I don’t know about you, but to me, the words fast food and diet don’t exactly go together. I think of fast food as burgers, French fries, and fried chicken. Meanwhile, the word diet invokes thoughts of organic vegetables, rice cakes, and quinoa.
But a recent study by NetQuote changed my thinking, and it may change yours too.
According to the study, people can enjoy popular fast food items from major fast-food chains while staying on a variety of diets. You might think that having a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco Supreme from Taco Bell automatically means you’re cheating on your diet. But if your diet focuses on eating fewer carbs, think again.
The NetQuote study analyzed five popular fast-food chains — Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A — and compared their menus against five popular diets: low-carb, Mediterranean, pescatarian, vegan, and vegetarian. Among the study’s findings:
Across the five fast food chains studied, 39 regular menu items qualified as low-carb, including Taco Bell’s Cheesy Roll-Up, four-piece Chicken McNuggets from McDonald’s, Sous Vide Egg Bites at Starbucks, and the Sausage Egg Burrito from Wendy’s.
Twenty menu items at these chains are okay to eat if you’re on a Mediterranean diet. It’s not considered cheating if you eat chips and nacho cheese sauce at Taco Bell, hash browns at Chick-fil-A, a side salad at McDonald’s, or a Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Panini at Starbucks.
Those on pescatarian or vegetarian diets have many options to choose from at these fast food chains, with 68 and 64 options, respectively. Pescatarian dieters can dine on bean burritos and quesadillas at Taco Bell, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches at McDonald’s and egg salad sandwiches at Starbucks. Vegetarians, meanwhile, can feast on steel-cut oatmeal with cranberries at Wendy’s and buttered biscuits at Chick-fil-A.
If you’re vegan, you have 22 meal options that will fit into your diet, including black beans at Taco Bell, fruit and maple oatmeal with brown sugar at McDonald’s, and Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowls at Starbucks.
On a personal note, I’ve been doing Weight Watchers for a couple of months now in my effort to lose 15 pounds. The result: I lost the weight by reconciling McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr., and Burger King items with my Weight Watchers points.
In conclusion: fast food is no longer just for cheat days.
Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage analyst for Industry Intelligence, a Los Angeles-based market intelligence firm. It's the perfect job for him: He loves junk food, he often works besides a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, and anytime one of the health nuts in his office gives him grief for eating a Big Mac, he gets to smile and say: "Hey, this is my job." Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.