Special Report

The Unhealthiest Item in Every Fast-Food Chain in the US

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Americans spend millions of dollars a year eating and drinking at fast food establishments. The biggest chain, in terms of sales, is McDonald’s, where people spent more than $36 billion in 2016, followed by Starbucks with nearly $15 billion, and Subway with $11 billion.

These numbers are not surprising, considering that almost 40% of people in the United States eat at a fast food restaurant at least once a day. And adults between 20 and 39 years old are most likely to choose junk food over other options.

Perhaps it’s no surprise also that the biggest health issues in the country include obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, all of which are associated with foods that are high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar.

So why is fast food so popular? It’s cheap, readily available everywhere, filling, and you don’t have to wait long for it.

Many of the least healthy items on fast food menus contain nearly the entire daily recommended intake of calories, sodium, and sugar. The estimated daily calorie need for moderately active adult men is 2,800 and 2,200 for women . The recommended daily limit for salt is 2,300 mg (ideally 1,500 mg), and that of sugar is 25 grams (six teaspoons) for women and 38 grams (nine teaspoons) for men, according to the American Heart Association.

To identify the unhealthiest food at every major fast food chain in the United States, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nutritional contents of every item on their menus. To compare each item, we created an index of calories, fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. Foods with a lot of calories, sodium, sugar, and fat relative to other items offered by the same restaurant received worse scores. Only food items intended for single individuals were considered. McDonald’s 40-piece Chicken McNuggets, for example, was excluded.

Click here to read about the unhealthiest item in every fast-food chain in the U.S.

Starbucks: Chocolate Chip Cookie
> Serving size: 120 g
> Calories: 570
> Total amount of sugar: 46 g
> Total amount of fat: 29 g
> Total amount sodium: 360 mg

The chocolate chip cookie may please your taste buds, but the rest of your body will pay a price. More than a third of the delicious dessert is sugar and a quarter is fat. There is also 1 grams of trans fats. “You absolutely want to avoid trans fats because they can increase your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, lower your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and increase your chance of heart disease,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.

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McDonald’s: Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
> Serving size: 1 breakfast
> Calories: 1,350
> Total amount of sugar: 48 g
> Total amount of fat: 65 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,100 mg

About half of the calories in this breakfast platter come from fat. There are 25 grams of saturated fat, which is 126% of the recommended daily value based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The platter also contains 510 mg of cholesterol, which is 169% of the recommended daily value.

The Grand Big Mac is not much better. “The sandwich has 860 calories, 52 grams of fat, 18 grams of saturated fat, and 2 grams of trans fats,” according to Gorin. “This is way too many calories for a meal, and that’s assuming you’re not pairing it with fries, a soft drink, or anything else.”

Wendy’s: Dave’s Triple
> Serving size: 1 burger
> Calories: 1,090
> Total amount of sugar: 9 g
> Total amount of fat: 72 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,650 mg

This burger weighs three pounds before it is cooked. It contains eggs, soy, wheat, and milk. More than half of the calories, 648, come from fat, and it contains 4 grams of trans fats. The 72 grams of total fat you get from eating this burger are the entire recommended daily intake.

Taco Bell: XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito – Beef
> Serving size: 1 burrito
> Calories: 870
> Total amount of sugar: 6 g
> Total amount of fat: 40 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,140 mg

This burrito contains so much sodium — 89% of the recommended daily value — that you probably shouldn’t eat much else with salt in it all day. About 370 of the calories comes from fat.

The Fiesta Taco Salad Beef is not a healthy choice either, even though it has “salad” in its name. “This salad is one of the few [Taco Bell] items that contains trans fats,” Gorin said. The salad has 760 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 1 grams of trans fats. It also contains 1,330 mg of sodium, which is a lot. She recommends you order it without the fried taco shell.

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Jack in the Box: Chick-N-Tater Melt Munchie Meal
> Serving size: 1 meal
> Calories: 2,010
> Total amount of sugar: 76 g
> Total amount of fat: 109 g
> Total amount sodium: 3,470 mg

This meal is enough to provide your total recommended daily intake of calories, but it also provides a lot more salt, fat, and sugar than you should have a day — more than double the ideal limit of daily salt consumption (1,500 mg) and double the recommended sugar intake for men (38 g).

Dunkin’ Donuts: Girl Scouts Coconut Caramel Swirl Inspired Frozen Chocolate
> Serving size: Large
> Calories: 1,160
> Total amount of sugar: 183 g
> Total amount of fat: 39 g
> Total amount sodium: 330 mg

While you may not hit your daily allowance of calories and sodium with this frozen chocolate, you will significantly exceed your recommended sugar allowance, which is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. This has about seven times what you should be getting a day.

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Panera Bread: Bacon Mac & Cheese
> Serving size: Large (about 2 cups)
> Calories: 1,090
> Total amount of sugar: 16 g
> Total amount of fat: 72 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,660 mg

Two cups of bacon macaroni and cheese sounds like a dream come true, but the damage you’ll do to your body may not be worth it. It contains nearly the entire daily recommended amount of fat and salt.

Chick-Fil-A: Sausage Platter
> Serving size: 1 platter
> Calories: 810
> Total amount of sugar: 6 g
> Total amount of fat: 54 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,850 mg

Just one platter provides about half the calories you need a day, especially if you’re a physically active person, and more than what the American Heart Association recommends for your daily sodium intake — 1,500 mg.

Jamba Juice: Peanut Butter Moo’D: Original
> Serving size: 22 oz. (623 g)
> Calories: 770
> Total amount of sugar: 109 g
> Total amount of fat: 20 g
> Total amount sodium: 490 mg

Drink one of these shakes and you shouldn’t allow yourself to drink or eat anything else with sugar in it for the rest of the day — an impossible task — because you’ve already exceeded the recommended daily amount by almost four times.

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White Castle: Surf & Turf with Jalapeno Cheese
> Serving size: 169 g
> Calories: 540
> Total amount of sugar: 3 g
> Total amount of fat: 37 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,090 mg

This food item contains half of the total amount of fat and salt that you should consume in a day. About a fifth of the Surf & Turf with Jalapeno Cheese is just fat.

Hardee’s: 2/3 lb** Monster Thickburger
> Serving size: 383 g
> Calories: 1,300
> Total amount of sugar: 13 g
> Total amount of fat: 90 g
> Total amount sodium: 3,140 mg

About a quarter of this burger is just fat. The sodium content is scary high, especially considering this is just one burger. And that is presuming you’re not adding fries or any other sides that will only add more salt.

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Subway: Ultimate Spicy Italian Sandwich
> Serving size: 190 g
> Calories: 730
> Total amount of sugar: 3 g
> Total amount of fat: 52 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,720 mg

The combination of pepperoni, Genoa salami, and cheese garlic bread may not sound so delicious if you know what you’re actually consuming — more than the preferred salt limit, close to the daily recommended fat intake, and about a third of the calories you need all day.

Del Taco: Epic Scrambler (Bacon)
> Serving size: 445 g
> Calories: 1,040
> Total amount of sugar: 5 g
> Total amount of fat: 62 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,030 mg

Eat two of those scramblers and you’re set for the day when it comes to calories, but you would double the amount of salt and fat you should be having a day. A third of the total fat in this food item is saturated fat, which is one of two unhealthy fats you should not consume (along with trans fats).

Sonic: Oreo Peanut Butter Shake
> Serving size: Large (840 g)
> Calories: 1,720
> Total amount of sugar: 111 g
> Total amount of fat: 104 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,040 mg

“While many of the entrees at Sonic are high in calories, the drinks can contain even more calories than your main dish,” Gorin said. “This shake contains 1,720 calories, 48 grams of saturated fat, and 2 grams of trans fat.”

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Tim Hortons: Biscuit, Sausage, Egg, Cheese
> Serving size: 177 g
> Calories: 490
> Total amount of sugar: 4 g
> Total amount of fat: 31 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,130 mg

Half of the total fat in this breakfast sandwich is saturated fat, which may increase the risk of heart disease. While it may not be very high in calories, it certainly is high in sodium — 1,130 mg is close to the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit.

Whataburger: Monterey Melt
> Serving size: 403 g
> Calories: 1,110
> Total amount of sugar: 12 g
> Total amount of fat: 71 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,510 mg

Just one Monterey Melt from Whataburger provides the daily recommended intake of salt and total fat. (About a third of the fat in this burger is saturated fat.) But most people would have a drink and a side with it, adding even more sugar, salt, and fat to their meal.

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Burger King: BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter
> Serving size: 1 platter (17.2 oz or 487 g)
> Calories: 1,230
> Total amount of sugar: 33 g
> Total amount of fat: 70 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,550 mg

Just one platter and you’ve reached your daily recommended limit of sodium, sugar, and fat.

The Rodeo King Sandwich is not a much better option, Gorin said. Usually, the term “grilled” means a healthier cooking technique. “But even though the beef patties in this sandwich are flame-grilled, the sandwich also contains bacon and onion rings and manages to come in at 1,480 calories, 5 grams of trans fats, and 2,340 mg of sodium,” she added.

Carl’s Jr.: The 1/2 lb. Guacamole Bacon Thickburger
> Serving size: 0.5 lb (445 g)
> Calories: 1,200
> Total amount of sugar: 12 g
> Total amount of fat: 89 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,990 mg

About 800 of the 1,200 calories you would consume with this guacamole bacon burger come from fat. As for the total amount of fat you’re subjecting your body to — it’s more than the recommended daily limit of no more than 77 grams (more than double, depending on a person’s overall health).

Bojangles’: Macaroni ‘N Cheese
> Serving size: Picnic
> Calories: 990
> Total amount of sugar: 12 g
> Total amount of fat: 450 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,270 mg

Even in Bojangles’ picnic size — which is larger than individual size — mac N cheese is often a side, not a meal itself. And not a healthy side. While it may contain the daily recommended amount of salt, and not too much sugar, it contains a whopping 450 grams of fat, which is way more than the recommended maximum of 77 grams.

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Einstein Bros Bagels: Chorizo Sunrise
> Serving size: 361 g
> Calories: 920
> Total amount of sugar: 8 g
> Total amount of fat: 57 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,600 mg

More than a sixth of this sandwich is fat. And of the 57 grams of fat, 23 grams are saturated fat, which amounts to 115% of the recommended daily value. The amount of cholesterol on the Chorizo Sunrise also exceeds the daily limit. The 465 mg are 155% of the recommended intake of dietary cholesterol.

Krystal: Bone In Wings
> Serving size: 12 in 1 pack
> Calories: 1,170
> Total amount of sugar: 12 g
> Total amount of fat: 90 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,940 mg

Just one pack of the bone-in wings and you will have consumed more, in some cases a lot more, than the recommended daily intake of fat (saturated fat as well), cholesterol, and sodium. More than 800 of the 1,170 total calories are in the form of fat. You will need to run for more than an hour and 40 minutes, or walk for more than 5 hours, to burn off those calories.

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KFC: Chicken Pot Pie
> Serving size: 1 pie (14.1 oz or 399 g)
> Calories: 720
> Total amount of sugar: 5 g
> Total amount of fat: 41 g
> Total amount sodium: 1,750 mg

While the chicken pot pie contains no trans fats, just one serving contains 25 grams of saturated fat, which amounts to 125% of the recommended daily value. The amount of saturated fat is also what’s dragging this food item to the top of the unhealthiest foods at KFC. Extra crispy chicken breast, the KFC Famous Bowl, and popcorn nuggets have similar amounts of calories, sugar, and sodium, but a lot less saturated fat.

Popeyes: Chicken Livers
> Serving size: 10 pieces
> Calories: 1,190
> Total amount of sugar: 3 g
> Total amount of fat: 80 g
> Total amount sodium: 2,070 mg

Imagine eating just five pieces of small chicken livers and you’re done with the amount of fat and almost done with the amount of sodium you should consume in a day.

The 5 Pieces Handcrafted Tenders Spicy or Mild is also among the worst fast food items, according to Gorin, because of the way it’s prepared. If you order this liver menu item, you’re looking at 741 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat, and 2 grams of trans fats. If you were to order those same Handcrafted Tenders but blackened, you’re looking at a much healthier choice, with 283 calories and no saturated or trans fats, she noted. “The blackened tenders are cooked without batter and aren’t breaded.”

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Arby’s: Sausage Gravy Biscuit-Double
> Serving size: 522 g
> Calories: 970
> Total amount of sugar: 5 g
> Total amount of fat: 56 g
> Total amount sodium: 3,540 mg

You may think that some kind of burger or meat sandwich would be the least healthy in a place specializing in meat, but this is not the case at Arby’s. The “winner” is the sausage gravy double biscuit because it contains too much fat (about a 10th of it is fat) and sodium (more than 1,000 mg than the recommended daily amount).

Dairy Queen: Salted Caramel Truffle Blizzard
> Serving size: Large
> Calories: 1,410
> Total amount of sugar: 156 g
> Total amount of fat: 65 g
> Total amount sodium: 720 mg

Of the 65 grams of fat in this Blizzard, 41 are saturated fat. “Some Blizzards are much less better picks than others, though,” Gorin said. Another bad option is the Large Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Blizzard, which has 1,380 calories, 33 grams of saturated fat, and 1.5 grams of trans fats. “A mini Butterfinger Blizzard would be a much healthier choice, at 350 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat, and 0 grams of trans fats,” she added.

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Baskin Robbins: Heath 31 Below
> Serving size: Large (24 oz)
> Calories: 1,240
> Total amount of sugar: 144 g
> Total amount of fat: 62 g
> Total amount sodium: 810 mg

Just one large cup of the Heath 31 Below mix-in provides 95% of the recommended total amount of fat intake and half of the total carbs recommended a day. Of the 62 grams of fat, 36 are saturated fat, amounting to 180% the recommended daily value. About half of the total calories in this drink are from fat.

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