April 3, 2015 3:24 pm
Updated: April 3, 2015 6:51 pm

Calorie counting: Are ‘casual’ fast food restaurants actually healthier?


The landscape of consumer demand when it comes to fast-food has seen a drastic shift. Consumers who deem themselves to be more health-conscious are avoiding traditional venues like McDonald’s in favour of options like Chipotle.

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The proof comes in sales. McDonald’s saw its sales fall by another 1.7 per cent in the most recent quarterly release. The company has tried to combat the decline by advertising where its food comes from and providing healthier alternatives but, it seems most people are still drawn to other options, in part because of effective advertisement by competitors.

“They use buzz words like local, organic, cage-free and no antibiotics,” said Cara Rosenbloom, a dietician.

However, Rosenbloom said these terms don’t necessarily translate into a healthy alternative.

“Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthier for you,” she said adding healthy options can be found at most fast-food venues, it just depends what items you chose. “There are ways to make healthier choices at any of these fast or quick food restaurants.”

In order to help make that choice, here are some of the calorie breakdowns of the most popular items at fast-food venues and the emerging “fast casual” trend.


The trademark meal at McDonald’s is, of course, the Big Mac. Ordered as is, a Big Mac meal with a medium order of fries and a medium Coke amounts to 1090 calories. That’s more than half of the average recommended daily intake. However, more than half of those calories come from the drink and fries, meaning you can shed your intake dramatically if you only have the burger and a bottle of water. Looking to go even healthier? McDonald’s offers 3 snack wraps that fall between 200 and 300 calories as well as an meal-sized caeser salad that consists of just 350 calories.

Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Chipotle is one of those emerging brands that is often considered to be a healthier alternative. The most popular meal there is their burrito. Chipotle offers various types of meat and beans as well as options when it comes to sauces and vegetables. Your standard burrito comes on a flour tortilla. Add in some salsa, rice, cheese and guacamole and your burrito can add up to 960 calories. That’s not including a side or a drink. That means when it comes to calories, ordering a Big Mac and fries actually has fewer calories than a burrito. If you want to go the healthy route, you can get a burrito bowl, skipping on the cheese and guacamole. That comes in at just 450 calories.


Subway spent much of the last decade claiming to be the healthy choice in fast-food. The company lists its nutritional values based on a six-inch sub without any toppings. As such, most of their subs are between 200 and 400 calories according to Subway’s nutrition guide.

We’ll look at the calorie count for a 12 inch sub on wheat bread, considered a healthier option.

The bread alone is 420 calories. If you like sauce, add in an extra 100-200 calories. That means, a cold cut sandwich, listed at 430 calories on their website would come significantly closer to 1,000 calories. That said, they have a variety of subs like ham or roast beef that, without sauce or cheese, have fewer than 400 calories.

Panera Bread:

At Panera Bread, let’s look at the grilled cheese. It amounts to 850 calories. However, getting a ham and swiss sandwich is a more reasonable 510 calories and, if you’re really watching your consumption, Panera has salads with as little as 80 calories. Panera Bread also lists calories beside each item on its menu.

Pizza Pizza:

This one varies from person to person, depending on how much you eat and preference in toppings. If you were to order a large pepperoni pizza with some friends and split it up, having three slices adds up to 720 calories. But, even pizza can be relatively healthy. Actually, no, no it can’t. But a stuffed pepperoni sandwich is listed at just 320 calories, so there’s that.

The lesson in all this?
Check the nutritional content and serving size for the facts on healthy eating.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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