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June 2005 Newsletter

Fast Food Nutrition

Dear Fellow Business Traveler,

Fast food is a necessity for all of us at some point. Studying the menus and nutrition content ahead of time can save you unwanted calories and poor eating choices when the pressure's on to place an order. This month's feature article highlights some of the best and worst selections that you can make.

As always, there's plenty of new activity in the Travel Fitness Blog, including Travel Fit Tips and news releases from your favorite hotels and airlines.

To Your Health,
Customer Service, Healthy Travel Network and Chief Fitness Officer

squareFinding the Best and Worst Fast Foods

Let's face it. Sooner or later, you're going to be stuck at the airport during mealtime and forced to eat at one of the many fast food establishments that abound. Making an uninformed selection can be disastrous for your diet, but with some knowledge and forethought, you can find menu items that do little or no damage.

We surveyed the most common airport food chains and built a detailed comparison of their menu items. Just due to sheer volume and the frequency with which the chains introduce new menus, we couldn't include every restaurant or every menu item, but we've put together a pretty extensive list.

We selected restaurants based on their frequency in airports. Unlike with our Snack and Meal Bar Comparison, we didn't include any taste testing. We'd be both broke and fat! We weren't particularly discriminatory in selecting items, but rather tried to select both some "good" and "bad" items so that you can begin to learn the good, bad, and ugly of their content.

squareNutrition Guidelines

Before you can make a decision about which menu items are the best for you, you have to understand some nutrition basics.

If you're really concerned about what you eat, we recommend talking to your doctor or a nutritionist about your specific needs. In general, however, most nutritionists (who aren't touting the latest fad diet) recommend that you split your calories in the following way:
  • Carbohydrates :: 30% to 40% of total calories
  • Protein :: 30% to 40% of total calories
  • Fat :: 20% to 30% of total calories
For example, you'll hear about 40-40-20 plans or 30-40-30 plans, for carbohydrates-protein-fat respectively.

How do you figure out where your calories are coming from? It's pretty easy if you remember how many calories are in each gram:
  • Carbohydrates :: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Protein :: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Fat :: 1 gram = 9 calories
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Fat has almost 2.5 times the calories of carbs and protein. This is why it's very easy to get fat quickly off of fat! If you consume the same quantity of fatty foods as carbs or proteins, you'll ingest almost 2.5 times the calories!

So, to figure out the percentages, use these formulas:
  • Carbs :: (Grams of Carbs x 4)/Total Calories
  • Protein :: (Grams of Protein x 4)/Total Calories
  • Protein :: (Grams of Protein x 9)/Total Calories
When making your menu selections, strive for well-balanced meal that approaches 40-40-20. If you don't hit your numbers, don't despair. This is, after all, only one meal. But strive for meals that aren't so off-balance that they make it difficult to catch up.

Another point to ponder is calories per meal. To keep your metabolism performing at its best, most nutritionists will tell you to eat five or even six small meals per day, versus three large meals. For example, if you are on a 2,000-calorie per day diet, you might focus on eating five meals of 400 calories each.

Breaking your individual meals down into a calorie allotment will really put the menu items into perspective!

A few other tidbits:
  • Target 25 to 40 grams of fiber per day
  • Target less than 7 grams of saturated fat per day
  • Skip the dressings and sauces to save lots of calories and, frequently, lots of fat
  • Ditto for skipping the cheese
Finally, when you're about to order the fries, cinnamon roll, double burger with cheese, and so on, ask yourself if it's really worth it? Do you want to blow all of those calories and fat on a meal that you'll choke down in five minutes before your flight and that you'll never remember? Or do you want to save them to splurge on a great treat from a wonderful restaurant on your trip or back at home? It's your choice!

squareThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

(As a note to all of the restaurant owners and burger-lovers out there, we're not trying to pass judgment on these menus items; everyone's free to serve and choose what they want. We simply want everyone to be aware of food content, and we want everyone to think before they eat!)

Lest anyone think we're playing favorites, the restaurants are listed in alphabetical order. Get the full fast food nutritional analysis for airport restaurants here.

Au Bon Pain

In general, we like Au Bon Pain's soups.  Paired with a sandwich from which you eat only part of the bread, and skip the cheese and mayo, they make a good choice. Unless you're looking for a sugar-buzz, don't even think about the bread bowl. It packs 640 calories! Once you start eating some of that bread, are you really going to be able to stop?

Beware of their salads, which almost all have high fat content. The Thai Chicken salad (minus any dressing, of course) is the best bet. It's one of the few items that we found anywhere that comes close to the 40-40-20 rule. Specifically, it's 40-46-16.

Most of Au Bon Pain's sandwiches were in the 600 to 800 calorie range, with more than 30% fat. The Chili Dijon Chicken Breast with Wisconsin Aged Cheddar was an exception at 530 calories with 39-32-29% balance. However, it does have 7 grams of saturated fat, primarily from the cheese.

The wraps tend to be lower in calories than the sandwiches, but very high in fat. The Chicken Salsa Wrap was the exception at 440 calories and 8 grams of fat. It's a bit carb-heavy at 62-26-16 but at least it's also protein heavy.

Get the full Au Bon Pain nutritional content here.

Burger King

Burger King's BK Veggie Burger (minus the mayo) and Fire Grilled Chicken Caesar are your best bets when dining at the "BK Lounge." If you skip the mayo on the Veggie Burger, it comes it at just 340 calories and 8 grams of fat. The Chicken Caesar is a scant 190 calories and 7 grams of fat.

Beware the Whopper! A Double Whopper with Cheese is 1060 calories --- yes, one thousand!  And fully 59% of those calories come from fat. This meal packs almost 70 grams of fat, and 27 of them are saturated fat. Keep in mind that nutritionists recommend that you limit your saturated fat intake to 7 grams. When you order the Double Whopper with Cheese, you're eating almost four days worth!

Get the full Burger King nutritional content here.


Chili's has a new Guiltless Grill menu that focuses on low-fat and lower-calorie items. The Chicken Sandwich is a good choice at 490 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 44 grams of protein.

Watch out for the Buffalo Wings, Fajitas, and high-calorie sandwiches. The wings top the scales at 1148 calories and 74 grams of fat. (And you thought the BK Double Whopper with Cheese was bad!) Chicken Fajitas similarly pack 1028 calories and "just" (?!) 41 grams of fat.


Good ol' Mickey D's. We couldn't find much on the menu that was less than 30% fat (including the new Fruit and Walnut Salad, which is 38% fat), but a couple of salads came close. The Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken is a good selection with 250 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 31 grams of protein. Keep in mind that these values are without dressing, which typically add on 100+ calories and 8 or more grams of fat. If you must have dressing, order the Newman's Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette, which is only 40 calories and 3 grams of fat.

It's hard to believe that a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese could be considered "good," but compared to the Burger Double Whopper with Cheese, the Quarter Pounder is lower calorie and lower fat. Nonetheless, it is 730 calories and 40 grams of fat, 19 of them saturated fat!

Get the full McDonald's nutritional content here.

Panda Express

Whether through portion size control or ingredients, Panda Express serves fairly low calorie food. Many menu items range from 130 to 250 calories. Unfortunately, most are high in fat. The Spicy Chicken with Peanuts was one of the lowest, with only 32% fat. The lower number of calories, however, means that you can offset the fat with other non-fat items throughout the day, so that you still hit your carbohydrate-protein-fat balance for the day, without blowing your calorie budget.

Get the full Panda Express nutritional content here.


Ah... pizza. We all love it, but one slice of Sbarro's Pepperoni Pizza carries 730 calories and 37 grams of fat. A better choice is the plain cheese pizza at 460 calories and 13 grams of fat, balancing at 52-21-25. If you're only concerned about calories and not balance, try the Low Carb Cheese Pizza, which is only 310 calories but 41% fat.

Watch out for the obvious high-calorie and/or high-fat items like spaghetti (680 calories with meatballs, 820 calories without), Gourmet Meat Delight Pizza (780 calories / 29 grams of fat), and the stuffed pizzas (960 calories and 42 grams of fat in the pepperoni version).

Get the full Sbarro nutritional content here.


Think twice before ordering your latte, and consider a smaller size, no sugar, and skim milk. A Grande Cappuccino with whole milk is 260 calories and 14 grams of fat. Similarly, consider switching to the "light" Frappuccino. A Grande Carmel Mocha Frappuccino with whip cream is 460 calories, while the light version without whip cream is 230 calories.

Skip the bagels and muffins. They range from 330 calories to almost 450 calories each.

Get the full Starbucks nutritional content here.


Last but not least, is Wendy's. For a sandwich, the Ultimate Chicken Grill is a good selection, balancing at 49-34-18 with 360 calories. If you skip the dressing, most of the salads are also okay, but not great, choices. For example, the Mediterranean Chicken Salad is 280 calories and 12 grams of fat. All of the salads, unfortunately, have high fat content even without dressing because they include high-fat items such as cheese, fried meat, bacon, or nuts.

Wendy's does have baked potatoes (which you can order plain) and nice fruit cups and bowls. These are a good addition to a meal.

Mind the Taco Supremo Salad. It packs 740 calories and 37 grams of fat. And of course the burgers carry the usual calories and fat.

Get the full Wendy's nutritional content here.

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