A heart-healthy diet is marked by whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins—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 in finding heart-healthy options at popular chains. In fact, many fast food companies are becoming hip to the fact that most Americans would like to eat better—and that many need to focus specifically on cardiac health. (Heck, nearly half of us—47 percent—have hypertension, whether we know it or not.)
If you’re tired of staring at a drive-thru menu scratching your head over what to choose, never fear. We’ve rounded up six fast-food orders dietitians say are actually good for your heart.
“I like Blaze Pizza, where you can go down the line and build your own pizza,” says Julie Chudak, RDN, CPT, CLT, of Lifelong Nutrition and Fitness. “There’s no limit to veggie toppings (and there are 14 to choose from) and each month there is a seasonal veggie option.” As you build your pie, consider leafy greens like fresh spinach, which has plenty of potassium and nitrates. Potassium helps counteract the effects of sodium, while nitrates may help regulate blood pressure.
If you’re not a fan of veggies on pizza, you can always enjoy them in a salad! “There’s also their ‘Take Two’ option where you can do a half order of pizza and a salad,” Chudak says. 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 does offer some less gut-busting options. “The Lifestyle Bowls, primarily the keto, Whole30, and Paleo options, are wonderful selections for those looking to dine out but make heart-healthy choices,” says Sharon Puello, MA, RD, CDN, CDCES, of F.R.E.S.H. Nutrition. “These meals follow a whole-foods approach to eating, which can help reduce systemic inflammation, a known cause of cardiac plaques.”
According to Puello, the Lifestyle Bowls are also a good source of heart-healthy fats. “Having sufficient intake of dietary fat while minimizing highly processed carbs is key to improving lipid particle size, a measure of risk for heart disease,” she says. And the benefits don’t stop there. “The produce included in these meals (cooked onion, salsa, etc.) contribute nutrients beneficial for heart health, such as quercetin and lycopene.”
Need a heart-healthy breakfast on the go? Swing by McDonald’s for its fruit and maple oatmeal, 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 may help lower overall inflammation. And at 320 calories total, this grab-and-go breakfast cup keeps portion size moderate.
It’s DIY for the win once more! Crafting your own fast-food entree gives you control over which heart-healthy ingredients make the cut—and which you can leave behind the counter. At Qdoba, consider curating your own taco bowl, suggests Amanda Lane, MS, RD, CDCES, of Healthful Lane Nutrition. “Choose lettuce, brown rice, beans, and avocado for heart-healthy fiber and unsaturated fats. Look to limit animal proteins and cheese sauce, as they are higher in sodium and less healthy saturated fats.”
With baby carrots, snap 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, MAN, who also recommends Starbucks’ cheese and fruit protein box and PB & J protein box. “They all have fruit and vegetables (which are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), plus enough cheese, nuts, seeds, or legumes to be considered a good heart-healthy protein source. And they usually have other goodies for added fiber to keep you full. Finally, they all contain a reasonable amount of sodium.”
Bet you 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 “fresco style” menu options. Among their better options for heart health: the chicken soft tacos. According to Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, of Sound Bites Nutrition, “Each one has just 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 only 140 extra milligrams of sodium.”
Sarah Garone, NDTR