese.  And that’s before you add a soft drink and some chips.  Your meal could easily top 1500 calories.  Local sourcing doesn’t mean the calories don’t count.
  2. Subway: Yes you can order a spartan low fat 6 inch turkey sub, but you can also order a Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt.  Fritos on a high fat sandwich?  Really???:  The website conveniently lists the calorie count for the 6 inch version, meaning the 12 inch sub is almost 1200 calories.  And that’s before you add a drink and chips and possibly dessert.  Just because you bought it at Subway doesn’t make it low calorie or healthy.
  3. Panera: Health Magazine ranks Panera #1 on the list, and Panera does have plenty of salads, soups and sandwiches with vegetables.  But you can also choose cheesy pasta dishes, 300+ calorie bagels (that’s before you put anything on them), muffins (450 for Apple Crunch) and pastries (470 for a blueberry scone).   If you reward yourself for ordering a healthy salad for lunch by adding a 440 calorie Red Velvet cupcake for dessert, the calories quickly add up.

Obviously, you can order too many calories at almost any restaurant, but most fast food restaurants don’t have Health Halos.  The main point: if you’re watching calories (and who isn’t?), you need to pay attention to portion sizes regardless of what restaurant you patronize.

I’d prefer a list with the title  Best restaurants where you can make healthy choices.   Because the choice should be up to the consumer.  And there are plenty of other fast food restaurants that would have made my list: Mad Greens, Smashburger, Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, just about any taco truck in L.A., most fast Asian/Vietnamese/Japanese/Korean restaurants, and many other regional chains.  My criteria?  portion control/calories, lots of vegetables, healthy fats and plenty of choices.

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