Turkey Burgers at Fast Food Restaurants: Is Healthier Fast Food Really Better?

Better-for-you options are good for business, but maybe not for your waistline.

Turkey burger

Are “healthy” options like turkey burgers really better for you? Photo via Shutterstock

McDonald’s is marketing its latest creation, a chicken-and-vegetables wrap dubbed the Premium McWrap, as a fresh, healthier option for the nutrition-conscious patron, and some reports are even saying the new addition to the menu is intended to help the fast food chain compete with rival Subway. Whether or not that’s true, the McWrap is just one of many recent additions that demonstrate the push for healthier items on chain restaurant menus. And it looks like those better-for-you menu items are not just an attempt to shrink America’s waistline—they’re also helping the restaurants’ bottom lines.

A study from the Hudson Institute released in early February found that in 17 out of 21 restaurant chains studied, lower-calorie foods and beverages outperformed the higher-calorie options in sales. The report considered an entrée or sandwich to be low-calorie if it had fewer than 500 calories and a beverage to be low-calorie if it had 50 calories or fewer per eight ounces. The research showed that these low-calorie options increased in popularity in all 21 chains over the course of the five-year study.

This news is encouraging, and the better-for-you options are a step in the right direction, but some choices that may seem like a more nutritious option can still be loaded with calories, fat, or sodium. Take a closer look at the turkey burger on a fast food chain menu, for example. The new Burger King turkey burger has 530 calories, five grams of saturated fat, and 1210 milligrams of sodium. This burger (without the added fries and drink) isn’t exactly a light meal, especially considering healthy adults should eat no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. People who are 51-years-old or older, and people who have certain health conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, or have high blood pressure, should limit sodium intake to 1500 milligrams per day.

While the new, healthier restaurant options aren’t perfect, it’s heartening that they exist since, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, 32 percent of most Americans’ total calories eaten are prepared away from the home. In other words, almost a third of most Americans’ diets are eaten in a restaurant or other eating establishment, confirming the need for healthier options on restaurant menus.

So if fast food is a part of your lifestyle, make educated decisions based on the nutrition facts provided by chain restaurants. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the menu by asking to substitute a salad for fries or by ordering smaller portions from the kids menu. Do even more to limit calories, fat, and sodium by avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages and super-sized meals—or, better yet, by squeezing in time to cook at home when you can.