14 Best & Worst Fast-Food Burgers, According to Dietitians
When you're craving a fast-food burger, oftentimes your eyes are bigger than your calorie limit. Doing a little research before you head out is your safest bet so you can know the absolute worst option and you can choose a better-for-you item that can fit into your healthy eating plan.
Three nutrients you're really looking to keep at their lowest when it comes to ordering fast-food burgers are calories, saturated fat, and sodium.
- Calories: The average American consumes 2,000 calories per day. This means that if you're eating 3 to 4 times a day, each meal should be around 500-600 calories.
- Saturated fat: A diet high in saturated fat has been strongly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, you want no more than 22 grams —or 10% of your total daily calories—to come from saturated fat.
- Sodium: Lastly, sodium is a nutrient that all Americans overconsume. The limit is 1 teaspoon of salt, which is the equivalent of 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Fast food joints are notorious for having tons of sodium in dishes—so finding a menu item with less sodium is a win.
Below you'll find 7 fast-food burger restaurants where registered dietitians (RDs) identified their worst and best burger orders. Keep this list handy so the next time you're on the road or are longing for a burger, you can make the better choice. Read on, and for more, don't miss 11 Healthiest Fast Food Burgers, According to Dietitians.
Worst: Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple
Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, owner of The Mindful Gut, LLC selected this burger as the "worst" at Wendy's because "choosing this triple burger is going to almost cash out all your calories and sodium for the day" with 1,530 calories (for ONE burger!) and 82% of your daily value for sodium.
Best: Wendy's Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe
This burger "will satisfy your burger craving plus you'll be able to add a small fry and still be under the calorie and sodium count compared to the pretzel bacon triple," Sauceda explains, as it only has 340 calories and 610 milligrams of sodium or 26% of your daily recommended amount.
Worst: Burger King Bacon King
This bad boy has 60% of the daily average calories (based on a 2,000-calorie diet) and that's without any fries or onion rings. The sodium is close to 1 teaspoon worth, which is the maximum amount recommended for the day. As for the carbs, that's equivalent to close to 4 slices of bread.
Best: Burger King Whopper Jr.
This better choice has about 67% fewer calories and 75% fewer calories compared to the Bacon King. You'll even have room to indulge in a small order of fries or onion rings.
Worst: McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder
"Whenever the word 'Double' appears in an entrée option, unless it is tossed salad, this typically is a red flag that you may be in double trouble with it comes to some heart unhealthy nutrients," says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, LDN, FAND, who is a nutrition professor at Boston University and the host of the nutrition & health podcast, Spot On!. This burger with cheese "provides a whopping 20 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat, which is almost 100% of the Daily Value (DV), which is the upper limit recommended daily for many adults. It also provides 1,360 milligrams sodium (59% DV) as well as the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of added sugars," Dr. Salge Blake adds.
Best: McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese
If a Quarter Pounder is a must when you dine at McD's, Salge Blake says to "consider the traditional one single burger Quarter Pounder with Cheese, which eliminates the second burger as well as reduces the saturated fat to 12 grams (62% DV), and the sodium to 1,140 milligrams (50% DV) per serving."
Worst: Hardee's/Carl's Jr. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger
Made with two beef patties, two strips of bacon, American cheese, two onion rings, and BBQ sauce on a seeded bun, this burger weighs in at over 50% of the recommended daily calories—without any fries. It's also over the daily recommended maximum of artery-clogging saturated fat and 90% of the recommended daily maximum of sodium.
Best: Hardee's/Carl's Jr. Small Hamburger
If you're craving a burger, keep portions in check by ordering a small hamburger. Although it's called "small" it's a perfectly portioned size with a reasonable amount of calories, saturated fat, and sodium so you can split an order of fries on the side.
Worst: Shake Shack Double SmokeShack Burger
The ingredients in this burger include two beef patties, bacon, cheese, peppers, a potato bun, and ShackSauce, which provides about 22 grams of saturated fat and 3,030 milligrams of sodium. "Given that the American Heart Association recommends less than 13 grams of saturated fat and 1,500-2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet), eating this burger would mean you're far exceeding (and even nearly doubling) these daily limits in one sandwich," explains Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN who is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the author of Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning.
Best: Shake Shack Single ShackBurger
"When it comes to taste, quality, satisfaction, and prioritizing both heart-healthy recommendations and the desire for crave-worthy flavors, the single ShackBurger is a great choice. With 530 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat, and 1,250 grams of sodium, the single burger makes it possible to maintain a balanced diet while enjoying the flavor and quality of their antibiotic-free, hormone-free 100% Angus beef blend and tasty toppings," says Malkani.
Worst: Sonic SuperSONIC® Bacon Double Cheeseburger
Do you really need two burger patties in your burger to keep you satisfied? The bacon plus those double burgers stack up to over 100% of the daily recommended amount of artery-clogging saturated fat and 84% of the recommended daily amount of sodium. As for the protein, 57 grams is actually too much for your body to handle at once and it can lead to stomach discomfort.
Best: Sonic Quarter Pound Double Cheeseburger
The name is a bit deceiving as this double burger is made with two junior patties (versus full-size patties). The calories are still rather high, so opt for this burger as an occasional splurge.
Worst: Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger
This not-so-healthy option from Five Guys is made with several beef patties, American cheese, and bacon served on a sesame seed bun. The nutrition info is limited at this joint with only calories, fat, sodium, and carbs listed, but all are quite high for just one burger!
Best: Five Guys Little Hamburger
This single patty burger allows as many toppings as you want. Top the burger with as many veggies as you please and skip the mayo.