They’re called wraps, wrappers, roll ups, twisters, and pita rolls. And, they are earmarked by trend watchers as the hottest foods around. You’ll find them in specialized restaurants like Todo Wraps on the West Coast and Pyramid Wraps here in New York, and in many national fast-food chains like Long John Silvers, Wendy’s, TGI Fridays, and Taco Bell. Are these lunchables healthy alternatives to a cheeseburger during the summer months? That depends.

What is a wrap and why are they so popular?

Wraps are the cousin to a burrito, however, they are anything but beans and cheese in a tortilla. Instead, they are bundles of traditional foods like meat, fresh vegetables, and black beans or exotic concoctions like hummus, Creole shrimp, Jasmine rice, roasted red peppers, or Cajun chicken wrapped in just about anything from a tortilla or flatbread to crepes and spring-roll dough made from rice flour.

People like them because they’re affordable and portable. Wraps are easy to eat, the ingredients are fresh, the portions are generous, and they are hand-holdable meals for modest prices. They’re designed for people who are tired of food served on a bun or pizza crust and are looking for healthier, higher-quality food that is fast, but not fast food.

Are they healthier?
Wraps have a healthy image. They’ve been promoted as different, flavorful foods that won’t wreck your diet. But it’s an eater-beware market. Some wraps are wonderfully tasty, low-priced, and have introduced vegetables into the no-broccoli-land of fast-food restaurants. Other wraps, however, are the calorie and fat equivalent of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese…or worse. Even more confusing is that many of the national chain restaurants offer a mix of wraps, some high-fat nightmares and some low-fat delights.

Which ones are the worst?
The worst offenders when it comes to any fast food is sauce and size, and this holds true for wraps. The more sauce or the bigger the wrap, the more calories it has. For example,

  • Long John Silver’s largest wraps weigh about 1 pound and have up to 1,200 calories and 60 to 70 grams of fat, not to mention 3,000mg of sodium. For some people, that is an entire day’s quota for calories, fat, and salt.
  • Au Bon Pain’s SouthWestern Tuna Wrap has more saturated fat than two Quarter Pounders, and supplies 950 calories and 64 grams of fat!
  • Also, watch out for Wendy’s Classic Greek Pita; it may have only 440 calories, but it packs 8 grams of saturated fat, the same artery-clogging fat found in a hamburger.
  • Of course, don’t forget the obvious: when you hear names like Taco Bell’s Bacon Cheeseburger Burrito or Long John Silver’s “Popcorn” Shrimp Wrap, you can count on a typical fast-food greasy, high-calorie, salty meal.

Are there any wraps worth walking across the street for?
Yes, there are many wraps well worth ordering.

  • Au Bon Pain’s Summer Turkey Wrap has only 340 calories and a mere 1 gram of saturated fat.
  • Wendy’s Garden Veggie Pita has carrots, red cabbage, and other vegetables never before added to fast-food fare; it is a low-fat meal for only 400 calories (however, ask them to go light on the sauce. I ordered this one and took it back because it was oozing with sauce).
  • Wendy’s Chicken Caesar Pita also is a good buy.
  • Taco Bell’s stuffed fajita wraps are also good, but ask them to hold the sauce.

What are your recommendations for having your wrap and eating it too?
Wraps are a wonderful alternative to traditional fast food and can wake up our dulled tastebuds with a variety of interesting tastes. Just make sure you choose wraps with lots of vegetables, rice or other grains, and grilled chicken or other extra-lean meats. Then ask the restaurant to hold the sauce, mayonnaise, and oil. Also, avoid wraps with fried ingredients or lots of cheese. Then, when it comes to the king-size wraps, split these with a friend or eat half and save the other half for tomorrow’s lunch.