Most fast-food fried chicken sandwiches look pretty much the same. There's a chicken patty, lettuce, and a bun. But like snowflakes, no two chicken sandwiches are the same, at least not in the nutritional department. And thankfully, unlike snowflakes, you've never had to wipe chicken sandwiches off your car in the winter.
To help you make healthy choices, we spoke to Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian nutritionist, to help us look at 10 major fast-food joints' chicken masterpieces. Here's the nutritional lowdown on America's favorite chicken sandwiches.
Editor's Note:The selections here are each restaurant's most basic fried chicken sandwich. Because once you start getting into the Cadillacs -- your cordon bleus and your bacon-ranches -- this gets crazy complicated.
Frechman believes you can eat "pretty much" all foods in moderation, which is great news for anyone looking to eat these sandwiches, many of which are high in sodium and fat. But here's the rub: if you're looking to lose weight, she recommends you look closely at the calorie count. If you just want to eat healthy, pay attention to the saturated fat and sodium. For our purposes, we asked her to take into consideration all the nutritional info.
To put the nutritional stats in context, 1g of fat is equal to a 1/4 pat of butter. So when you see a sandwich has 40g of fat, that's 10 pats of butter, or the average amount of butter a Wisconsinite puts on their toast in the morning. Frechman notes, "Most of the sandwiches contained about half of the recommended amounts of fat for a day."
10. Popeyes chicken po-boy
Better load up on spinach to try and counteract the 9g of saturated fat, 2,120mg of sodium, and 75mg of cholesterol in this sucker -- the highest counts in those categories out of every chicken sandwich we considered.
9. Carl's Jr. Big Chicken Fillet
The chicken sandwich at Hardee's fast-food brother-in-arms has the same amount of cholesterol as Popeyes, and a few more calories (680, compared to 660 for Olive Oyl's favorite chicken sandwich), but 760 fewer milligrams of sodium.
8. Burger King Tendercrisp chicken sandwich
BK's standard-issue chicken sandwich -- not to be confused with the torpedo-shaped original chicken sandwich -- contains 12g carbs and 140mg of sodium fewer than Carl's Jr., making the King's bird offering slightly more nutritious, but seriously skimping in the Kate Upton department.
7. Sonic crispy chicken sandwich
A drop of 80 calories from Burger King's Tendercrisp (and 2.5 fewer grams of saturated fat) helps the crispy chicken sandwich roller skate into seventh place.
6. Jack in the Box spicy chicken sandwich
While this chicken sandwich with a kick has about as many calories and as much saturated fat and protein as Sonic's, it has 130 fewer milligramss of sodium and 14 fewer grams of carbs. Kudos to you, J in the B! No one calls it that, right?
5. Arby's crispy chicken sandwich
Everyone knows Arby's has the meats, but almost no one has memorized that its chicken sandwich has 50 fewer calories than Jack in the Box's, mostly because that'd be a weird thing to memorize.
4. Wendy's Homestyle chicken sandwich
Coming from America's favorite ginger fast-food spokesperson not named Ronald, Wendy's chicken sandwich is close to the Arby's offering in a number of nutritional categories, except for fat. The two sandwiches have an equal numbr of calories, but the pigtail'd brand's bird has 4g fewer of fat. So go ahead, order a Frosty to make up the difference***! (***This move has not been approved by the dietitian.)
3. Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich
The chicken sandwich masters out of Atlanta come with a relatively healthy chicken sandwich, albeit a basic one -- it only comes on a buttered bun with pickle chips. On the plus side, it has the fewest grams of fat (18g) and calories (440) of all the chicken sandwiches before it in the ranking.
2. McDonald's McChicken
Naming the McChicken one of the healthiest chicken sandwiches was as much a no-brainer for the nutritionist as when McDonald's decided to offer all-day breakfast. Here are the myriad reasons that make it healthier than any sandwich thus far: fewest total calories (370), fewest total calories from fat (150), fewest total fats (17g), carbs (40g), sodium (650mg), and cholesterol (40mg). No wonder Ronald looks like he's in good shape.
No matter which beloved comedian is dressed up like the Colonel lately, the nutritional facts on the healthiest fast-food chicken sandwich are staying the same: fewest calories than any other sandwich (310), fewest grams of saturated fat (3), and fewest milligrams of sodium (590).
One important thing to keep in mind: while this is priced about the same as a McChicken, the sandwich is pretty small (probably because it's a chicken tender on a bun). The KFC cashier encouraged me to order more than one. If you heed her advice and order two, well, it's about as healthy as every other sandwich on the list. Eating healthy is tough.
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Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist, and enjoys that Sonic chicken sandwich quite a bit. Follow him to a high-carb lifestyle: @LeeBreslouer.