Lots of folks are eating more takeout lately, and more than one-third of Americans have fast food on any given day. But that doesn’t mean the choices have to be unhealthy. Consumer Reports’ nutritionists evaluated menus from 17 chain restaurants to determine which ones offer nutritious options.
They rated a restaurant’s overall healthfulness on many criteria. Does it feature healthy food front and center? Are there alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages? Can you find a variety of whole grains on the menu?
Restaurants at the top of CR’s ratings—CoreLife Eatery, Sweetgreen, Chopt, and True Food Kitchen—offer colorful veggie-packed dishes. And choosing from a variety of toppings, like beans and veggies, and proteins, like seafood and tofu, over a base of whole grains or leafy greens puts you in control of how healthful your meal will be.
Another piece of good news for consumers is that CR found the calorie counts generally matched what the restaurants claimed them to be. But sodium was problematic, and there’s room for improvement. The sodium levels at restaurants can be off the charts, and laboratory tests also showed that what the restaurants claimed wasn’t always accurate.
Condiments like salad dressings, soy sauce, ketchup, and barbecue sauce are high in sodium, so use them sparingly.
Another way to stay in control? Plan what you’ll eat before you get to the restaurant. You can stay within daily calorie and sodium limits by checking out nutrition information on company websites.
And last, portions at many of the restaurants CR looked at were big enough to satisfy two people. So consider sharing an entrée.
Which restaurants are at the bottom of CR’s list? The Cheesecake Factory, Subway, Olive Garden, Applebee’s, McDonald’s, and Domino’s Pizza. They could serve their customers better by cutting back on sodium, offering more fresh vegetable and whole-grain options, and more drinks that aren’t loaded with sugar.