Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2013, 9:42 am

Salads or burgers? Choosing wisely at the fast food window

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By Kathryn Rem

Photo: GateHouse News Service
Looking for healthy alternatives to burgers at fast food joints? Fast Food Nutrition (FastFoodNutrition.org) is a website that has distilled nutritional counts from 5,000 menu items at more than 25 of the nation's most popular fast-food joints.
I was driving around one morning last week, going to a couple of locations for interviews and checking out the progress of several restaurants-to-be. It was cold outside with patchy ice on the ground, so when it got to be lunchtime, I didn't want to get out of my car. What to do?

I don't mind picking up something to eat at a fast-food restaurant, but I never know what to order. I don't want to consume a ton of fat and calories, but I know that a side of apple wedges isn't going to fill me up.

Although some fast-food places, such as McDonald's, now put calorie counts on their outdoor menu boards, I feel too rushed to read that small print when I'm in the drive-through lane with a line a cars behind me. More often than not, I wind up ordering something I feel guilty about eating.

Fast Food Nutrition (FastFoodNutrition.org) is a website that has distilled nutritional counts from 5,000 menu items at more than 25 of the nation's most popular fast-food joints. It makes it easy to plan your meal via computer before you venture outside. Or if you have a smartphone or tablet with you, you can check the nutrition facts from your car.

I was surprised to learn the apple and cranberry salad with crispy chicken at Burger King has 700 calories and 41 grams of fat. That's more than a bacon cheeseburger and a small order of fries there (650 calories, 29 grams of fat).

The Black Forest ham sandwich at Subway has 110 calories and 3 grams of fat. The Gourmet Smoked Ham Club at Jimmy John's, however, packs 775 calories and has 32 grams of fat.

Here are some of the fast-food items the site deems the "best" choices: 6-inch Veggie Delite sub at Subway (50 calories, 1 gram of fat), 2-ounce slice of Large Edge veggie pizza at Pizza Hut (70 calories, 3 grams of fat), chopped side salad at Arby's (80 calories, 5 grams of fat), Harvest Blend fruit bowl at Starbucks (90 calories, 0 grams of fat), grilled chicken wing at KFC (80 calories, 5 grams of fat) and premium Caesar salad without chicken at McDonald's (90 calories, 4 grams of fat).

Some of the highest-calorie foods, according to FastFoodNutrition.org: the three-piece Atlantic cod dinner at Culver's (2,156 calories, 139 grams of fat), the large M&M's Blast at Sonic (1,800 calories, 97 grams of fat) and the 2/3 pound Monster Thickburger at Hardee's (1,290 calories, 92 grams of fat).

Of course, calories and fat aren't the only things to consider. You also can check menu items for trans fats, sodium, carbohydrate counts.

A meal calculator on the site lets you figure the nutrition of a customized meal. Add ranch dressing to a salad or a slice of cheese to your sandwich, and the calculator will add the numbers in.

I'm going to start using the site to make better choices. Did you know the fresco soft taco at Taco Bell has 170 calories and 3 grams of fat?