The Mediterranean diet and fast food restaurants don’t normally go together, but sometimes, you have to make do!
This article will cover specific tips when eating at fast food places and cover some of the menus of popular fast food restaurants.
What’s Included in the Mediterranean Diet?
It’s a good idea to begin with what’s typically eaten on a Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern traditionally followed in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Greece, Spain, and southern France.
It’s known for its potential health benefits and has been associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and cognitive decline.
Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:
- Vegetables and Fruits: These are eaten a lot and are primary sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Whole Grains: Switching from refined grains to whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and barley.
- Healthy Fats: Olive oil is the primary source of added fat, whilst nuts and seeds are also consumed regularly.
- Fish and Seafood: Especially fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, and salmon that contain lots of omega-3 fats.
- Lean Proteins: These are foods that contain lots of protein with less saturated fat, including white fish, poultry, beans and legumes.
- Low-Fat Dairy: Moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy products like cheese and yogurt.
Quick Tips When Eating at a Fast Food Place
Here are some of our best tips if you’re eating out:
- Most restaurants won’t be using olive oil because it is more expensive. They are more likely to use an oil like canola or soybean (so it is unlucky to ever be 100% compliant).
- Watch out for liquid calories – sodas can contain a lot of sugar. Even fruit juices can be high in sugar. Try and drink water instead.
- When choosing a salad, try and choose oil or vinaigrettes rather than cream-based ones. These contain a lot more calories. You could even to bring your own salad dressing!
- Choose grilled foods over fried foods. Grilled foods are usually leaner, whilst fried foods contain lots of calories and trans fat – a fat which has been linked with various health issues like an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
- The best choices are usually grilled meats (chicken, fish), salads or vegetable plates. Whole grains tend to be difficult to find as rice, bread etc are usually made with refined grains
- If you want a dessert, then, of course, you can treat yourself, but eating some fruit might satisfy that sugar craving afterward.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the waiters what’s in the food. You may be surprised by how accommodating they can be.
- It’s okay to enjoy and indulge yourself occasionally! You don’t want to be over obsessed with food, as this may affect your mental health. Either adjust your calories in the day if you don’t want to overeat (eat a smaller lunch or breakfast for example) or just enjoy it for what it is.
Choices at Specific Fast Food Restaurants
The problem with Panera is that they don’t use whole wheat, so you will struggle to get whole grains.
It’s best to stick to the bowls or salads – they have a Mediterranean Bowl that lets you add extra tomatoes, olives and cucumber for free. Not a bad deal!
Although Mexican, they do have meals that are compliant with the Mediterranean diet, such as their burrito bowls. You can likely get 2 servings out of them too – $8 for 2 meals is a great deal.
They have options for brown rice instead of white and as long as you stick to the chicken, veggies and greens, you’ll be compliant with a typical Mediterranean diet.
Black beans are also great on the Mediterranean diet, and a good plant-based source of protein.
The salads here are all fairly high in sodium and saturated fat. You can check their nutritional calculator here, but some examples are listed below:
- Grilled Chicken Salad: 1230 mg sodium (51% RDV) / 21g saturated fat (105% RDV)
- Chicken Caeser Salad: 1070 mg sodium (45% RDV) / 16g saturated fat (80% RDV)
- Caeser Salad: 450 mg sodium (19% RDV) / 8g saturated fat (40% RDV)
- Grilled Salmon Salad: 1310 mg sodium (55% RDV) / 22g saturated fat (110% RDV)
Instead, get your omega-3 fats in and pick something like a grilled salmon with a side of veggies.
You can pair their salads with something like the grilled nuggets. They aren’t the cleanest food you’ll ever eat, but they are a better shout than the standard burger and fries.
They also have a Chick-Fil-A Cool Wrap, which is pretty decent as well.
Since they cater specifically to Mediterranean food, this is likely one of your best choices.
Many reviewers like how they offer a lot more fresh veggies and flavor options that most other fast food places.
Stick with the lean protein sources like salmon, shrimp and grilled chicken with veggies or salad. They also do a variety of preset bowls or you can even make your own.
There are lot of great choices here, including whole grain and legume options, as well as traditional Mediterranean-style sauces like harissa, tzatziki and hummus.
There aren’t so many great options – the honey walnut shrimp (the only seafood) is fried glazed, meaning it isn’t a great choice here.
Your best bet is to get the vegetables as a side and then pick an entree or two of mixed meat and vegetables (like the broccoli beef or mushroom chicken).
It’s not an ideal solution, but better than many other options there.
Whilst they aren’t the most compliant, Wendy’s has a lot of good salad – the chicken apple pecan salad is pretty good.
If you want something a bit more substantial, you can get their plain baked potato and chili con corne for a filling meal – far better than burger and fries!
Any other fast food places we’ve missed? Let me us know in the comments and we’ll get it updated!
To Sum Up
The Mediterranean diet is non-restrictive, meaning you can technically eat what you like.
Generally, you’ll want to eat more of the foods it recommends like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins. However, if you’re eating at a fast food restaurant, then that’s not always possible!
If you want to be strict, stick to salads and lean proteins (be sure to check labels), but generally, as long as you aren’t eating at these places often, you can give yourself a cheat meal now and again.
The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle approach, not just a diet. Enjoy your food, but just don’t make it a habit.
If you’re looking for heart-healthy Mediterranean meals you can cook at home, here are some things you can try!
- Find more Mediterranean-style recipes on our website.
- Try our free 7 day Mediterranean diet plan with 20 recipes.
- Get our 4-week Mediterranean diet plan, Med in 28 plan, that makes following the Mediterranean diet a breeze!