What to Order at KFC, According to a Registered Dietitian

Is KFC one of your go-to places to eat out? Read tips from a registered dietitian to make choices that align with your health goals.

signos takeout thursday what to order at kfc
by
Alicia Buchter
— Signos
Health writer
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Reviewed by

Alicia Buchter
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 19, 2024
June 27, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

KFC is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain (after McDonalds), with 30,000 restaurants across 147 countries and almost 4,300 KFC locations in the US. KFC’s name stands for “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” so it's no surprise the restaurant doesn’t fall within the good graces of many health food enthusiasts. The chain specializes in chicken battered in flour, spices, and sugar, then fried under pressure.

The main health concern with the chain is that KFC’s menu is full of items that are packed with saturated fat and sodium. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol, increases the risk of heart and blood vessel disease, and can contribute to obesity.1 The American Heart Association recommends that less than 6% of the daily calories come from saturated fat.2 Eating too much sodium can also increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.3

But that doesn’t mean KFC is completely off the table! Every restaurant offers a variety of options, some healthier than others. With a little investigation and careful selection, you’ll still be able to eat at KFC without jeopardizing your health goals. Let’s take a look at what to eat and what to avoid on the KFC menu.

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7 Foods to Order at KFC

1. Original Recipe Chicken Wings

KFC Original Recipe Chicken Wings
  • Calories: 130kcal
  • Fat: 8g (2g saturated fat)
  • Sodium: 380 mg
  • Carbs: 3g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Protein: 10g

Average Glucose Spike: 15mg/dL

KFC is a worldwide favorite for their original fried chicken recipe withstanding decades of secrecy and involving 11 herbs and spices. If you’re visiting the chain for this crowd-pleaser, choose the chicken wings over the chicken breast. Three wings provide the same amount of calories and sodium as one breast. The drumstick has similar nutritional content as the wings, while the chicken thigh is a middle-ground. Remember that this only pans out because of the portion size, though. The breast is lower in calories and fat per ounce, so if you’re very hungry, the breast could be a better option.

2. Famous Bowl

KFC Famous Bowl
  • Calories: 590kcal
  • Fat: 23g (5g saturated fat)
  • Sodium: 2,160mg
  • Carbs: 67g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Protein: 31g

Average Glucose Spike: 42mg/dL

KFC’s Famous Bowl offers a delicious combination of creamy mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and crunchy nuggets topped with cheese and gravy. The bowl combines all food groups and boasts 31 grams of protein per serving. It’s healthier than the Smash’d Bowl, which contains fries.

3. Chicken Little

KFC Chicken Little
  • Calories: 300kcal
  • Fat: 15g (2.5g saturated fat)
  • Sodium: 620mg
  • Carbs: 27g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugar: 3g
  • Protein: 14g

Average Glucose Spike: 35mg/dL

This little sandwich consists of an extra crispy chicken strip, pickles, and mayo layered in a sweet bun. It has only 300 calories and 14 grams of protein, and it could be paired with some veggies for a well-rounded meal.

4. Kentucky Fried Nuggets (12 PCs)

Kentucky Fried Nuggets
  • Calories: 420kcal
  • Fat: 18g (0 g saturated fat)
  • Sodium: 1,680mg
  • Carbs: 12g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Protein: 36g

Average Glucose Spike: 31mg/dL

Besides the high sodium content, KFC’s nuggets have a decent nutritional profile and can be customized to different portions depending on your hunger level. For only 420 calories, you’ll get 36 grams of protein in 12 pieces.

5. Sweet Kernel Corn

KFC Sweet Kernel Corn
  • Calories: 70kcal
  • Fat: 0.5g (Saturated fat: 0g)
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbs: 16g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Protein: 2g

Average Glucose Spike: 28mg/dL

Unsurprisingly, this veggie side dish makes it onto the list of best options. With few calories and lots of nutrients, vegetables are usually a good choice to round out your main course. Just because a side contains vegetables doesn’t always mean there aren't high amounts of fat, sugar, salt, and preservatives added, so it’s always good to check the nutrition facts. Thankfully, KFC’s sweet kernel corn side passes the test, with only 70 calories, 0.5 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, and 2 grams of sugar.

6. Mac & Cheese

KFC Mac & Cheese
  • Calories: 140kcal
  • Fat: 6g (1.5g saturated fat)
  • Sodium: 590mg
  • Carbs: 17g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Protein: 5g

Average Glucose Spike: 35mg/dL

Pasta and cheese don’t usually fit the bill for “health food,” but KFC’s Mac & Cheese side dish is surprisingly not as much of a calorie bomb as you might expect. It is actually lower in calories and fat than coleslaw, with a similar number of carbs and five times as much protein. You’ll be missing out on some veggies, so see if you can fit some nutritious greens in at another point in your day.

7. Green Beans

KFC Green Beans
  • Calories: 25kcal
  • Fat: 0g 
  • Sodium: 300mg
  • Carbs: 5g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Protein: 1g

Average Glucose Spike: 20mg/dL

Adding a few green beans to your order might be the best choice you can make from the KFC menu. The green bean side dish has only 25 calories and 0 grams of fat. Green beans fill you up with fiber instead of calories and are high in nutrients like Vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate, and potassium. These nutrients support cellular functioning, the immune system, the cardiovascular system, and eye and skin health.4

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=legume-benefits>Legumes & Beans: Health & Weight Loss Benefits</a>.</p>

4 Foods to Avoid

1. Extra Crispy Fried Chicken Breast

KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken Breast
  • Calories: 530kcal
  • Fat: 35g (Saturated fat: 6g)
  • Sodium: 1,150mg
  • Carbs: 18g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Protein: 35g

Average Glucose Spike: 10mg/dL

The extra crispiness of this version of KFC’s fried chicken comes at a cost. A single breast has 530 calories and 35 grams of fat. Regular fried chicken is a better option, with less frying, less batter, and 140 fewer calories per piece. If you choose the extra crispy chicken option, pair it with a healthy side like corn or green beans to balance your meal.

2. Chicken Pot Pie

KFC Chicken Pot Pie
  • Calories: 720kcal
  • Fat: 41g (Saturated fat: 25g)
  • Sodium: 1,750mg
  • Carbs: 60g
  • Fiber: 7g
  • Sugar: 5g
  • Protein: 26g

Average Glucose Spike: 28mg/dL

A chicken pot pie might sound like a wholesome comfort food, but the pie from KFC’s menu has a surprising 720 calories, 25 grams of saturated fat, and 1,750mg of sodium. A biscuit with a green bean side could be a better alternative if you're in the mood for a steamy baked good.

3. Spicy Chicken Sandwich

KFC Spicy Chicken Sandwich
  • Calories: 620kcal
  • Fat: 32g (Saturated fat: 4g)
  • Sodium: 2,140mg
  • Carbs: 49g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugar: 6g
  • Protein: 34g

Average Glucose Spike: 54mg/dL

KFC’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich is a sodium bomb with over 90% of your daily sodium intake limit, as the American Heart Association recommends. An alternative would be the Hot & Spicy Chicken, which has only 785mg of sodium per serving.

4. Fries

KFC Fries
  • Calories: 320kcal
  • Fat: 15g (2g saturated fat)
  • Sodium: 1,100g
  • Carbs: 41g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Protein: 5g

Average Glucose Spike: 39mg/dL

The crunch of deep-fried potatoes can be hard to resist, but adding a side of fries to a meal already high in sodium, calories, and unhealthy fats can be overkill. A side of large fries contains 840 calories, 40g of fat, and 108g of carbs, making it the least healthy side on the KFC menu. A regular side of fries comes in second. Considering these values are higher than many meals, you could do better with other options. Mashed potatoes, for example, have less than half the calories and carbs of regular fries and less than a third of the fat.

Spicy Chicken Sandwich Copycat Recipe

When we go out to eat, knowing and controlling what we consume can be difficult. Fast-food restaurants are notorious for adding low-quality fats, sugar, and salt to their dishes to boost appeal and reduce costs. 

The good news is that many of the dishes sold by these chains can be made right at home with simple ingredients! By preparing our dishes, we know exactly what’s going into our food, and we can adjust based on our personal health and taste preferences. Cooking at home can be more economical, healthier, and sometimes even time efficient.

Try this copycat recipe, which makes four servings as a healthy version of KFC’s spicy chicken sandwich. It replaces KFC’s deep-fried meat with sizzling air-fried chicken topped with a creamy, tangy yogurt sauce.

Ingredients

Ingredients for Marinade

  • (4) 6oz chicken breasts (pounded to an even thickness)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or alternative thick milk)
  • 2 tbsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Ingredients for Breading

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • ½ tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Ingredients for Sauce

  • 50g plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ½ tbsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • Dash ground cayenne
  • Garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste

Other Ingredients

  • Brioche buns
  • Pickles, tomato, lettuce
  • Hot sauce of choice

Instructions

  1. Combine the buttermilk, hot sauce, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt. Add the chicken and let it marinate in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl for the breading.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of the marinade to the breading mixture and mix. Remove the chicken from the marinade and coat each piece in the breading mixture.
  4. Coat your air fryer and each breast with nonstick spray and place your chicken inside. 
  5. Air fry at 380 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 minutes, flipping halfway through.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, make the yogurt sauce. Combine the yogurt, vinegar, mustard, honey, chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  7. As the chicken is about done, toast the buns and spread with the yogurt sauce. Layer on the chicken, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and top with more hot sauce. Dig in!

A Quick Review

Even though many of KFC's offerings shouldn’t be eaten regularly, you don’t have to go completely cold turkey on the chain. Like all restaurants, KFC offers some items that are nutritionally superior to others. 

Keep in mind that much of KFC’s food is calorie-rich without providing much fiber or other satiety-inducing factors. Use portion control, find alternatives when needed, and balance your orders with healthy sides. By being informed of the nutritional profiles of your favorite restaurant dishes, you can navigate KFC’s menu and make choices that align with your health goals.

Learn More About Health Nutrition With Signos

Blood glucose is a key indicator of overall health, and monitoring it offers an exciting view into how lifestyle affects our unique physiology. With Signos, you’ll get personalized insight into how factors like your diet, exercise, sleep, and stress patterns affect your blood glucose and metabolic health. Learn more about nutrition and healthy habits on Signos’ blog, and discover how Signos can improve health. Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz!

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=panera-restaurant-guide>What to Order at Panera, According to a Licensed Dietitian</a>.</p>

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References

1. Learn the facts about fat. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550 (accessed 2024-04-25)

2. Saturated Fat. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats (accessed 2024-04-25)

3. CDC. Sodium and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm (accessed 2024-04-25)

4. Green beans can be one of the healthiest dishes at the holiday table. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/11/22/green-beans-can-be-one-of-the-healthiest-dishes-at-the-holiday-table (accessed 2024-04-22)

About the author

Alicia Buchter is a content writer for Signos and earned her degree in Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

View Author Bio

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