We constantly hear how important it is to be healthy and eat well. Sometimes, though, time doesn’t want to cooperate with us, and we find ourselves sitting in our cars looking at rows of fast food restaurants and agonizing over which of them will do our hearts and arteries the least harm.

Take heart! The next time this happens to you, you will be prepared with some real facts about the most popular restaurants. You’ll be able to take better care of your health and also save time making your order! So what do we know about the healthiest fast food places?

It must be admitted that you can do better by shopping at, say, Whole Foods. The original purpose of fast food had little to do with dietary science. Even so, knowing some rules of thumb as well as a lineup of the healthiest fast food eateries can save you from the most extreme assaults on your health.

Let us begin with some basic principles for eating well so you can go on living well (so you can eat some more tomorrow).

1. Needless to say, supersizing meals goes along with supersizing you. Better to think small when it comes to food, especially fast food.

2. The lowest-calorie salad becomes a calorie bomb when combined with high-fat dressings and drips. Those dressings are like a Trojan horse, sneaking calories back in when you least expect them. Don’t let them!

3. Have water instead of soft drinks and save on your sugar quota.

4. Go easy on the salt if you want to become an old salt yourself.

5. Salad buffets can be a challenge. Low-calorie, healthy foods. As much as you want. You eat a lot. With dressings and yummy extras. Not low-calorie any more. If you see a buffet, remember – keep your wits about you!

Equipped with these tips, you’re ready to try your skills in the home of fast food – the restaurant. Here are Health magazine’s rankings for the healthiest fast food joints.

Panera Bread

a combination cafe and bakery with a good selection of healthy choices, focusing on whole grains and organic chicken.

Jason’s Deli

also favoring organic foods, salads, and smaller portions.

Au Bon Pain

an early leader in healthy fast food offering soups, sandwiches, whole grains, and dishes designed to help keep calories down.

Noodles and Company

an innovator in both menu design and healthy cuisine that combines Asian, Mediterranean, and American styles.

Corner Bakery Cafe

another good option for healthy whole grains, lean meats, salads, and smaller portions.

Chipotle

with a Mexican theme, but empowering the customer to design tacos or burritos as desired with organic, local ingredients.

Atlanta Bread

as the name suggests, focusing on whole-grain bread and healthy soups as well as salads.

And don’t forget one last fast food place when the game is starting soon – your own home! Quick meals can be made in your kitchen, too. How about canned baked beans in your favorite style with salsa, guacamole, and wraps filled with salad greens with turkey or chicken breast? Or instant rice plus sauteed spiced frozen vegetables with tilapia or lean turkey cold cuts on the side? The possibilities are endless, and you can reduce your mileage along with your calories!

With this background, you’re ready to try it out for yourself. Check out these and similar restaurants and recipes for the healthiest fast food. You will probably find that you can cut out most of the worst offenders among the heart-attacking ingredients that would otherwise have gone into your stomach (and your blood vessels)! Enjoy your busy life in good health and bon appetit!

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