(CNN)Is it possible to eat something healthy at a fast food chain such as Dunkin’ Donuts?
It’s challenging but doable. With some careful thought and menu research (Dunkin’s website is very user-friendly and includes a section of menu options that have fewer than 400 calories), you can enjoy a portion-controlled meal that’s relatively nutritious, portable and not too costly.
The chain’s beverages are another story, outside of black coffee and low-fat lattes, which provide an impressive amount of bone-building calcium; both are a healthy addition to any meal. But Dunkin’s flavored and frozen beverages are packed with added sugars, contributing empty calories and increasing the risk of weight gain. Recent research suggests that added sugars may independently increase heart disease risk too, possibly by increasing LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, or blood pressure.
Even a healthy ingredient such as skim milk won’t do much to negate the 70 grams of sugar in a large Butter Pecan Swirl Hot Macchiato, for example. That’s almost three days’ worth of sugar for women and two days’ worth for men, according to the American Heart Association’s sugar guidelines — all in one beverage. (The association recommends a limit of 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams of added sugars for women, and 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams for men). The large Frozen Coffee Coolatta has 86 grams!
If you want to splurge on a sugary drink, go for the smallest size. The small (10-ounce) original hot chocolate has less than half the calories and sugar compared with the large (24-ounce) cup.
One more note of caution: Don’t fall for the description “reduced.” Dunkin’s reduced-fat blueberry muffin is the lowest in fat out of all of the muffins, but it’s still comparable to eating a piece of cake. The muffin has 410 calories and 40 grams of sugar. Similarly, the ham, egg and cheese on English muffin has less than half the amount of calories, saturated fat and sugar compared with the sausage, egg and cheese on croissant, but it still has 740 milligrams of sodium, which is a high for those who are watching their salt intake.
Here are the best Dunkin’ Donut options if you’re focused on healthy choices within the limits of the menu. We break it down by good choices for children, athletes, drivers, vegetarians and vegans, as well as low-calorie, low-sugar, low-salt, gluten-free and low-carb options.
Our picks: Old fashioned, powdered and cinnamon Munchkins; bowtie, Apple n Spice, cinnamon guava, glazed, jelly and sugared raised doughnuts; Original Hot Chocolate
We know that when kids stop by Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s typically not for a breakfast sandwich or coffee. But whether it’s for an after-school snack or a birthday party, there are healthier doughnut and Munchkin options.
Since Munchkins are naturally portion-controlled, none is going to break the kiddie calorie bank (not even the glazed chocolate one). That said, the lowest-calorie (60) and saturated fat (1.5 grams) Munchkins are the old fashioned, powdered and cinnamon.
When it comes to doughnuts, better options include the bowtie (lowest in saturated fat); the Apple n Spice, the cinnamon guava, glazed, jelly and the sugared raised doughnut (lowest in calories). If your child wants hot chocolate, stick with a small cup, which has the least amount of sugar (30 grams) and calories (220), though that is still rather high.
Our picks: Original oatmeal with dried fruit topping; egg and cheese on English muffin; multigrain bagel; latte with skim or almond milk
Although the doughnuts and Munchkins are made with vegetable oils and therefore vegetarian (but not vegan), healthier meat-free options are available. For good doses of protein and fiber while relatively low in saturated fat and sodium, stick with the oatmeal with dried fruit or the egg and cheese on English muffin.
If you also avoid eggs or dairy, then doughnuts are out, but the multigrain bagel delivers 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber from a combination of whole-wheat flour, sunflower seeds and flax seeds. It’s also the lowest-sodium bagel offered. Add a latte with skim or almond milk, depending on your diet preference.
Our picks: English muffin; multigrain bagel; latte with almond milk.
For strict vegans, a solid breakfast option is the English muffin, which will give you a morning fiber boost. If you don’t restrict honey in your vegan nutrition plan, the multigrain bagel is in. Add a latte with almond milk for extra calcium.
For calorie counters
Our picks: Egg and cheese Wake-Up Wrap; latte with skim milk
Who says you can’t be a dieter and dine at Dunkin’ Donuts? The egg and cheese Wake-Up Wrap has only 150 calories and provides 7 grams of satiating protein. Pair it with a small skim latte, and you’ll just about double the protein and more than triple your calcium intake, which will help your bones and your waistline too, according to research.
For the sugar-sensitive
Our picks: Egg white veggie Wake-Up Wrap; coffee with skim milk
The egg white veggie wrap has 1 gram (or a quarter-teaspoon) of sugar. This trace amount will barely make a dent in your daily sugar budget.
Again, some of the beverages at Dunkin’ Donuts contain well over a day’s worth of sugar. The large Vanilla Bean Coolatta has a whopping 174 grams: For a woman, that’s a week’s worth of added sugars. Even an innocent-sounding latte with skim milk packs 55 grams of sugar in the large size when you sweeten it with the real stuff (about 20 grams come naturally from milk), which is a lot more than a 12-ounce can of soda. Save the sugar for dessert and choose a plain coffee with skim milk.
For the salt-sensitive
Our picks: Original oatmeal with dried fruit topping; coffee with skim milk
Dunkin’s original oatmeal not only provides heart-healthy soluble fiber, which helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels; it’s also the lowest-sodium meal on Dunkin’s menu besides the smoothies. If you can afford a few more milligrams, that allows the egg white veggie Wake-Up Wrap, at 380 milligrams.
Coffee with skim milk gives a slight calcium boost with less sodium than a latte.
For the gluten-sensitive
Our picks: Egg and cheese bagel (minus the bagel); strawberry banana smoothie (half portion).
When you have a menu filled with doughnuts, Munchkins, muffins and bagels, forgoing gluten is no easy task. At the present time, Dunkin’ does not have gluten-free menu items. The company says that it is continuing to develop and test gluten-free products and remains committed to exploring ways to offer guests these choices.
So if you want to steer clear of gluten, your best bet is to order the egg and cheese “bagel” and skip the bagel part (no matter the weird look the server might give you). The strawberry banana smoothie is gluten-free, but you may want to split it with a friend to slash sugar calories.
For the athlete
Our picks: Original oatmeal with dried fruit topping; egg white veggie flatbread; iced latte with skim milk
Dunkin’s original oatmeal is a power pre-workout meal. The 54 grams of carbs will supercharge your muscles (carbohydrates provide energy for muscles in the form of muscle glycogen and are especially important during intense workouts). And the tasty bites of dried cranberries and raisins boost the iron content of the meal.
Since athletes require extra protein, we recommend pairing the porridge with a medium-sized iced latte. It’s also a treat as a post-workout beverage.
If you’re looking for a mini-meal before a training session, the egg white veggie flatbread delivers protein to help repair and strengthen muscles.
For the road warrior
Our picks: Egg and cheese on English muffin; multigrain bagel with reduced-fat plain cream cheese; iced latte with skim milk
The egg and cheese on English muffin is one of the most nutritious meals you’ll find on Dunkin’s menu. It’s balanced with a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrates and fiber, which will give you sustained energy on the road, and it’s relatively low in saturated fat and sodium.
The multigrain bagel is another option, especially since it’s so transportable. Just watch the cream cheese, which contributes unhealthy saturated fat. Choose the reduced-fat spread if a plain bagel won’t satisfy.
For a beverage, a small iced latte with skim milk is easy to sip while driving.
For the carb-conscious
Our picks: Egg and cheese Wake-Up Wrap; green tea
After passing up all of the doughnuts, bagels and Munchkins, a lower-carbohydrate meal at Dunkin’ Donuts sounds harder to find than it is. The Wake-Up Wraps are a convenient way to get a healthy dose of protein for fewer carbs. The egg and cheese one has the lowest carb count, at 13 grams.
Note that the turkey sausage wrap and the Angus steak and egg wrap also have 13 grams of carbs and more protein, but they also have more saturated fat and sodium.
Add a cup of green tea for an antioxidant-rich caffeine boost without any carbs.
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