Fast food is a helpful option for those moments when you don’t have any time or energy to cook something, or for when you need to spend a little less money on food that day. It’s quick, easy, and affordable, and you can find a fast-food chain pretty much anywhere. The major downside to eating this kind of food is its lack of nutritional value, and even though most fast food fits this bill, there are some unhealthy fast-food items that are far worse than others.
But what makes this food so unhealthy? It varies per item, but more often than not it’s because fast food is ultra-processed and is almost always full of excess calories, unhealthy fat, and sodium. However, you can still make healthier choices at your favorite chains if you’re aware of some of the lighter choices like grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, or burgers with fewer unhealthy toppings.
To help you feel more prepared the next time you pull into the drive-thru, we asked dietitians to find the unhealthiest meal at all of the major fast-food chains so you can know what not to order. Read on, and for more fast-food tips, check out The #1 Unhealthiest Order at Every Major Fast-Food Chicken Chain.
PER ORDER: 1,300 calories, 90 g of fat (33.1 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fat), 1,940.3 mg sodium, 59.3 g of carbs (4.3 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 77.5 g of protein
Burger King is famous for their signature Whopper burger, which is just a 1/4-pound beef patty on a bun with your standard burger toppings. This on its own is still fairly calorie-heavy at around 670 calories, but nothing compares to another popular BK option: the Burger King Triple Whopper with Cheese.
“This is one of the unhealthiest items at Burger King due to its high calorie content, as well as its total fat and saturated fat, both of which can contribute to cardiovascular health issues when consumed in excess,” says Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD. “The presence of 2.5 grams of trans fat further adds to the health concerns, as trans fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease,” she adds.
PER ORDER: 720 calories, 47 g of fat (16 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 1,450 mg sodium, 46 g of carbs (3 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 28 g of protein
For healthier fast-food options, Chick-fil-A is a good choice. They offer both grilled chicken nuggets and a sandwich, plus delicious sides like a fruit cup, kale salad, or a yogurt parfait. But like any fast-food joint, Chick-fil-A still has its fair share of unhealthy choices, too.
Take the Hash Brown Scramble Burrito with Sausage, for example. Sabat suggests skipping this breakfast item when you can, as “it contains a high calorie count of 720, which can contribute to weight gain and related health issues when consumed regularly. Second, the burrito is high in fat, with 47 grams of total fat and 16 grams of saturated fat, and excessive intake of saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease,” she says.
In fact, the American Heart Association recommends keeping your saturated fat at no more than 13 grams per day, so consuming this wrap would push you past your daily limit in just one meal.
PER ORDER: 1,340 calories, 63 g of fat (24 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,070 mg sodium, 158 g of carbs (5 g fiber, 48 g sugar), 36 g of protein
According to Sabat, “The Big Breakfast with Hotcakes takes the cake when it comes to the unhealthiest item on McDonald’s Menu.” Her reasoning is that for one, “it is extremely high in calories, and the high-fat content, especially saturated fat and the presence of trans fat, can increase the risk of heart disease,” she says.
Not only that, but the sodium count of this meal is a whopping 2,070 milligrams. When you look at the daily recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams set by the FDA, you can see that this meal puts you far too close before you’ve even reached lunchtime.
PER ORDER: 750 calories, 49 g of fat (16 g saturated fat), 1,220 mg sodium, 53 g of carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 21 g of protein
Another breakfast item to make our list of unhealthy fast food is the Taco Bell Breakfast Crunchwrap with Sausage. “The flour tortilla is made with bleached enriched wheat flour, which lacks the nutrients found in whole grains, and also contains shortening, which is high in unhealthy trans fats,” says Sabat. She adds that “The hash browns are deep-fried in vegetable oil, adding unnecessary calories and unhealthy fats, the cheddar cheese contributes extra saturated fat and sodium to the dish, and the sausage crumbles contain processed pork with added salt and natural flavors, which can be high in sodium and potentially unhealthy additives.”
“Overall,” says Sabat, “the combination of refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, sodium, and additives makes this fast-food breakfast item an unhealthy choice if consumed regularly.”
PER ORDER: 1,490 calories, 103 g of fat (44 g saturated fat, 5 g trans fat), 1,780 mg sodium, 50 g of carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 89 g of protein
Whenever a burger has the word “triple” in the name, you can almost always guarantee that it’s going to be far too high in calories, fat, and sodium. Coming in at 1,490 calories, 103 grams of fat, and 1,780 milligrams of sodium, the Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple from Wendy’s is the perfect example of this.
“The unhealthiest meal at Wendy’s is the Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple because it contains close to a full day’s worth of calories, over 100 grams of fat, more than a pizza’s worth of saturated fats,” says Jesse Feder, RDN, CPT with My Crohns and Colitis Team. He adds that this doesn’t even include a side of fries and soda, and “if you were to make it a full meal, you are looking at more than a days worth of calories and fat.”
What is also shocking about this burger is the 5 grams of trans fat. According to the World Health Organization, it’s best to consume as little trans fat as possible, with a recommended limit of 2.2 grams per day at most. This burger would more than double this limit for you.
RELATED: The Wendy’s Breakfast Menu—Ranked by Nutrition!
PER ORDER: 670 calories, 41 g of fat (18 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,440 mg sodium, 39 g of carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 37 g of protein
In-N-Out is a popular favorite among those living on the west coast or for the east coasters paying them a visit. Their menu is on the smaller end compared to other popular fast-food chains, but it still contains a couple of not-so-ideal items in terms of nutrition.
According to Feder, “The unhealthiest meal at In-N-Out Burger is the Double Double, which is a double cheeseburger that contains 670 calories, 41 grams of fat, 18 grams of saturated fat, and almost 1,500 milligrams of sodium,” he says. “This meal can contribute to unhealthy weight gain, clogged arteries, and increases in blood pressure if consumed on a regular basis.”
PER ORDER: 1,070 calories, 71 g of fat (21 g saturated fat), 1,980 mg sodium, 54 g of carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 53 g of protein
“As it sounds, this burger is double trouble, and it exceeds the daily recommendation for saturated fat and is high in sodium,” says Geiger. “The daily sodium recommendation for healthy individuals is 2,300 milligrams, and after eating this sandwich you’re almost guaranteed to go over. High intake of sodium and saturated fats can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease and strokes,” she adds.
PER ORDER: 1,070 calories, 72 g of fat (21 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,010 mg sodium, 70 g of carbs (5 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 36 g of protein
If you’re craving some fast-food breakfast, you may want to stay away from the Grande Sausage Burrito at Jack In The Box.
“This dish is high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat, and consistent consumption can lead to weight gain and related heart diseases,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. She adds that this burrito also “contains more carbohydrates than needed and can lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.”
PER ORDER: 1,050 calories, 63 g of fat (21 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 2,440 mg sodium, 79 g of carbs (4 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 37 g of protein
Carl’s Jr. has a ton of delicious options, so there’s really not much reason to go for a burger that’s also topped with fried jalapeño poppers and bacon. “The ingredients in the El Diablo Angus consist of bacon, cheese, and ranch sauce, which are high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium—potentially leading to weight gain and increased risk of heart disease,” says Young.
PER ORDER: 310 calories, 17 g of fat (8 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,050 mg sodium, 27 g of carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 14 g of protein
The Double Cheese Slider from White Castle is exactly what it sounds like—double the cheese, double the meat, and double the bun.
“Though some may believe it is high in protein with its double beef patties, it is most definitely high in fat and sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and risk of heart disease,” says Young.
PER ORDER: 970 calories, 70 g of fat (25 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 2,300 mg sodium, 47 g of carbs (1 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 44 g of protein
An easy rule of thumb when it comes to avoiding unhealthier burgers or fast-food sandwiches is to avoid those that have two or three burger patties, such as the Smoky BBQ Bacon Buford from Checkers.
“This is a super calorie-dense food due to its combination of ingredients like bacon, cheese, bbq sauce, and beef patties,” says Young. “Its high levels of saturated fat can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and its high sodium content may contribute to increased blood pressure.”
PER ORDER: 660 calories, 32 g of fat (8 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,260 mg sodium, 50 g of carbs (1 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 43 g of protein
Bojangles is a southern-style fast-food restaurant known for its flaky southern biscuits, but there are some menu items better left avoided. One example of this, according to Young, is the Cajun Filet Club Sandwich.
“Higher in calories and fat compared to the other club sandwiches available, the Cajun Filet Club is also high in sodium, reaching the daily recommended sodium intake per serving, which is bad for those who are sodium-conscious,” says Young.
PER ORDER: 590 calories, 23 g of fat (5 g saturated fat), 2,160 mg sodium, 67 g of carbs (4 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 67 g of protein
When you visit KFC, it may be tempting to go for one of their comforting bowls, but dietitians warn that the Famous Bowl may not be worth it.
“The Famous Bowl at KFC comes with creamy mashed potatoes topped with gravy, sweet corn, a 3-cheese blend, and battered nuggets, and it is the worst food to choose at KFC,” says Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN. “Its calorie load is around 50% of what most people need daily, the sodium content exceeds the daily recommended limit at 2498 milligrams, and the saturated fat will meet almost half your daily needs.”
PER ORDER: 1,070 calories, 71 g of fat (21 g saturated fat), 1,980 mg sodium, 54 g of carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 53 g of protein
The picture of Arby’s Half Pound Beef and Cheddar says it all. This sandwich is piled to the brim with cheese and beef, bringing its saturated fat to 21 grams. “It comes in at a steep 740 calories, about 50% of most calories needed daily, and a whopping 49 grams of fat. which maxes out most people’s needs,” says Rifkin. “Not to mention the 2 grams of trans fats and the sodium content that exceeds daily limits.”
PER ORDER: 77 calories, 33 g of fat (13 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 3,040 mg sodium, 58 g of carbs (2 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 63 g of protein
At first thought, you might assume that it’s better to order tenders at Popeye’s, but the 5-piece Classic Tenders will still bring you to 13 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fat, and a whopping 3,000 milligrams of sodium.
“This order will easily take you to 50% of your daily calorie needs, and the sodium content is so steep that it meets 122% of the average daily limits,” says Rifkin. “But who just gets the chicken? The biscuit, cajun fries, and fountain drink are all common sides that people get with this combo, which will harmfully exceed the limits of just about everything from calories to fat, as well as protein and carbohydrates,” she adds.
PER ORDER: 1,440 calories, 65 g of fat (32 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 610 mg sodium, 193 g of carbs (8 g fiber, 150 g sugar), 27 g of protein
Many of the sweet treats at Dairy Queen will give you more calories, fat, and saturated fat than an entire meal.
“The Brownie Dough Blizzard in a large size at Dairy Queen will not only exceed some people’s calorie intake for the day at 1,440 calories, but this sweet treat will cost you almost a week’s worth of sugar in just one sitting at 150 grams,” says Rifkin. “The fat content and saturated fat are all extremely high as well, so consider the mini if you want this sweet treat.”
PER ORDER: 580 calories, 30 g of fat (11 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,270 mg sodium, 42 g of carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 36 g of protein
A lesser-known option at Subway is a cheesesteak-style sandwich called The Monster. Based on the name, it probably won’t surprise you that this sub is loaded with fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
“This giant sub is stuffed with steak, bacon, two servings of cheese, peppers, and onions, and is slathered in ranch,” says Rifkin. “This Monster is dripping in processed meats, saturated fats, and oils,” and if you order the footlong size, “the sodium content is 156% of your daily needs, while the saturated fat would meet 150% of your daily needs.”