Eat This, Not That: The 25 Best High Protein Low Calorie Fast Food Choices

by | Oct 20, 2023 | Health, Wellness | 0 comments

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You’re out running errands, the kids have evening activities, and you’re starving. Before you hit the drive-thru check out this list of the 25 best high protein low calorie fast food options.

You can satisfy your craving and still feel good about what you’re eating. These options all have at least 10 grams of protein and less than 500 calories.

No sad salads or bland chicken breasts here – you’ll find burgers, sandwiches, Mexican fare, and more. Next time hunger strikes and you need food fast, refer to this list. Your waistline and taste buds will thank you. Now let’s dig in!

What Is High Protein Low Calorie Fast Food?

high protein low calorie fast food

What exactly counts as high protein low calorie fast food? Anything with at least 15-20 grams of protein and less than 500 calories per serving. Think grilled chicken sandwiches, turkey sausage, whole grain bread, burrito bowls with extra beans, veggie-packed salads or wraps, and snack options like yogurt parfaits, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and jerky.

Are your favorite fast food restaurants offering healthier, more nutritious choices using fresh ingredients? You just have to know what to look for to find your next healthy meal.

Opt for grilled over fried. Choose whole grain buns and tortillas. Ask for extra veggies, beans, and salsa. Hold the mayo and cheese when possible. And watch your portion sizes—a regular burrito can pack 1,000 calories, so get a bowl or mini version instead.

Some of the best highest protein fast food options include:

  • A grilled chicken snack wrap (370 calories, 27 grams protein) or grilled chicken salad (210 calories, 31 grams protein) at McDonald’s

  • A steak burrito bowl (500 calories, 43 grams protein) or chicken burrito bowl (420 calories, 32 grams protein) at Chipotle

  • Wendy’s grilled chicken sandwich (360 calories, 43 grams protein)

  • Wendy’s apple pecan salad (440 calories, 35 grams protein)

  • A six-inch turkey sub (280 calories, 19 grams protein) at Subway

  • A crispy chicken salad (310 calories, 26 grams protein) or smoky black bean burger (370 calories, 19 grams protein) at Burger King

By choosing wisely and watching your portion sizes, you absolutely can find healthy, protein-packed meals at fast food joints. Next time you’re in the drive-thru, look for grilled proteins, lots of veggies, and fresh side options. Your body and belly will thank you.

Is Fast Food a Good Source of Protein

ai generated, burrito, bowl

Is fast food really a good source of protein? The short answer is yes, if you choose wisely. Fast food joints have come a long way and now offer wholesome options with less fat, sodium and calories. You just have to know what to look for.

Grilled chicken sandwiches

For foods with low calories and high protein – think grilled chicken sandwich without mayonnaise or cheese; add some mixed greens for additional nutrients. A regular grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A has 440 calories and 53 grams of protein. Or try Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich which has 35 grams of protein for just 360 calories.

Burrito bowls

Burrito bowls with rice, beans, reduced fat sour cream, salsa and grilled meat or fish are protein powerhouses. A steak burrito bowl from Chipotle has 53 grams of protein for just 650 calories. Or get the barbacoa, carnitas or sofritas – a plant-based protein made from tofu.

Salads with chicken, fish or beans

Salads topped with grilled chicken, fish or beans are great low calorie high protein food options. Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Salad has 43 grams of protein and just 370 calories. Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Market Salad with grilled chicken bowl and nuggets offers 50 grams of protein for 450 calories. Rememer to skip the cheddar cheese to make salads the lowest calorie fast food.

So you see, fast food can absolutely be part of a high-protein diet. The trick is choosing options with high quality protein, grilled meat, fish or plant-based protein and loading up on veggies, salsa, and beans.

Skip the fatty dressings and sugary drinks and you’ve got a balanced, nutritious meal in a snap – no cooking required! With smart choices, fast food and protein can go hand in hand.

Is High Protein Fast Food Healthy?

salmon, fish, grilled fish

Is fast food high in protein actually healthy? In moderation, yes; and it’s important to keep in mind your protein goals.

Some fast food options can absolutely be part of a balanced diet and help you meet your daily protein intake. The key is choosing wisely and watching your portion sizes.

Lean proteins

Choose fish, grilled chicken or plant-based meat alternatives when possible. These provide protein without the saturated fat found in beef and pork. For example, a grilled chicken sandwich, fish filet, or veggie burger are good options. Avoid the fried chicken variations which significantly increase the calorie count.

Hold the mayo and cheese

Ask for no mayonnaise, cheese or creamy sauces which are high in fat and calories but low in nutrients. Mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles can add flavor without the extra fat and calories.

Watch the sides

Choose a side salad, fresh fruit, or baked potato instead of french fries. A single serving of fries can have over 500 calories and 25 grams of fat. Salads and fruits provide vitamins, minerals and fiber with fewer calories.

Portion control

Request the smallest size available. Fast food portions are often way too big, even for those with large appetites. A regular burger, for example, can have up to 1,000 calories and over 2/3 of your daily sodium. Split your meal in half and save the rest for later or share with someone.

While fast food will never be as nutritious as a home-cooked meal, with some smart choices you can enjoy it as an occasional treat in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Choosing high-protein, low-calorie options, watching portions and skipping high-fat add-ons are good rules of thumb for making the healthiest choice when dining out. Your body and waistline will thank you!

How Does High Protein Low Calorie Food Help with Weight?

High-protein, low-calorie foods can be beneficial for weight loss and weight management for several reasons:

1. Satiety: Protein is known to be more filling and satisfying than carbohydrates and fats. When you consume high-protein foods, they help you feel full and satisfied, reducing your overall appetite and the likelihood of overeating. This can make it easier to stick to a calorie-restricted diet.

2. Increased Thermogenesis: The process of digesting and metabolizing protein requires more energy (calories) compared to carbohydrates and fats. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) or dietary-induced thermogenesis. By consuming more protein, you can increase the number of calories your body burns during digestion, helping you achieve a calorie deficit.

3. Muscle Preservation: When you’re on a calorie-restricted diet for weight loss, there’s a risk of losing lean muscle mass along with fat. Protein helps preserve muscle tissue, which is essential for maintaining your metabolic rate and overall health. This can help you maintain a higher calorie-burning capacity even while losing weight.

4. Blood Sugar Control: Protein-rich foods have a lower glycemic index, meaning they have a smaller impact on blood sugar levels compared to high-carbohydrate foods. This can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cravings for sugary or high-calorie foods.

5. Nutrient Density: Many high-protein foods are also rich in essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. By choosing nutrient-dense, low-calorie protein sources such as lean meats, fish, tofu, and legumes, you can ensure that you’re getting the necessary nutrients while managing your calorie intake.

6. Reduced Fat Storage: High-protein diets may lead to a decrease in fat storage because they can suppress the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin while increasing the appetite-suppressing hormones like peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).

It’s important to note that while high-protein, low-calorie foods can be helpful for weight loss, they should be part of a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all food groups.

You can also use TDEE calorie calculator (total daily energy expenditure) to stay updated with the amount of calories you are consuming. Moreover, any weight loss plan should be sustainable and promote long-term health rather than extreme calorie restriction.

How to Choose a High Protein Option

string bean, beans, assortment

When choosing a high-protein fast food option, consider these factors:

Nutrition Information

Check the nutrition facts and ingredients list. Aim for at least 20-30 grams of protein and less than 500 calories per serving. Watch out for high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. The best choices will have more protein than fat and carbs.

Some things to look for:

  • Grilled, baked, or broiled meat, fish, or chicken

  • Beans, lentils, and legumes

  • Eggs (especially egg white sandwiches or breakfast bowls)

  • Greek yogurt or cottage cheese

Portion Size

Be mindful of portion sizes, as even healthy options can be high in calories if the portion is too big. Choose the smallest size available or split a larger portion with someone.

Additional Toppings

Extra toppings like bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, and creamy sauces quickly add calories, fat, and sodium. Either skip the extras or ask for light or half portions of these toppings.

Meal Combos

Combo meals or value meals often come with fries or chips and a sugary drink. Choose a side salad, fresh fruit, or a plain baked potato instead. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, or milk rather than soda or fruit juice.

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to finding satisfying high-protein, fast food restaurant choices that won’t blow your healthy diet. Keep making good choices each time you dine out, and you’ll get better at navigating the menu to build your best meal.

Top 5 High Protein Fast Food Breakfasts Under 300 Calories

Dr. JB Kirby | Eat This, Not That: The 25 Best High Protein Low Calorie Fast Food Choices

When you’re in a rush but still want a high-protein breakfast under 300 calories, fast food restaurants have some decent options. Here are the top 5 high-protein fast food breakfasts under 300 calories:

McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin

  • Egg white, Canadian bacon, and cheese on an English muffin (250 calories, 18g protein)

This savory sandwich is packed with protein but low in calories. The egg white and Canadian bacon provide lots of protein without the extra fat and calories of a whole egg and regular bacon.

Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Biscuit

  • A grilled chicken breast and cheese on a buttermilk biscuit (290 calories, 28g protein)

Chick-fil-A’s grilled chicken biscuit has a whopping 28 grams of protein for under 300 calories. The grilled chicken breast provides lean protein and the buttermilk biscuit gives it a delicious Southern taste.

Wendy’s Small Chili

  • Beef and bean chili (210 calories, 15g protein)

Wendy’s small chili is loaded with protein and filling fiber. Pair it with a side salad for a balanced high-protein meal.

Hardee’s Charbroiled Chicken Biscuit

  • A charbroiled chicken breast on a buttermilk biscuit (230 calories, 24g protein)

Like Chick-fil-A, Hardee’s charbroiled chicken biscuit packs 24 grams of protein. The chicken is charbroiled instead of fried, keeping it lean.

Starbucks Spinach, Egg White & Cheese Wrap

  • Egg white, spinach, cheese, and salsa in a tomato wrap (290 calories, 24g protein)

For those on the go, Starbucks’ spinach, egg white, and cheese wrap provides an impressive 24 grams of protein. The egg whites, cheese, and spinach in cool wrap give it tons of nutrition along with lots of protein.

Best High Protein Lunch Options at Popular Fast Food Chains

Fast food may not be known for its healthy options, but some chains now offer protein-packed choices. Here are some of the best high-protein, low-calorie fast food lunch items:

Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Wrap

A grilled chicken wrap with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and ranch dressing has 350 calories and 31 grams of protein. Skip the chips or fries and opt for a side salad to make it an even lighter meal.

Taco Bell Fresco Chicken Soft Tacos

Two fresco chicken soft tacos with lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese and cilantro dressing have only 340 calories but pack 26 grams of protein. Ask for extra veggies to boost nutrition.

McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

A grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato on an artisan roll has 360 calories and 37 grams of protein. Hold the mayonnaise to cut 70 calories and 7 grams of fat.

Burger King Whopper Jr.

A Whopper Jr. without mayonnaise has 250 calories and 18 grams of protein. Ask for extra pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and ketchup to add flavor with few calories.

Subway 6-inch Turkey Breast Sub

A 6-inch turkey breast sub on wheat bread with veggies has 280 calories and 18 grams of protein. Load it up with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Ask for mustard, vinegar, or hot sauce instead of mayonnaise.

Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets

An 8-count of grilled chicken nuggets has 140 calories and 28 grams of protein. Pair it with a small side salad with light Italian dressing for a balanced meal under 400 calories.

These nutritious, lighter options can satisfy you without weighing you down. Many fast food joints now highlight healthy choices and list full nutrition facts to make it easy to eat well on the go. Choosing a high-protein meal will keep you feeling full and energized for hours.

High Protein Low Calorie Dinners You Can Grab at a Drive-Thru

soup, carrot, ginger

When you’re in a rush but still want a filling, high-protein meal, fast food drive-thrus can be a lifesaver. Here are some of the best high-protein, low-calorie options for dinner at popular fast food chains:

Grilled Chicken Sandwich

A grilled chicken sandwich is always a solid choice. Look for options with lettuce, tomato, and light or no mayonnaise. For example, Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich has only 320 calories and 27 grams of protein. At Wendy’s, the Grilled Chicken Sandwich has 370 calories and 33 grams of protein.

Burrito Bowl

Burrito bowls with rice, beans, salsa, and grilled meat or fish are protein-packed and calorie-conscious. At Chipotle, a burrito bowl with rice, black beans, grilled chicken, salsa, and lettuce clocks in at 500 calories but delivers a whopping 40 grams of protein. Qdoba and Taco Bell also offer burrito bowls with similar nutrition.

Nuggets

Chicken nuggets aren’t usually considered diet food, but some options are reasonably healthy. Wendy’s 4-piece Spicy Chicken Nuggets have just 160 calories and 13 grams of protein. At Burger King, a 6-piece Chicken Nuggets pack has 270 calories and 21 grams of protein. Choose grilled nuggets when possible and pair them with a side salad instead of fries.

Soup or Chili

Hearty soups and chilis can make a satisfying high-protein meal. Wendy’s small Chili has 320 calories and 20 grams of protein. At Panera, a bowl of Black Bean Soup has 340 calories and 13 grams of protein. The small Beef Chili at Taco Bell has only 250 calories but delivers 15 grams of protein.

Protein-Style Burgers

Some burger chains like Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and Wendy’s offer “protein-style” burgers wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun. A Carl’s Jr. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger Protein Style has 620 calories but 60 grams of protein. At Wendy’s, a Baconator without the bun is 510 calories and 55 grams of protein. These options cut the carbs but keep the protein.

Satisfying High Protein Low Calorie Snacks & Sides

yogurt parfait

When hunger strikes but you’re watching your calories and macros, fast food joints have some surprisingly satisfying high-protein, low-calorie options. Here are a few of our favorites:

Yogurt Parfait

A yogurt parfait is a perfect snack or mini-meal when you’re on the go. Most places offer parfaits with Greek yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit like berries for around 200-300 calories and 10-15 grams of protein. The carb count is low too, around 15-25 grams.

-A McDonald’s Fruit & Yogurt Parfait has 190 calories, 11 grams of protein, and 22 grams of carbs.

Grilled Chicken Nuggets

If you’ve got a nugget craving, grilled chicken nuggets or strips are a waistline-friendly choice. A 6-piece order of grilled nuggets from Chick-fil-A has just 140 calories, 27 grams of protein, and 3 grams of carbs.

-Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Nuggets (4 pieces) are 150 calories, 26 grams of protein, and 4 grams of carbs.

Side Salad

Salads don’t have to be boring diet fare. Fast food salads topped with grilled chicken, beans, nuts or seeds offer a balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep you full for a few calories.

  • A McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken has 350 calories, 37 grams of protein, and 24 grams of carbs.

  • Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad (full size) has 470 calories, 43 grams of protein, and 36 grams of carbs.

That covers a few satisfying, high-protein snacks and sides for when you’re in a pinch. Don’t forget to watch your portion sizes, choose grilled over fried, and avoid high-fat dressings and toppings. By making smart choices, you absolutely can eat fast food and still meet your goals.

Build Your Own Low Calorie High Protein Fast Food Meals

wraps, food, lunch

When building your own low calorie, high protein fast food meal, think outside the burger bun. Many fast food joints now offer healthy salads, wraps, and bowls that can be customized to your tastes. Here are some tips for creating a balanced, satisfying meal:

Choose a base

Select a hearty base like a salad, rice bowl, or wrap. Some good options include:

  • Grilled chicken salad: Ask for grilled chicken, lots of veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette on the side.

  • Burrito bowl: Start with rice, beans, salsa, and grilled veggies. Add a protein like chicken, steak or shrimp.

  • Lettuce wrap: Use large lettuce leaves to wrap fillings like grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu with fresh veggies and a drizzle of sauce.

Pick a lean protein

Grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, and beans are excellent sources of protein with less fat and calories. Ask for these instead of fatty meats like beef or pork.

Load up on veggies

The more veggies the better! Not only do they add nutrition, but they also make your meal more filling. Some veggie options include:

  • Tomatoes

  • Cucumbers

  • Bell peppers

  • Mushrooms

  • Carrots

  • Leafy greens like spinach

  • Broccoli

  • Asparagus (when in season)

Choose a flavorful sauce

A side dipping sauce or dressing adds lots of flavor without many calories. Ask for salsa, chili sauce, mustard, hummus, or a light vinaigrette on the side so you can control how much you add.

Don’t forget healthy fats

Add extras like avocado, nuts, or seeds for healthy fats that satisfy. Guacamole, nut butters, or a sprinkle of chia or flax seeds are all great options.

By customizing your meal with lean proteins, lots of veggies, a flavorful sauce, and healthy fats, you can enjoy delicious fast food without regret. Your waistline and wallet will thank you!

Tips for Ordering High Protein Items at Fast Food Restaurants

tips and advice

When ordering at fast food restaurants, keep these tips in mind to choose high-protein, low-calorie options:

Ask for extra protein

Don’t be afraid to ask for extra meat, beans, or nuts to boost the protein. For example, ask for extra chicken, beef, or guacamole on your burrito, taco or burger. Most places will add more for little or no extra charge.

Skip the mayonnaise and cheese

Condiments like mayonnaise, cheese, and creamy sauces add lots of calories but little nutrition. Ask for lettuce, tomato, mustard, or a drizzle of olive oil instead.

Choose a side salad

Rather than fries or chips, choose a side salad, fruit cup or veggies. A side Caesar, garden or Cobb salad provides filling fiber, vitamins, and minerals to balance your meal.

Grilled over fried

Opt for grilled, baked, roasted, or broiled options which tend to be lower in fat and calories than their fried counterparts. Grilled chicken, fish, or veggie burgers are always a good choice.

Watch your portion sizes

Fast food portions are often oversized, packing in way more calories than you need. Choose the smallest size possible, split an entree with someone else, or save part of your meal for later.

Drink water or unsweetened beverages

High-calorie sodas, shakes, and sweet tea provide lots of sugar but no nutrition. Choose water, unsweetened iced tea, skim or almond milk instead.

By following these tips, you can enjoy fast food while still meeting your nutrition goals. Make the healthiest choice in each category and you’ll be well on your way to a balanced, satisfying meal. Every small change adds up, so keep practicing these habits and you’ll be choosing nutritious fast food options in no time!

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Choosing High Protein Fast Food

Pitfalls to Avoid

When trying to choose high-protein, low-calorie fast food options, it’s easy to make mistakes. Watch out for these common pitfalls:

Avoid fried foods like chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, or onion rings which are high in unhealthy fats and calories. Grilled, baked, or broiled are better options.

Steer clear of high fat sauces and dressings like ranch, bacon, Alfredo, or cheese sauce which can double the calories. Opt for mustard, ketchup, barbecue, or chili sauce instead.

Be careful with portion sizes. A single hamburger patty can have over 500 calories and 30 grams of fat. Choose a smaller patty, skip the bun, or get a lettuce wrap to cut calories in half.

Avoid sugary drinks, frappes, and shakes. A large soda or sweet tea can have over 500 calories and 100 grams of sugar. Choose unsweetened beverages like water, unsweetened iced tea, diet soda or a low-fat milk.

Watch out for “health halos”. Just because a menu item has a health buzzword like “natural”, “artisanal” or “gourmet” doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Check nutrition info to be sure.

Don’t be fooled by salad. A chef salad, taco salad, or cobb salad from a fast food joint can pack well over 1,000 calories and 50 grams of fat. Load up on veggies, beans, and a lean protein; hold the high-fat toppings and heavy dressings.

Beware of breakfast sandwiches and burritos which are often over 500 calories and loaded with fat and sodium. Scrambled eggs, oatmeal with fruit, or a yogurt parfait are better options.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to making the healthiest high-protein fast food choices. Eating on the go doesn’t have to derail your fitness goals as long as you’re savvy about what’s really in those menu items. Choose wisely!

Conclusion

So there you have it, 25 of the best high protein low calorie fast food choices that won’t sabotage your diet or your wallet. Next time you’re craving a burger or burrito but don’t want to blow your calorie budget, keep this list handy.

With options from all your favorite chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and more, you’ll never be at a loss for a satisfying and nutritious meal on the go. And the best part is, with picks averaging 300 calories and at least 15 grams of protein each, these menu items prove that fast food doesn’t have to be a nutritional nightmare.

You can have your burger and eat it too! So go ahead, treat yourself to some drive-thru—you’ve got this guide to help you make the smartest choice.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

What are some of the best high protein, low calorie food choices?

Some of the best options include:

  • Grilled chicken sandwiches or wraps (hold the mayo and cheese)

  • Bean burritos or tacos with salsa (ask for extra beans, hold the sour cream and cheese)

  • Chili (ask for extra beans and veggies)

  • Salads with grilled chicken, beans, and a light vinaigrette (hold the cheese and croutons)

  • Omelets or scrambled eggs made with egg whites and veggies

  • Smoothies made with Greek yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit (hold the honey and sugar)

Are there any fast food burgers I can eat?

Yes, just choose wisely. Some good options are:

  • Hamburger or cheeseburger lettuce wraps (hold the bun and condiments)

  • Veggie burger (hold the mayo and cheese)

  • Grilled chicken sandwich (hold the mayo, cheese and bun)

What are the worst high-protein, low-calorie fast food choices?

Some of the worst choices include:

  • Anything fried like chicken nuggets, french fries, onion rings, etc.

  • Anything with lots of cheese, mayonnaise, or creamy sauces

  • Muffins, donuts, pastries, or other sweets

  • Shakes, malts, and floats – while tasty, these are loaded with sugar and calories

By choosing grilled proteins, and fresh veggies, and watching your portions, you absolutely can find healthy, high-protein fast food options. Stick to the good choices and avoid the bad, and you’ll do great! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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