Why low-cal items are not always your best option

by Andrew Waldburger, Dietetic Intern, and Margaret Moses, Registered Dietitian

In December 2016, the FDA began enforcing a new law that requires all chain restaurants and food service establishments to list the calorie content of each of their standard food items directly on their menus. The law does not, however, require listing any other nutrition information along with calories. As a result, some consumers are being misled to believe that lower-calorie, or “low-cal”, items are apparently healthier.


Check out this list of five low-cal options that aren’t as good of a choice as their franchises would have you believe:

Subway’s Cold-Cut Combo
Although it’s only 340 calories, the combo of turkey, salami, and bologna makes this sandwich rich in saturated fat. Even the 6″ size has as much sodium as a McDonald’s double cheeseburger.

Burger King’s Whopper Jr.
Even though the smaller version of BK’s classic sandwich will save you 350 calories versus the regular, it still contains a hefty amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. All three of those are major contributors to heart disease.

McDonald’s Honey-Mustard Snack Wrap
The small size of this sandwich might be appealing to someone trying to slim down, but the saturated fat surely isn’t. This mini dish might only be 250 calories, but it has far more sodium than even the Whopper Jr.!

Wendy’s Small Chocolate Frosty
Surely the small size of Wendy’s iconic drink is a good choice, right? While its 340 calories make it better than choosing a medium or large, it still has more saturated fat than any of the sandwiches above and almost as much added sugar as a can of Coke.

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte
This fall favorite might be popular, but it’s the worst offender on this list. Even though the small (tall) size has only 300 calories, it still has just as much sugar and even more saturated fat than the small Frosty!


Hopefully this list helps illustrate that when it comes to nutrition, calories aren’t everything. It’s best to know which nutrients you want to limit: saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and added sugar – and which you want to emphasize: dietary fiber, unsaturated fats, and vitamins & minerals. Take some time to look at the restaurant’s website for more detailed nutrient information. Oftentimes, they are a better place to get your nutrition information than off the menu!


For more nutritional guidance, visit your local club’s nutrition page:

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