Consumer Reports: Restaurants offering healthy meals

Lots of people are eating more take-out lately and more than one-third of Americans have fast food on any given day. But that doesn't mean your choice has to be unhealthy.

Consumer Reporters takes a look at some popular restaurant chains that are trying to serve healthier, fast food.

Customized grain bowls, locally grown produce, colorful vegetarian entrées -- no, you're not at a fancy bistro, these are meals from chain restaurants!

Two-thirds of Americans surveyed say it's easier than ever to eat healthy at restaurants, but is that actually true?

Consumer Reports nutritionists evaluated the menus from 17 chain restaurants to determine which ones offer nutritious choices.

"We rated a restaurant's overall healthfulness on many criteria," said Consumer Reports Nutritionist Amy Keating. "Do they feature whole healthy foods front and center? Are there healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages? And can you find a variety of whole grains on the menu?"

Restaurants at the top of Consumer Reports ratings - CoreLife Eatery, Sweetgreen, Chopt, and True Food Kitchen offer colorful, veggie-packed dishes.

And choosing from a variety of healthy toppings like beans and veggies and proteins like seafood and even tofu over a base of whole grains or leafy greens puts you in control of how healthful your meal will be!

Another piece of good news for consumers: Consumer Reports found calorie counts generally matched what the restaurants claimed. But sodium was problematic.

"In terms of sodium, we found there was a lot of room for improvement," Keating said. "Sodium levels at restaurants can be off the charts, and we found in our laboratory tests also showed the sodium levels the restaurants claims are not always accurate."

Condiments like barbecue sauce and soy sauce are high in sodium, so use them sparingly.

Another way to stay in control? Plan what you'll eat before you get there. You can stay within daily calorie and sodium limits by checking out nutrition information on company websites.

Finally, portions at many of the restaurants Consumer Reports looked at are big enough to satisfy two people. So consider sharing an entree.

What restaurants were at the bottom of Consumer Reports' list? The Cheesecake Factory, Subway, Olive Garden, Applebee's, McDonald's and Domino's Pizza. They could better serve their customers by cutting back on sodium, offering more fresh vegetable and whole grain options and more drinks that aren't loaded with sugar.

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