Chick fil a menu’s secret selections for better health
Anna Mason, RDN
Championed by cow mascots, young families, and southern eaters alike, Chick-Fil-A has gained some serious speed in the fast food market.
With chicken as its flagship and only meat option, Chick-Fil-A has gained a reputation among many as a healthy restaurant choice.
So. Is it true?
We’re taking a dive into the Chick-Fil-A menu to pick out a few of the health stars, balanced and full of nutrients.
But first. When we say healthy, what does that actually mean?
Here are a few science-based guidelines to healthy, balanced meals.
- Balanced: A well-balanced meal to check all the health boxes will typically include a variety of fruits and vegetables, a lean protein, and a source of unsaturated fat. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 also recommends adding whole grains and low-fat dairy to round out the nutrient, fiber, and vitamin profile.
- At Least One-Quarter Vegetables: For the average healthy person, the more vegetables, the better. Vegetables carry hefty amounts of dietary fiber to promote healthy hearts, weight, and digestion. Different color vegetables often signal different vitamins. The more colors, the more variety of vitamins you will likely be consuming. As a loose rule of thumb, the brighter the color: the higher the vitamin concentration.
- Add in Some Fruit: Like vegetables, a variety of colors and shade intensities will provide the fullest vitamin profile. In addition, brightly colored fruits (like berries) provide a punch of antioxidants and phytonutrients to a meal. Research has shown that antioxidants can help prevent cell damage, slow aging, and even fight against the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
- Low Saturated & Trans Fats: Unlike heart-healthy and cholesterol-reducing omega-3 and omega-6 (unsaturated) fats, trans fats do no good in the body. Though saturated fat is a bit more debated, the majority of research suggests it may increase risk of heart disease. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that no more than six percent of daily calories come from saturated fat, as it may increase LDL cholesterol and risk of heart disease. As for trans fat, run.
- Low Added Sugar: When eating a balanced and plant-based diet, sugar will naturally occur in our foods, especially in fruits. However, it is added sugar that is more likely to lead to excess calorie intake and weight gain. The USDA recommends that no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugars.
Okay, with that in mind, let’s summarize. If it’s only one food group, look for lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, or fruits and veggies without any frills. For meals, aim for multiple food groups, foods that function for our bodies rather than against them, and moderation in each category. Here are some of our best, dietitian-approved recommendations.
- The Breakfast: Egg White Grill
- Pros: Grains, protein, and dairy are covered in this satisfying 300 calorie breakfast sandwich. One Egg White Grill packs in 25 grams of protein with only 3 grams of saturated fat.
- Cons: The multigrain bread is somewhere between a refined and a whole grain. We also would have swapped out the american cheese for something less processed.
- The Sandwich: Grilled Chicken Sandwich
- Pros: Grilling instead of frying the chicken on this sandwich easily lowers the calories and saturated fat content. With a portion of chicken, this sandwich rings in at 29 grams of protein. Throw in a little lettuce and tomato, and three (debatably four) food groups can be found in this meal.
- Cons: Again, if we got to choose, we would have voted for a whole grain bun over a multigrain bun.
- The Salad: Market Salad
- Pros: This salad is both satisfying and full of fruits and veggies. The only menu choice with both chicken, veggies, and fruit in one dish, the Market Salad is covering lots of bases. Protein and unsaturated fat in the bowl will also keep you feeling fuller, longer.
- Cons: We’d love a whole grain in here too.
- The Sauce: Zesty Buffalo
- Pros: The lowest calorie dipping sauce, it is also free of sugar and saturated fat.
- Cons: It won’t suit everyone due to its heat. One packet also contains 390mg of salt, so it’s not a great choice for those with high blood pressure.
- The Surprise: Kid’s Meal- Grilled Nuggets & Fruit
- Pros: Let’s applaud the portion sizes here. In fact, the protein, milk, and fruit portion sizes are great for a light adult’s lunch too.
- Cons: It’s not marketed to adults. So pack away your ego, pat yourself on the back, and go for it.
Whenever and wherever you find yourself out to eat, keep nutrition balance in mind. Home-cooked or restaurant-delivered, fuel your body with choices that work for it, not against it. For the average, healthy person, this means vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats. If you stray from your goals, do it mindfully. A splurge here and there is part of a healthy and happy life. When all else fails, eat more veggies. Your body will thank you.