10 healthiest fast food restaurants

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10 healthiest fast food restaurants

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Who hasn't unwrapped a sandwich while driving down the highway or pulled
a hard U-turn into a fast food joint on the way home from a late
meeting or soccer game? We practically live in our cars, so we need
quick food, and please, we'd like it to be healthy.

Our friends at

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Who hasn't unwrapped a sandwich while driving down the highway or pulled a hard U-turn into a fast food joint on the way home from a late meeting or soccer game? We practically live in our cars, so we need quick food, and please, we'd like it to be healthy.Our friends at Health.com surveyed the nation's 100 largest fast food chains, as defined by the number of locations, and found that many are creating menus that look more and more like what we'd cook ourselves (if we had the time) – 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.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

How we did it

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Using criteria that was created with the help of our expert panel,
we 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
10 highest-ranking restaurants.

One big surprise: A traditional
fast food chain, McDonald's, cracked our top 10. Sure, it's the home of
the Big Mac, but did you know it also serves a mean yogurt-and-granola
parfait? Here, the standouts that are making grabbed food healthy food.

More from Health.com:

Using criteria that was created with the help of our expert panel, we 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 10 highest-ranking restaurants.One big surprise: A traditional fast food chain, McDonald's, cracked our top 10. Sure, it's the home of the Big Mac, but did you know it also serves a mean yogurt-and-granola parfait? Here, the standouts that are making grabbed food healthy food.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 1 Panera Bread

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Panera Bread

Over 1,230 locations nationwide (and in Canada)

This bakery-cafe-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal.

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.

We love: Delicious, nutrient-packed
combos like a half-Turkey Artichoke on focaccia bread with a bowl of
black bean or garden vegetable soup.

Danger zone: Sticky buns and cheese danishes are on display at the counter.

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Over 1,230 locations nationwide (and in Canada)This bakery-cafe-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal.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.We love: Delicious, nutrient-packed combos like a half-Turkey Artichoke on focaccia bread with a bowl of black bean or garden vegetable soup.Danger zone: Sticky buns and cheese danishes are on display at the counter.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 2 Jason's Deli

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Jason's Deli

206 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South

How did this up-and-comer snag second place? Largely because of its devotion to organic food: About one-fifth of all Jason's Deli ingredients are organic. Plus, its creative salads – like the Nutty Mixed-Up Salad – make you actually want to order the greens.

Our
judges applauded the portion-control option: Reduced sizes of items,
say, a stuffed baked potato, are $1 less. Jason's menu also highlights
ultrahealthy sandwiches and provides the nutritional info.

We love: Being able to build any sandwich on an organic whole-wheat wrap.

Danger zone: High-sodium counts on some sandwiches; if sodium is a concern, stick to the ultrahealthy choices.

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206 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, SouthHow did this up-and-comer snag second place? Largely because of its devotion to organic food: About one-fifth of all Jason's Deli ingredients are organic. Plus, its creative salads – like the Nutty Mixed-Up Salad – make you actually want to order the greens.Our judges applauded the portion-control option: Reduced sizes of items, say, a stuffed baked potato, are $1 less. Jason's menu also highlights ultrahealthy sandwiches and provides the nutritional info.We love: Being able to build any sandwich on an organic whole-wheat wrap.Danger zone: High-sodium counts on some sandwiches; if sodium is a concern, stick to the ultrahealthy choices.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 3 Au Bon Pain

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Au Bon Pain

280 locations nationwide

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.

One
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.

We love: Yummy low-cal soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables.

Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don't pay attention.

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280 locations nationwideA 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.One 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.We love: Yummy low-cal soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables.Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don't pay attention.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 4 Noodles and Company

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Noodles and Company

204 locations in West, Midwest, South

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.

We love: The whole-grain linguine – usually hard to find when eating out.

Danger zone:
The desserts. The only options are two kinds of cookies and a Rice
Krispy Treat bar that checks in at 530 calories and 19 grams of fat!

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204 locations in West, Midwest, SouthNoodles 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.We love: The whole-grain linguine – usually hard to find when eating out.Danger zone: The desserts. The only options are two kinds of cookies and a Rice Krispy Treat bar that checks in at 530 calories and 19 grams of fat!More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 5 Corner Bakery Cafe

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Corner Bakery Cafe

111 locations in West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South

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.

We love: Healthy oven-roasted chicken that comes on most pastas and salads.

Danger zone: You have to go to their website to get nutritional info.

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111 locations in West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, SouthWhat 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.We love: Healthy oven-roasted chicken that comes on most pastas and salads.Danger zone: You have to go to their website to get nutritional info.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 6 Chipotle

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Chipotle

800+ locations nationwide

Buffet-style Chipotle
gives every customer complete control over her burrito, taco, or salad.
(Take that, Taco Bell!) And you get to build it with fresh, local
ingredients. In fact, Chipolte won high marks for its commitment to
organics, hormone – and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from
local suppliers, which is revolutionary in a chain this big. Many of its
entrees can be low-sodium, if you choose add-ins such as the fajita
veggies and green tomatillo salsa.

We love: Burrito Bowls, which let you skip the tortilla – and the extra carbs.

Danger zone: The dark side of a buffet is that you can go wild. So you have to go light on cheese and sour cream.

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800+ locations nationwideBuffet-style Chipotle gives every customer complete control over her burrito, taco, or salad. (Take that, Taco Bell!) And you get to build it with fresh, local ingredients. In fact, Chipolte won high marks for its commitment to organics, hormone – and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from local suppliers, which is revolutionary in a chain this big. Many of its entrees can be low-sodium, if you choose add-ins such as the fajita veggies and green tomatillo salsa.We love: Burrito Bowls, which let you skip the tortilla – and the extra carbs.Danger zone: The dark side of a buffet is that you can go wild. So you have to go light on cheese and sour cream.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 7 Atlanta Bread

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Atlanta Bread

106 locations in 24 states (Southeast, West, and North)

Someone at Atlanta Bread
must be a Seinfeld fan: There are muffin tops (half the size of regular
muffins) on its breakfast menu – the low-fat pumpkin muffin top has only
200 calories, compared with 320 to 640 calories for regular-size
muffins. But this chain's got more going for it than skinny muffins.
This innovative bakery also features whole-grain bread, fresh sandwiches
(including paninis), and hearty, healthy soups and salads. It earned
high marks for great sides, too, including its fire-roasted black bean
and corn salad.

We love: The entree salads like Salsa
Fresca Salmon Salad: grilled wild Alaskan salmon filet on greens with
fire-roasted black bean and corn salsa and a pineapple-mango
vinaigrette.

Danger zone:

106 locations in 24 states (Southeast, West, and North)Someone at Atlanta Bread must be a Seinfeld fan: There are muffin tops (half the size of regular muffins) on its breakfast menu – the low-fat pumpkin muffin top has only 200 calories, compared with 320 to 640 calories for regular-size muffins. But this chain's got more going for it than skinny muffins. This innovative bakery also features whole-grain bread, fresh sandwiches (including paninis), and hearty, healthy soups and salads. It earned high marks for great sides, too, including its fire-roasted black bean and corn salad.We love: The entree salads like Salsa Fresca Salmon Salad: grilled wild Alaskan salmon filet on greens with fire-roasted black bean and corn salsa and a pineapple-mango vinaigrette.Danger zone:

Pasta entrees at some locations are offered with bread … that's a whole lotta carbs!

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Pasta entrees at some locations are offered with bread … that's a whole lotta carbs!More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 8 McDonald's

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McDonald's

14,000 locations nationwide

Among the big burger-based chains, McDonald's
is leading the way in overhauling its menu to offer more heart- and
waist-friendly fare. Take the Happy Meals, which you can order with a
side of apple dippers (with low-fat caramel) instead of fries and
low-fat milk or fruit juice instead of soda. (Now the trick is just
getting your kid to go for them!) And if you've gotta have fries, those
at McDonald's are made in a healthy canola-blend oil and come in at just
230 calories for a small order.

Our whole panel commends McDonald's for spelling out the nutritional information right on the back of its tray liners.

We love:

14,000 locations nationwideAmong the big burger-based chains, McDonald's is leading the way in overhauling its menu to offer more heart- and waist-friendly fare. Take the Happy Meals, which you can order with a side of apple dippers (with low-fat caramel) instead of fries and low-fat milk or fruit juice instead of soda. (Now the trick is just getting your kid to go for them!) And if you've gotta have fries, those at McDonald's are made in a healthy canola-blend oil and come in at just 230 calories for a small order.Our whole panel commends McDonald's for spelling out the nutritional information right on the back of its tray liners.We love:

The chain's 260- to 270-calorie Snack Wraps (choose grilled chicken) for protein without a lot of unwanted carbs.

Danger zone: Although McDonald's made our list, this is still the land of supersizing and giant sodas. It's up to you to request a small.

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The chain's 260- to 270-calorie Snack Wraps (choose grilled chicken) for protein without a lot of unwanted carbs.Danger zone: Although McDonald's made our list, this is still the land of supersizing and giant sodas. It's up to you to request a small.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 9 Einstein Bros. Bagels

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Einstein Bros.

649 locations nationwide

Okay, we all know that bagels are
pretty high-carb, but slathering cream cheese or butter on them is what
really gets you into trouble. No worries at this chain: Einstein Bros.
offers healthier alternatives like reduced-fat shmears, hummus, and
peanut butter – a great way to add healthy fat to breakfast (or lunch). It
also serves a Good Grains bagel that has an impressive 4 grams of
fiber.

In the mood for a salad? You can order any in a half-size.
For kids, our panel of judges gave a thumbs-up to the bagel dog
(picture a Pig-in-a-Blanket with bagel-style bread as the "blanket") and
a fruit salad upgrade.

We love: The high-fiber Veg Out on a sesame seed bagel.

Danger zone: "Overstuffed" size sandwiches are a calorie nightmare.

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649 locations nationwideOkay, we all know that bagels are pretty high-carb, but slathering cream cheese or butter on them is what really gets you into trouble. No worries at this chain: Einstein Bros. offers healthier alternatives like reduced-fat shmears, hummus, and peanut butter – a great way to add healthy fat to breakfast (or lunch). It also serves a Good Grains bagel that has an impressive 4 grams of fiber.In the mood for a salad? You can order any in a half-size. For kids, our panel of judges gave a thumbs-up to the bagel dog (picture a Pig-in-a-Blanket with bagel-style bread as the "blanket") and a fruit salad upgrade.We love: The high-fiber Veg Out on a sesame seed bagel.Danger zone: "Overstuffed" size sandwiches are a calorie nightmare.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food

No. 10 Taco Del Mar

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Taco Del Mar

270 locations in 22 states

You may have noticed that
Baja-style Mexican cuisine – think: fresh ingredients and fish instead of
beef and chicken – is a growing trend. Whole grains are easy to get here,
with whole-wheat tortillas available as an alternative in burritos. The
chain gets high marks for its new 320-calorie chicken burrito, available
at most locations. Our judges were also impressed that Taco Del Mar banned lard from its beans and bakes its fish and taco shells instead of frying them.

We love: The 460- to 555-calorie Mondito-size burrito, which fills you up but keeps fat and sodium in check.

Danger zone:

270 locations in 22 statesYou may have noticed that Baja-style Mexican cuisine – think: fresh ingredients and fish instead of beef and chicken – is a growing trend. Whole grains are easy to get here, with whole-wheat tortillas available as an alternative in burritos. The chain gets high marks for its new 320-calorie chicken burrito, available at most locations. Our judges were also impressed that Taco Del Mar banned lard from its beans and bakes its fish and taco shells instead of frying them.We love: The 460- to 555-calorie Mondito-size burrito, which fills you up but keeps fat and sodium in check.Danger zone:

The breakfasts. In particular, steer clear of the Mondo Breakfast Burritos, which are more than 1,000 calories.

More from Health.com:

The breakfasts. In particular, steer clear of the Mondo Breakfast Burritos, which are more than 1,000 calories.More from Health.com: America's healthiest mall food