In my opinion, Chick-fil-A has always been a couple of cuts above the rest of the fast food pack, but Chick-fil-A is the home of the Original Chicken Sandwich for Pete’s sake. How can you possibly stick to a paleo diet with the temptation of breaded, fried, chicken sandwiches and nuggets? As I have discussed in some of my other posts, when you are living the paleo lifestyle, you find yourself having to eat at places that aren’t always friendly to your diet. Fast food restaurants certainly top that list. The paleo diet is pretty flexible though. On those occasions when you can’t adhere strictly to your diet, you can still make better choices, and Chick-fil-A has some good options to choose from.
A close look at the average Chick-fil-A order
The classic meal at Chick-fil-A is the chicken sandwich, but I always ordered the spicy chicken sandwich before I went paleo. The folks at Chick-fil-A did a great job with the appropriate amount of spice for my palette. Especially if I dumped a little of their Texas Pete’s hot sauce on it. Of course I always had the waffle fries as well. Why do waffle fires taste so much better than regular fries anyway? Then I’d wash it down with an unsweet iced tea. Let’s look at the carb content on that order. The chicken sandwich has 41 grams of carbs. The fries have 48g of carbs, and the iced tea has zero, but let’s face it most people have a Coke. That has 46g of carbs and 46g of sugar. That comes to a grand total of 135g of carbs and 51g of sugar, and that is if you don’t get them to refill your cup before you leave. If you are on the paleo diet, you shouldn’t eat that many carbs in a week, let alone one meal.
Low-Carb choices at Chick-fil-A?
I know what you are thinking here. I’m not ordering a salad at Chick-fil-A. Hey, let’s start slowly. What if you switched your order to nuggets instead? That’s not totally un-American, right? A 12-count of Chick-fil-A nuggets only has 15g of carbs. It’s the same fried deliciousness as the sandwich, just minus the bun, and you can reduce your carbs by 63%. Then if you switch the fries out for a fruit cup (13g carbs) that is a 73% reduction in carbs, plus you get 30% of your Vitamin C for the day. Switch out the Coke for an un-sweetened iced tea and you can reduce your carbs from 46g to zero. That is a much better choice, and you can even do better.
A relatively new option at Chick-fil-A is their grilled nuggets. Admittedly I was skeptical about grilled nuggets but I have to say, they are pretty good. I’m not going to lie to you, they aren’t as tasty as the fried nuggets, but they are not breaded, and provide a nice glutten-free option. They also reduce your carb-count down to 6g for a 12-count order. That’s pretty tough to beat at a fast food joint.
I know… I know. Fast food salads suck. They have wilty, crapy iceberg lettuce and unnaturally red tomatoes. Hey, this is Chick-fil-A we are talking about guys. They wouldn’t do that to you. I have to say that I eat a lot of salads, at least one a day, and I have become quite the salad connoisseur. Chick-fil-A has a good salad, even compared with non-fast food restaurants. Their greens are always fresh and crispy, and they have some interesting toppings that add flavor and nutrition to them. But beware, sometimes there are some hidden ingredients that can make them into some not so great options.
My favorite salad is the Grilled Market Salad. As you might guess, they top the salad with grilled chicken. What you wouldn’t guess is that they also include fresh strawberries, blueberries, and sliced apples, making this a really refreshing, filling, and nutrient-dense option. Looking at the nutrition information on the Chick-fil-A website, they list the Grilled Market Salad as having 26g of carbs. That’s a lot for a salad, but keep in mind there is quite a bit of fruit in this salad. Considering a fruit cup has 13g of carbs, that’s not that bad. Plus the nutritional information includes the information from two packets that come with the salad. One of the packets contains a granola mix with 9 grams of carbs and 60 calories. Throw this out. It contains overly processed and sweetened grains, a no no if you are paleo. That brings you down to 17g of carbs. The other packet contains a roasted nut topping. The nuts are coated with some sugar and corn syrup that I would rather not eat, but nuts are overall a nutrient-dense food and they only have 3g of carbs and 1g of sugar. They also taste great, so I add them to my salad. All in all, it makes a nutritious, filling, and tasty meal.
Another relatively new side is what they call a Superfood Side. It is a chopped broccoli and kale blend, tossed in a sweet and tangy maple vinaigrette dressing and topped with dried sour cherries and a roasted nut blend. Be careful with this one. While the ingredients are very healthy they add something that doesn’t fit with a low-carb diet. The dressing is overly sweetened, and the dried cherries are loaded with sugar. Giving this small side salad 16g of carbs and 11g of sugar. Tell them to hold the dressing, throw out the dried cherries and this truly does become a super food giving you 80% of your Vitamin C and 45% of your Vitamin A. It will also bring the sugars down to zero and the carbs down to single digits.
Other traps to watch out for
Just because it comes in the form of a salad doesn’t make a meal healthy. For instance the Spicy Southwest Salad, has 32g of carbs. This comes mostly from the corn chips in the salad. Eat around those and the numbers get way better. It has a whopping 260% of Vitamin A and 70% Vitamin C for the day owing mostly to the red bell pepper they use as an ingredient.
Stay away from the wraps if you are trying to stick to the paleo diet. You might be tricked into thinking the wrap is better for you than buns, but you would be wrong. They are made with grains just like the buns are and they contain a substantial amount of carbs (30g).
Also, watch the dressings. This goes for any restaurant. Dressing can really ruin the carb and sugar savings you get from a salad. Sometimes they sound like a good choice. For instance the Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette has 15g of sugar and 16g of carbs. The Light Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing has 9g of sugar and 10g of carbs. That doesn’t sound very light to me. My favorite dressing is the Avocado Lime Ranch. It has 2g of sugar and 3g of carbs. Plus they give you way too much in a pack. I usually only use about half of the package. It tastes great also.
Chick-fil-A is one of the top fast food chains in my book. Their food is tasty, and while not completely paleo, they have some great low-carb options. Next time you have to swing by and pickup dinner for the family, try the Grilled Market Salad, and try not to steal any waffle fries from your family’s order.