The 13 Healthiest Fast-Food Burgers, According to a Dietitian

The 13 Healthiest Fast-Food Burgers, According to a Dietitian

Fast food may not be an ideal choice, but sometimes hitting the drive-through is unavoidable. In that case, it might come in handy to know how to choose the healthiest fast-food burger.

Burgers might have a bad reputation as an “unhealthy” food, but the nutritional value of your burger really depends on what’s in it.

Beef itself is actually a rich source of protein and nutrients.

The health effects of red meat are controversial, particularly the question of whether red meat consumption is related to heart disease, so consider moderating your intake (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing lean over full fat meat when you can (7).

Nevertheless, the least healthy part of most fast-food hamburgers is likely the highly processed, refined-flour bun (8, 9).

To help you make a more informed decision at the drive-through, we’ve assembled this list of the healthiest fast-food hamburgers.

The burgers we’ve chosen meet the following criteria:

  • Available nationwide. Although we included some burgers from smaller, more regional chains, most of the burgers on this list are from restaurants you can find in large cities and small towns across the United States.
  • Protein content. With the exception of the low calorie burger and plant-based slider on the list, we included fast-food burgers that have at least 20 grams of protein. Protein helps keep you full, giving your burger some staying power (10).
  • Calorie content. All of the burgers on this list contain fewer than 700 calories. The calorie content isn’t the only metric to determine how healthy a food is, but excessive calorie intake can lead to unwanted weight gain and its associated health risks (11).
  • Suitability for different diets. We included some plant-based and keto-friendly options on this list, too. However, if you are a strict vegan, be aware that there will likely be cross contamination with animal products from a shared grill at most of these restaurants.

Here are the healthiest fast-food burgers of 2021.

The Single Steakburger from Freddy’s contains a hand-formed patty, mustard, onion, and pickle on a toasted bun. It provides (12):

  • Calories: 400
  • Fat: 19 grams
  • Protein: 26 grams
  • Carbs: 31 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams

This single-patty Steakburger provides 26 grams of protein and only 400 calories, so it’s filling without containing excessive calories.

Freddy’s also makes all its patties by hand at each location, and according to online reviews, many people are impressed by the taste and freshness of the restaurant’s burgers.

The Little Cheeseburger from Five Guys is hardly “little” — it just has a single patty compared with the restaurant’s standard cheeseburger, which has two patties. It comes plain, unless you choose to add toppings, and provides (13):

  • Calories: 612
  • Fat: 32 grams
  • Protein: 27 grams
  • Carbs: 39 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

Five Guys is another burger joint that makes its own patties, so the meat may be fresher than that of other fast-food restaurants that purchase meat patties preprepared. The meat is also free of additives.

This generous portion also provides nearly 30 grams of protein. What’s more, opting for a lettuce bun will shave off 240 calories from the above calorie count and eliminate all the carbs.

The BurgerFi burger is made with two Angus beef patties, lettuce, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce. It provides (14):

  • Calories: 655
  • Fat: 34 grams
  • Protein: 41 grams
  • Carbs: 44 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram

You can find BurgerFi locations around the country, but they’re not as ubiquitous as some of the other restaurants on this list.

However, the restaurant uses grass-fed beef that’s finished with corn, which is higher quality (and more expensive) beef than most fast-food restaurants use.

At BurgerFi, you can also ask for any burger or sandwich “Green Style,” which subs in a lettuce bun for the standard hamburger bun.

As with the Five Guys lettuce bun option, this version likely reduces a substantial number of calories and carbs from the counts above.

The Impossible Whopper features a plant-based patty with tomato, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun. It provides (15):

  • Calories: 629
  • Fat: 34 grams
  • Protein: 25 grams
  • Carbs: 58 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams

Burger King is one of few fast-food restaurants that offers a dedicated vegetarian burger option, and many people — even meat eaters — report that it tastes great.

You can also make it fully vegan by requesting for Burger King to cook it off of the broiler and skip the mayo.

In-N-Out’s Double-Double Protein Style comprises two beef patties, two slices of cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato, and In-N-Out spread on a lettuce bun. It contains (16):

  • Calories: 520
  • Fat: 39 grams
  • Protein: 33 grams
  • Carbs: 11 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams

Protein Style burgers — which have lettuce instead of a bun — have long been part of In-N-Out’s “secret menu,” and they’re an easy shortcut to make any burger keto-friendly.

In-N-Out also makes all of its own patties, and only opens stores that are within a short distance of the company’s warehouses to maintain quality. The company has locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and Texas.

This cheeseburger has a beef patty, cheese, pickles, onion, ketchup, and mustard. It contains (17):

  • Calories: 290
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Protein: 15 grams
  • Carbs: 26 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram

Containing fewer than 300 calories, the Jr. Cheeseburger from Wendy’s is a great option if you’re counting calories. Wendy’s also offers side salads and baked potatoes, so you can create a complete fast-food meal without calorie-laden french fries.

The McDouble has two beef patties, a slice of cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard. It provides (18):

  • Calories: 400
  • Fat: 20 grams
  • Protein: 22 grams
  • Carbs: 33 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

The McDouble is an inexpensive burger that provides a decent amount of protein for 400 calories. You can pair it with a side of apple slices to keep your meal well under 500 calories.

The Double Stack is made with two beef patties, one slice of cheese, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and onion. It contains (19):

  • Calories: 410
  • Fat: 24 grams
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Carbs: 26 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram

The Wendy’s Double Stack is another inexpensive option that packs plenty of protein. Wendy’s also offers several healthier side options, including baked potatoes, chili, apple slices, strawberries, and side salads.

The Double Cheeseburger features two beef patties, one slice of cheese, pickles, mustard, and ketchup. It provides (20):

  • Calories: 388
  • Fat: 21 grams
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Carbs: 27 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram

The burger doesn’t contain excessive calories, but it still provides a decent amount of protein. Burger King also offers an applesauce side if you’re trying to keep your calorie intake low.

The Quarter Pound Double Cheeseburger is made with two Jr. Patties, two slices of cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles. It contains (21):

  • Calories: 610
  • Fat: 39 grams
  • Protein: 28 grams
  • Carbs: 34 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

Sonic Drive-Ins are located mostly throughout the Southeast and Midwest. The company’s menu doesn’t offer many healthy options, so this burger is a fair choice if you’re grabbing food from Sonic. It provides nearly 30 grams of protein.

To keep the meal from exceeding 1,000 calories, enjoy the burger alone or with applesauce.

The Jumbo Jack is made with a beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and mayonnaise. It provides (22):

  • Calories: 520
  • Fat: 33 grams
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Carbs: 32 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

It’s a simple option that’s rich enough in calories and protein to be a meal all on its own, but Jack in the Box also offers side salads to complete your meal. You can find Jack in the Box restaurants in major metro areas across the country.

The Double Meat Whataburger Jr. comes with two beef patties, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and mustard. It contains (23):

  • Calories: 420
  • Fat: 20 grams
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Carbs: 36 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

It’s a good choice for a standalone meal if you’re counting calories, as it offers 23 grams of protein. You can pair it with an applesauce side to keep your meal under 500 calories.

Whataburger restaurants are located in the Southeast and Midwest, with most locations in Texas.

The Veggie Slider at White Castle contains a vegetable-based patty on a slider bun. It provides (24):

  • Calories: 190
  • Fat: 10 grams
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Carbs: 22 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams

Although they’ve grown in popularity, plant-based burgers still aren’t available in most major fast-food restaurants.

This option highlights the vegetables themselves. However, if you want a plant-based option that tastes more like a real hamburger, White Castle also offers an Impossible Slider.

Most White Castle locations are in the Midwest, although there are also some in New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida.

Here are some ways to choose a healthier burger at any fast-food restaurant:

Maximize protein

Many of the burgers on this list contain two patties. The extra patty nearly doubles the protein content of the burger without adding extra refined carbs, making it a more filling meal (10).

However, if you’re counting calories, feel free to stick to a single patty.

Opt for a lettuce bun

To make almost any burger keto-friendly, just ask for a lettuce bun instead of a standard bun.

Many fast-food restaurants get these requests regularly and will package up your burger on a tray with a knife and fork. This is also a great option to reduce your calorie and refined-carb intake.

It’s a great low carb option, even if you’re not following a keto diet.

Nix the mayo and cheese

If you’re counting calories, you can easily shave about 100–200 calories off of a burger by skipping the mayo and cheese.

Opt for other condiments and toppings to add flavor and texture, such as mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle (25, 26).

That said, remember that even with these tweaks, fast food is still highly processed, high in salt, and may be made with low quality ingredients.

While there are ways to make your fast-food burger healthier, regularly eating fast food isn’t part of a healthy diet.

Fast-food burgers aren’t quite as terrible as people often make them out to be. The beef they contain is typically the most vilified ingredient, thanks to its cholesterol and saturated fat content. However, the beef patty actually provides the most nutrition.

Still, fast-food burgers shouldn’t be a regular part of your diet because they’re highly processed.

If you find yourself grabbing some fast food, look for burgers that are rich in protein. It’s easy to up the protein content by adding an extra patty.

To save calories, avoid cheese and mayo, and to cut the refined carbs, replace the burger bun with lettuce.

With a few simple changes, you can make nearly any burger a reasonably healthy fast-food option.