Are Fast Food Chicken Sandwiches Healthier than Burgers?

By Mary Parsons, MS, RD

When faced with so many options at the drive-through, fast food options, a fast food chicken sandwich may seem to be the obvious choice for a health-conscious diner – but in reality, it’s not quite so black-and-white.

Let’s start by looking at the numbers… the developers behind your favorite fast food menus cater to healthy diners by keeping chicken filets low in calories and fat. Compared to hamburger patties, the grilled chicken counterparts at most quick serve restaurants have about 50-60% fewer calories, 80-90% less fat, and more than 90% less saturated fat. However, while chicken filets provide a leaner source of protein, they are plumped up with much more sodium – more than double the amount in burgers!

But beyond the nutrition facts, it’s also important to check the ingredient list. In the fast food realm, you’re not necessarily being served a grilled chicken breast on that fast food chicken sandwich like you would cook at home.  Conversely, even though burgers are higher in fat, the ingredients are generally more “pure”: many quick serve hamburger patties are made from 100% beef.

So what’s the take home message?  Your personal health goals – both with regards to calories and fat as well as ingredients – should drive your choice.  When eating at a fast food restaurant, the choice of protein in your sandwich may not have the biggest impact on the health of your meal; it may be about the whole grain bun, the added vegetables and the condiments. Consider all of the variables to make your personal best choice!

Wherever you choose to eat when you’re away from home, look for menu choices hand-picked and recommended by dietitians.