Fast-food is an easy grab-and-go option for when you’re short on time or just don’t feel like whipping something up at home. And yeah, sometimes you just get a craving for a burger and some fries! It’s important to keep in mind, though, that some fast-food items are better than others, so if you’re choosing to stop in a McDonald’s or Burger King to grab something, you’re better off knowing beforehand what your healthiest and unhealthiest options are before you place your order. This way you can best keep your diet goals in check!
In general, going with a salad (dressing on the side) with non-fried or sugary toppings is a solid option great, as well as choosing a sandwich or entrée that has grilled, rather than fried meat and fish. Anything that is loaded with fattening ingredients or that comes in a massive platter size should be a no-go given red light. Still though, here’s a handy guide to the worst fast-food menu items, according to dietitians, so you can make the best decision. And while you’re making healthier choices, go ahead and stock up on The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
No matter how you spin it, a beef patty combined with bacon and cheese is going to pack a lot of calories and saturated fat.
“Many of these burger options are well above the 500 calorie mark and contain 3/4 or more of the saturated fat amount you should have in a whole day,” says Ginger Hultin MS, RDN, dietitian, and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep.
Not only do you have to worry about saturated fat, but the sodium content in these burgers can be dangerous, too. Many options often contain more than half the amount of daily sodium limits, like Hardee’s Monster Angus Thickburger, says Ilyse Schapiro MS, RD, CDN. That burger has almost a pound of beef, four strips of bacon, plus three slices of American cheese with mayo. Big yikes!
“Many fast-food restaurants offer some type of eggs, meat, and muffin, biscuit or potato combo, but these are typically very high in calories, and some as high as 800-1,000 just for that one meal,” says Hultin.
McDonald’s Big Breakfast with Hotcakes and Large Biscuit, for example, is a doozy, points out Schapiro. This menu item comes with hotcakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, butter, and a biscuit for a meal that is packing 1,340 calories. And that’s just for breakfast!
Large-sized coffee drinks, especially ones that are caramel or mocha flavored or are made with whole milk, tend to be really dense in calories and added sugar. That just makes for a disastrous combination.
“For a mocha drink from various fast-food restaurants, you could be looking at 600-800 calories, nearly a day’s worth of recommended saturated fat intake, and [more than] 50 grams of sugar,” says Hultin. “Easily adapt your order by choosing a smaller size, nixing the whipped cream, asking for ‘light’ syrup, and choosing a lower fat milk,” she suggests.
This is the perfect example of taking something that could be healthy, and quickly seeing how it can turn unhealthy.
“A salad may seem like a safe bet for your weight loss goals but with fried chicken, croutons, and [a] creamy dressing, some salads are higher in calories and fat than a burger,” says Hultin. It’s not that shocking to find a fast-food salad that is upwards of 500 calories, contains more than 10 grams of saturated fat, and is packing added sugar, too. Remember, anything that has the word “crispy” just means fried!
“Many 6-12 inch sub sandwiches fall into the 500-800 calorie range but some are going to be much higher in fat, calories, and sodium than others,” says Hultin. Because of the variety of meats and cheeses used, Italian sub sandwiches, in particular, can easily top 1,000 calories in one sandwich. Schapiro says the Jersey Mike’s Giant Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak on White Bread is a no-go, as it has 1,850 calories and three times the amount of sodium you are supposed to have in a day. Plus, it has 152 grams of carbs and more than 30 grams of saturated fat.
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“Wings are typically all skin, fat, and fried, plus the dipping sauce is not low calorie either,” says Schapiro. The Checkers/Rally’s 20-Piece Garlic Parmesan Chicken Wings is a good example of how excessive this menu item can be.
“This has 2,040 calories for the entire order, which is enough total calories for the day for many people,” she says. It also has 48 grams of saturated fat, and 3,320 mg of sodium, which is way more than your daily needs for the day, as The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day for most adults.
Those pies that are loaded with meat-based toppings might be mouth-watering, but they’re not doing your waistline any favors.
Schapiro says a meat-packed pizza on thick bread is definitely a bad option, no matter what. And even the smaller pie sizes, like Pizza Hut’s Meat Lover’s Personal Pan Pizza, can be dangerous, too.
A steak salad isn’t any better than one that is topped with fried chicken. These salads tendsto be high in calories and fat based, too.
“Chipotle’s Steak Salad, if you get all of the toppings, like white rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, roasted chili-corn salsa, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and vinaigrette, your salad will come to at least 1,305 calories, 117 carbs, plus over your daily recommendation for sodium and fat,” says Schapiro.
Plenty of fast-food chains have decadent milkshakes, but it’s best to resist the temptation, especially when it comes to those larger sizes.
“Typically made with whole milk and whole milk ice cream, milkshakes are high in calories and fat, sometimes even as much as enough calories for your entire day,” says Schapiro. One over-the-top option? A large Oreo Peanut Butter Shake from Sonic, which is packing 1,720 calories, 172 grams of carbs, and 111 grams of sugar. That all is just super bad for your heart and arteries, Schapiro points out.
Oh, the French fry. It’s (arguably) often the most popular fast-food side dish, but you want to keep everything in moderation if you are going to indulge in a few crispers.
“Fries tend to be high in carbs, fat, and sodium, and they don’t have to have cheese on them for them to be bad for you,” says Schapiro. Steer clear of the Five Guys fries, she says, which have a total of 1,314 calories are more than 1,300 milligrams of sodium for a large order. If you can’t resist, get a small and always remember to share.