Navigating the Drive-Thru

We live in a culture that loves ease and speed –– and this love affair with convenience may well be the reason behind many of our health problems. If you have diabetes, you already know that a meal prepared at home is almost always healthier than the fare at fast-food restaurants. However, you also know that it's virtually impossible to be 100 percent "good" when it comes to your diet.

Fast FoodWhen you find yourself pulling into the drive-thru at one of America's favorite fast-food chains, don't despair – choose wisely. Here's a guide to making the healthiest choices at the top five:* McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, and Subway (Note: Fast-food chains change their menus faster than we can keep articles updated, so please use these suggestions as helpful guidelines.):


1. Ranch Snack Wrap - Grilled (grilled chicken, cheese, lettuce, ranch sauce, tortilla)

270 calories; 4g sat fat; 830 mg sodium; 26g carbs; 18g protein

2. Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken (salad mix, grilled chicken, grape tomatoes, shredded parmesan, without dressing)

220 calories; 3g sat fat; 89mg sodium; 12g carbs; 30g protein

3. Fruit 'n' Yogurt Parfait (blueberries, strawberries, low fat yogurt, granola topping)

160 calories; 1g sat fat; 85mg sodium; 31g carbs; 4g protein

4. Apple Dippers (peeled and sliced apples, without the caramel dip)

35 calories; 8g carbs

5. Premium Bacon Ranch Salad (salad mix, grape tomatoes, shredded cheddar/jack cheese, bacon bits)

140 calories; 3.5g sat fat; 300mg sodium; 10g carbs; 9g protein


1. Side Garden Salad

140 calories; 2.5g sat fat; 16g carbs; 6g protein; 220mg sodium   

2. Whopper Jr. Sandwich (beef patty, sesame seed bun, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, pickle, onion, without mayo)

260 calories; 4g sat fat; 410mg sodium; 28g carbs; 14g protein

3. Hamburger (beef patty, sesame seed bun, ketchup, pickles, mustard)

260 calories; 4g sat fat; 520mg sodium; 27g carbs; 14g protein

4. Value Onion Rings

150 calories; 1.5g sat fat; 230 mg sodium; 17g carbs; 2g protein

5. Tendergrill Garden Salad (grilled chicken, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, three-cheese blend, without dressing)

300 calories; 3.5g sat fat, 1050mg sodium; 18g carbs; 35g protein


1. Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich (chicken breast filet, lettuce, tomato, without bun or honey mustard)

151 calories; 0.5g sat fat; 730mg sodium; 3g carbs; 28g protein

2. Small Chili (ground beef, chili base, vegetable mix, kidney beans, chili beans, spices)

220 calories; 3g sat fat; 870mg sodium; 22g carbs; 18g protein

3. Side Garden Salad (iceberg, romaine, spring mix, grape tomatoes, carrots, classic ranch dressing, without croutons)

130 calories; 2g sat fat; 220mg sodium; 6g carbs; 2g protein

4. Side Caesar Salad (romaine, grape tomatoes, asiago cheese, without croutons or dressing)   

106 calories; 2g sat fat; 95mg sodium; 5g carbs, 4g protein

5. Mandarin Oranges   

142 calories; 0g sat fat; 10mg sodium; 21g carbs; 1g protein


1. Crunchy Taco (ground beef, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese, corn taco)

170 calories; 3.5g sat fat; 330mg sodium; 12g carbs; 8g protein

2. Soft Taco with Beef (ground beef, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese, tortilla)

210 calories; 4g sat fat; 620 mg sodium; 21g carbs; 10g protein

3. Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco (chicken, avocado ranch dressing, lettuce, cheddar cheese, salsa, tortilla)

270 calories; 4g sat fat; 840 mg sodium; 21g carbs; 14g protein

4. Grilled Steak Soft Taco (avocado ranch dressing, cheddar cheese, lettuce, steak, tomatoes, tortilla)

250 calories; 4g sat fat; 710mg sodium; 20 g carbs; 11g protein

5. Fresco Style Pintos (beans, salsa, red sauce)

130 calories; 0.5g sat fat; 690mg sodium; 20g carbs; 7g protein


1. Veggie Delite Salad (lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers, peppers, olives, and carrots)

50 calories; 0g sat fat; 65mg sodium; 9g carbs; 3g protein

2. Turkey Breast Salad (turkey, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, olives, carrots, and cucumbers)

110 calories; 0.5g sat fat; 570mg sodium; 11g carbs; 12g protein

3. Oven Roasted Chicken Breast Salad (chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, olives, and carrots)

130 calories; 0.5g sat fat; 270mg sodium; 9g carbs; 19g protein

4. Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup (ingredients unavailable)

80 calories; 0.5 g sat fat; 950mg sodium; 12g carbs; 6g protein

5. Chicken Tortilla Soup (ingredients unavailable)

110 calories; 0.5g sat fat; 440mg sodium; 11g carbs; 6g protein

* according to a 2002 survey conducted by Franchisehelp, Inc.

Fast-Food Tips

  • Always look for the word grilled (avoid "crispy," which is code for deep fried batter).
  • Skip condiments and sauces or ask for them on the side -- they are often filled with sugar, sodium, and other bad things. Examples: One little McDonald's ketchup packet contains 110 grams of sodium and 3 grams of carbs. The low fat caramel dip that comes with the Apple Dippers contains 70 calories and 15 extra grams of carbs. (And since when do sweet, delicious apples require a sugary dipping sauce?)
  • Don't assume a salad is always a healthy choice. Taco Bell's Taco Salad without the shell contains 490 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fats, and 43 grams of carbohydrate.
  • Remove the bun (a Big Mac bun delivers 39 grams of carbs, 370 mg of sodium, and half a gram of saturated fat).
  • Skip the soda; nothing quenches thirst better than water!

Last Modified Date: March 11, 2016

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by Brenda Bell
Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...
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