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Diet Dishes Not Equal

With America facing an obesity epidemic, many fast-food restaurants have started offering healthier foods. To see just how well these restaurants are doing, September's issue of Consumer Reports magazine rated their typical chicken salads and chicken sandwiches, those that appeal to health-conscious people.

The results may stun you.

Kim Kleman, managing editor of Consumer Reports, shared details on The Early Show.

The magazine looked at 16 restaurants. It sent two expert taste testers to four stores each in eight states, and they looked for the best mix of nutrition and value and, of course, taste.

It should come as no surprise that the more calories and fat, the better the dish tasted.

Among the magazine's biggest surprises: What is a healthier choice, a Boston Market Caesar chicken salad or a Big Mac from McDonald's?

The Big Mac won, because the Boston Market Caesar chicken salad has 800 calories and 62 grams of fat, which is almost all the fat you should have in a full day. The fat mainly comes from the salad dressing (and the croutons don't help either).

On the other hand, the Big Mac has 600 calories and 33 grams of fat. "Not great, but better than the salad," notes Kleman.

Some chicken salads and sandwiches are healthier than others. For instance, the Subway chicken salad has 310 calories, versus 800 calories for the Boston Market salad. Among the chicken sandwiches, the Wendy's chicken sandwich had 360 calories, while the Panera Bread chicken sandwich carried 950 calories.

The ones rated best overall by Consumer Reports:

  • The Baja Fresh Original Baja Taco: Says Kleman, "We liked it a lot because it tasted so fresh. Had nice chunks of chicken, onions, cilantro and fresh tasting."
  • The Quiznos Sub: "Nice chunks of chicken on a whole wheat roll, tasted very fresh. You have onions and lettuce and tomatoes." It also is served with a honey mustard sauce (not mayonnaise).
  • McDonalds Chicken McGrill: While it might not appear healthy with its white bread and mayonnaise, Kleman points out, "You have a nice chunk of chicken, fresh lettuce and tomato, fresh sesame seed bun. Yeah, it came from McDonald's. Even McDonald's is doing well." In terms of calories and taste, this rated high.
  • Subway Garden Salad with Chicken: "It's got grape tomatoes, three kinds of lettuce, a red vinaigrette dressing, so no heavy mayo dressing. It was very fresh. We liked it a lot."
  • The Baja Ensalada Salad with Chicken: "It has pieces of tortilla. It's got salsa for a dressing, very fresh again. So we like that as well."

    Consumer Reports also has some advice for people who want to go out and eat fast food, while also keeping their good health in mind:

  • Don't eat everything. Some of the portions are huge. Make a conscious decision to eat half, or share, or take some home. Don't eat the whole thing.
  • Always put the dressing on the side. Dressing will kill you, especially with a salad. Always put it on the side, don't use all of it.
  • Know the nutritional information. There are huge differences in calories among the foods so you have to know, going in, which have the fewest calories. Sometimes, it's not obvious.
  • Eat it your way. Always order grilled, not fried.
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