More than 15 years ago, McDonald's introduced the McLean Burger, a slimmed-down version of its best-selling burgers.
It didn't stick around long. Not enough people bought it.
Now, with so much talk about how the obesity epidemic is dooming Americans' health, the fast-food pendulum again is swinging back toward health-conscious options.
The question: Is it here to stay?
Melissa Daly, nutrition editor of Fitness magazine, says that likely will depend on the bottom line. After all, you have to make a conscious decision to avoid the triple bacon cheeseburger and humongous fries.
"I've seen informal statistics saying the healthier items account for a couple percentage points of total sales," Daly says. "They're never going to replace the burger, and it's hard to predict what people are going to do. But I don't think the pendulum is going to swing completely the other way."
Daly's magazine this month named 24 selections from fast-food restaurants that it deemed "surprisingly healthy." They include KFC's mashed potatoes and gravy, McDonald's chicken nuggets, Wendy's chili and several items on Taco Bell's Fresco menu.
The restaurants are even designing marketing campaigns around their healthy choices.
"There certainly are more (healthy) options, and more people are apparently paying attention," says Pete Beyer, associate professor of dietetics and nutrition at the Kansas University School of Medicine. "They've made attempts in the past, and they died miserably."
Daly says many of her magazine's healthy choices were simply a matter of portion control.
For instance, eating a drumstick from KFC is better than a breast because it's smaller (and original is healthier than extra-crispy). Burgers fall under the same philosophy, size-wise.
Beyer says most people need about 500 calories per meal to hit their daily calorie intake. Most burgers are between 400-550 calories, he says.
"If you just get the regular burger, then you've essentially used your meal allotment," he says. "You could get the regular or junior version, which for a macho guy may be embarrassing for his buddies."
Daly says many people are confused about which fast foods are the healthiest. Yes, chicken sandwiches are generally better for you than burgers - but only the grilled kind, and then only when you order them without mayonnaise.
And some meals that sound healthy - like a taco salad at Taco Bell - really aren't. That salad has 860 calories and 46 grams of fat.
"We like to give these guidelines - like choose a salad over a burger or grilled over fried - but it's very individualized," Daly says.
Frying your health
Ann Chapman, nutritionist with the Watkins Health Center at KU, suggests hitting sub sandwich joints for healthy eating that has a lot of vegetables.
"Subway sandwiches offer a lot of options," she says.
Choosing lower-calorie sandwiches also gives people some options if they're craving French fries. Chapman says people should avoid fries but can occasionally indulge with a small order. And, she says, don't feel like you have to eat the entire thing, even if you order a small size.
"If you can do that with your grilled sandwich or whatever, it's pretty reasonable," she says.
And Daly says cutting a regular soda from the meal can give you more calories to give with actual food.
"The easy thing is to go ahead and have whatever you want, but get water instead of a huge soda on the side," she says. "You're going to slash 200 calories right there."
Chapman says fast-food restaurants are getting better about labeling their products with nutritional information. She says it's important to know what you're putting in your body.
"You may still order that Big Mac, but when you're eating you'll read the information," she says. "And it might influence your decision next time."
Fitness magazine named 24 "surprisingly healthy" fast foods in its July edition. Here are their selections, along with five "drive-through disasters" and healthier dessert options.
Kentucky Fried Chicken picks ¢ Mashed Potatoes with Gravy (120 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat) ¢ Original Recipe Drumstick (140 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat) ¢ One regular drumstick (avoid the Extra Crispy) and fill up on the chain's better-for-you sides, such as corn on the cob, baked beans or a small helping of the next two choices on the list. ¢ KFC Potato Salad (180 calories, 9 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ KFC Cole Slaw (190 calories, 11 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat) ¢ KFC Honey BBQ Sandwich (300 calories, 6 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat)
McDonald's picks ¢ Chicken McNuggets with Sweet 'N Sour Sauce (220 calories, 10 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat) ¢ Hamburger (260 calories, 9 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ Egg McMuffin (300 calories, 12 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ McChicken (370 calories, 16 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat)
Taco Bell picks ¢ Fresco Style Crunchy Taco (150 calories, 7 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ Fresco Style Grilled Steak Soft Taco (170 calories, 5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ Fresco Style Tostada (200 calories, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat) ¢ Gordita Nacho Cheese - Chicken (270 calories, 10 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat)
Pizza Hut picks ¢ 12-inch Fit 'N Delicious Pizza with Diced Chicken, Red Onion and Green Pepper (2 slices, 340 calories, 9 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat) ¢ 12-inch Veggie Lover's Hand-Tossed Pizza (1 slice, 220 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat)
Wendy's picks ¢ Jr. Hamburger (280 calories, 9 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ Large Chili (330 calories, 9 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ Ultimate Chicken Grill (360 calories, 7 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat)
Drive-through disasters ¢ Wendy's Big Bacon Classic (580 calories, 29 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat) ¢ McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (730 calories, 40 grams fat, 19 grams saturated fat) ¢ KFC Chicken Pot Pie (770 calories, 40 grams fat, 15 grams saturated fat) ¢ Burger King Triple Whopper with Cheese (1,230 calories, 82 grams fat, 32 grams saturated fat) ¢ Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad (860 calories, 46 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat)
Healthy dessert options ¢ McDonald's Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream Cone (150 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat) ¢ Taco Bell Cinnamon Twists (160 calories, 5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat) ¢ Wendy's Jr. Frosty (160 calories, 4 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ KFC Lil' Bucket Strawberry Shortcake (200 calories, 6 grams fat, 4g saturated fat ¢ Pizza Hut Cherry Dessert Pizza (1 slice, 240 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat) ¢ KFC Lemon Meringue Pie Slice (240 calories, 9 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat)