A heart-healthy diet is marked by whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean protein—an ingredient list that doesn’t exactly read like the contents of a typical fast food menu. Still, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to finding heart-healthy options at popular chains. In fact, many fast food companies are turning to the fact that most Americans would like to eat better, and that many need to focus specifically on heart health. (Heck, nearly half of us, 47 percent, have high blood pressure, whether we know it or not.)
If you’re tired of looking at a car menu scratching your head about what to choose, fear not. We’ve rounded up six fast food orders that dietitians say are actually good for your heart.
“I like Blaze Pizza, where you can walk the line and build your own pizza,” he says Julie Chudak, RDN, CPT, CLT, of Nutrition and Fitness throughout life. “There’s no limit to vegetable ingredients (and there are 14 to choose from) and every month there’s a seasonal vegetable option.” As you build your pie, consider green leafy vegetables like fresh spinach, which are high in potassium and nitrates. Potassium helps counteract the effects of sodium, while nitrates can help regulate blood pressure.
If you’re not a fan of vegetables on pizza, you can always enjoy them in a salad! “There’s also their ‘Take Two’ option, where you can get half an order of pizza and a salad,” says Chudak. Just go with the dressing on the side, as some of Blaze’s dressings are high in sugar and saturated fat.
Chipotle may be known for burritos as big as your head, but the Mexican chain offers some less destroyed options. “Lifestyle bowls, primarily keto, Whole30 and Paleo options, are wonderful selections for those looking to dine out but make heart-healthy choices,” she says. Sharon Puello, MA, RD, CDN, CDCES, from FRESH Nutrition. “These meals follow a whole foods approach to eating, which can help reduce systemic inflammation, a known cause of heart plaques.”
According to Puello, Lifestyle Bowls are also a good source of heart-healthy fats. “Having sufficient dietary fat intake while minimizing highly processed carbohydrates is key to improving lipid particle size, a measure of heart disease risk,” he says. And the benefits don’t stop there. “The products included in these meals (cooked onions, sauce, etc.) provide beneficial nutrients for heart health, such as quercetin and lycopene.”
Need a heart-healthy breakfast on the go? Stop by McDonald’s for their fruit and maple oats, he says Patricia Kolesa, MS, RDN. “Oatmeal contains fiber, which is helpful in lowering cholesterol,” she explains. The fresh apple slices that top this breakfast add to its fiber content (a total of 4 grams) and provide antioxidants that can help reduce overall inflammation. And with a total of 320 calories, this grab-and-go breakfast cup keeps the portion size moderate.
It’s DIY to win once again! Making your own fast food entree allows you to control which heart-healthy ingredients make the cut, and which you can leave behind the counter. At Qdoba, consider curating your own taco bowl, he suggests Amanda Lane, MS, RD, CDCES, from Healthful Lane Nutrition. “Choose lettuce, brown rice, beans and avocado for heart-healthy fiber and unsaturated fat. Try to limit animal protein and cheese sauce, as they are higher in sodium and less healthy saturated fat.”
With baby carrots, peas, falafel-style bites and an avocado spread, it’s hard to find fault with this vegan protein box from Starbucks. “These boxes are pretty perfect!” says The Heart Dietitian Veronica Rouse, RD, MANwho also recommends the Starbucks Fruit and Cheese Protein Box and the PB & J Protein Box. “They all have fruits and vegetables (which are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), plus enough cheese, nuts, seeds or legumes to be considered a good source of heart-healthy protein. And they usually have other treats to add fiber. to keep you full. Finally, they all contain a reasonable amount of sodium.”
You sure didn’t expect tacos to make the list again! In recent years, Taco Bell has made a name for itself as a healthier chain with small portions and “fresh style” menu options. Among their top heart-healthy options: chicken soft tacos. Seconds Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LDfrom Sound Bites Nutrition, “Each has only 160 calories, 12 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. Add a side of black beans to boost the fiber content of the meal with just 140 mils extra grams of sodium.”
Sarah Garone, NDTR
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a registered nutrition and dietetics technician and health, nutrition and food writer. Read more about Sarah