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Fast food isn't the best choice for expecting moms, since it's usually packed with sodium, fat, and sugar. But it doesn't have to be a nutritional disaster. Here's what to order – and what to avoid – at popular fast-food chains when you're pregnant.
By Bonnie Rochman
Reviewed by nutritionist Jessica Corwin
Mickey D's isn't exactly known for health food, though recently it's been making an effort to serve up better choices.
Best bets: Any salad with grilled – not crispy – chicken (like the Premium Southwest Salad With Grilled Chicken); a basic Egg McMuffin; or a hamburger and small fries are a good option. To drink, unsweetened ice tea, low-fat milk, and nonfat chocolate milk make the grade. For dessert, try a fruit and yogurt parfait, apple slices, or a small vanilla cone.
Avoid: Chicken McNuggets – they're sky-high in calories, fat, and sodium. Ten pieces have nearly half the fat you should eat in a day; 20 pieces have nearly 1,000 calories. A Quarter Pounder With Cheese has 750 calories and 43 grams (g) of fat, and the Big Mac has 29 g of fat. The shakes and McFlurrys are positively groaning with calories and sugar, and the smoothies are sugar bombs.
Chipotle is one of the friendlier fast-food options: plenty fresh and tasty too. But extras like sour cream and cheese make it easy to go overboard on the calories and fat unless you're paying attention.
Best bets: Crispy corn tacos with steak, romaine lettuce, fajita veggies, and green tomatillo salsa is one of the lowest-sodium picks on the menu, and it features a whole-grain taco shell and semi-lean protein. Plus, it has a third of your daily fiber needs. Choosing beef – in this or other menu options – is a great way to get the protein, zinc, and iron you need during pregnancy. A small scoop of guacamole is fine: It's high in fat, but it's the healthy, monounsaturated sort. And guac contains lutein, which is great for your baby's eyes, plus vitamin E and a surprising amount of fiber.
Avoid: A burrito with flour tortilla, carnitas, white rice, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and fresh tomato salsa. Eating this will set you back 1,110 calories and add up to 60 g of fat – yikes.
Pizza has some redeeming features (cheese has protein!), but it's high in calories, fat, and excess sodium. Beware: Pizza Hut defines a "portion" as one piece of pizza, but when's the last time you ordered a pizza and had just one slice?
Best bets: Slices with the Thin 'N Crispy crust are lower in fat and calories – especially if you go for the Cheese Only or Veggie Lover's versions. (Two slices of the Veggie Lover's Thin 'N Crispy are a respectable 360 calories with 12 g of fat and 14 g of protein.) If you love Pizza Hut's original crust, stick to two pieces. (The Chicken Supreme is a good option, with 24 g of protein in two slices.)
Avoid: The Stuffed Crust and Meat Lover's versions are not your friends. A single slice of the 3 Cheese Stuffed Crust Meat Lover's Pizza has 440 calories, 25 g of fat, and an eye-popping 1,150 milligrams (mg) of sodium. The Meat Lover's Personal Pan Pizza has 850 calories and 48 g of fat.
Quickie Mexican can be cheap and tasty, and Taco Bell offers its Fresco menu, with food that's under 350 calories and 10 g of fat. Order any item on the menu "Fresco-style" and you'll cut excess fat and calories.
Best bets: Soft tacos with chicken or grilled steak. A soft chicken taco has just 160 calories and 5 g of fat; its Fresco counterpart has 20 fewer calories and only 3.5 g of fat. Even if you get a few, it's a good nutritional choice. The Cantina Bowl is another. Order with chicken or steak to raise the protein content, add a side of black beans for fiber and protein, and ask for the creamy cilantro dressing on the side.
Avoid: The Smothered Beef Burrito: 700 calories, 35 g of fat, and a mind-boggling 2,260 mg of sodium. (The Fresco Burrito is a better choice.) And don't be fooled by the Fiesta Taco Salad: more than 700 calories and up to 42 g of fat.
For a place famous for fried chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A has some surprisingly decent options for expecting moms.
Best bets: Menu items with grilled chicken. Chick-fil-A's chicken is 100 percent breast meat with no fillers or additives. Choose the Grilled Chicken sandwich for 30 g of protein and just 320 calories and 5 g of fat. The new Grilled Market Salad is also low in fat and calories and high in protein. If you crave a Chick-fil-A original, the classic fried chicken sandwiches are higher in fat and calories but not horrifying. Think of it as a treat and pair it with a fruit cup.
Avoid: Those tempting Waffle Fries: A large order adds 520 calories and 27 g of fat to your meal (a small isn't great either, with 310 calories and 16 g of fat). Just have a few, or go for the fruit cup or a side salad instead.
Subway has made a name for itself as a healthy fast-food choice. But for pregnant women, there aren't a ton of options because of the warning to avoid deli meat unless it's heated until steaming hot. Even then, processed meat contains sodium nitrate, which some experts say to avoid or limit when you're expecting.
Best bets: Chopped salads with grilled chicken for protein. The Veggie Delite sub combines lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, and onion, plus your choice of spices and dressing (plain olive oil and vinegar is a good choice). Add cheese for more protein.
Avoid: Any sub with deli meat, unless you ask for the meat to be heated until steaming or can microwave it yourself before you eat.
Panera is a bakery first and foremost, but skip the sticky buns and scan the menu for healthier choices. If you're ordering a sandwich, choose whole-grain bread. And go for the apple instead of the chips on the side, or at least the baked chips over the fried ones.
Best bets: The Power Chicken Hummus Bowl is a healthy option, with 330 calories and a generous 33 g of protein. Pair it with a whole-grain baguette and a steaming mug of decaf ginger peach black tea. The "You Pick Two" option gives you half a sandwich and soup: Try half a Mediterranean Veggie on Tomato Basil Bread (only 6 g of fat!) with some Low-Fat All-Natural Chicken Noodle. The Black Bean Soup is high in protein and fiber.
Avoid: The treats at the bakery counter. The cupcakes, pastries, cookies, and scones are calorie nightmares (the worst is the pecan roll, with 740 calories and more fat than a Big Mac). And the low-fat wild berry smoothie packs 68 g of sugar – that's 17 teaspoons!
Starbucks has some great, healthy options, but plenty of minefields too. Watch out for caffeine: Many Starbucks drinks exceed the 200 mg a day limit for pregnant women. (A 16-ounce brewed coffee can have 330 mg of caffeine; an 8-ounce cup has 180.)
Best bets: The Protein Bistro Box is a nice pregnancy snack, featuring a hardboiled egg, cheddar cheese, honey peanut-butter spread, multigrain bread, apples, and grapes. The peanut butter contributes protein, as does the egg, which also contains choline for brain development. Pair it with an Evolution Harvest bar and a tall (12-ounce) latte, which has just 75 mg of caffeine.
Avoid: Most of the flavored coffee drinks and Frappuccinos are loaded with calories and sugar. The Grande Caramel Frappuccino, for example, has more fat than a cinnamon roll (15 g) and nearly as many calories (410) when prepared the standard way. Swap in skim milk, drop the whipped cream, and you'll cut fat and calories but still be consuming 59 g (nearly 15 teaspoons) of sugar. If you indulge, choose a small size.