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The #1 Unhealthiest Order at Every Major Fast-Food Chicken Chain

A registered dietitian shares her picks for the top menu option to avoid at these 9 restaurant chains.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Heading out to a chicken chain may seem like a healthier meal option than making a stop at a burger joint, but oftentimes the menu is filled with fried chicken and other calorie-laden choices as opposed to the lean protein you have in mind when you think of poultry. Dark meat pieces of chicken, including wings and thighs, can be unhealthy when served with the skin and then battered and fried. You may think chicken breast is better, but those calories and saturated fat can also skyrocket once you drown it in heavy sauces and fry it.

When trying to pinpoint options on chicken chain menus that are really the "unhealthiest" look for three main things: calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Remember this is one menu option or one meal of your day, so it should make up about 30% of your daily recommended amounts of calories, saturated fat, and sodium. On a 2,000-calorie diet, this means no more than 22 grams of saturated fat and a maximum of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

Although many options from the establishments on this list are unhealthy, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorites. If you're craving fried chicken from KFC or Chick-Fil-A, for example, then opt for smaller portions and skip higher fat sides like fries and mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. You can also opt for a kid's meal or split a small order with a friend. This way you can get your fix without going overboard.

Below you'll find the unhealthiest options at 9 major fast-food chicken chains. Remember, checking out the menu ahead of time to plan out better-for-you options when hitting any of these joints is your best bet. Read on, and for more, don't miss 9 Unhealthiest Fast-Food Chicken Wings To Stay Away From Right Now.

Chick-fil-A'a Cobb Salad with Nuggets 

chick fil-a cobb salad
Chick fil-A
PER SALAD: 850 calories, 61 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 2,220 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (5 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 42 g protein

Not all salads are created equal—or healthfully—and this chicken chain order is a perfect example. Made with pressure-cooked, breaded chicken nuggets served on a bed of mixed greens, topped with roasted corn kernels, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, hard-boiled egg, and grape tomatoes, this salad provides you with 42% of your daily recommended calories (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).

It also provides 59% of the recommended daily max or artery-clogging saturated fat….in a salad! You're better off swapping the nuggets for the grilled cod and holding off on some of the cheese and bacon.

 The Best & Worst Fast-Food Salads

Popeyes Spicy Bacon & Cheese Chicken Sandwich

popeyes Spicy Bacon & Cheese Chicken Sandwich Combo
PER SANDWICH: 830 calories, 53 g fat (19 g saturated fat), 1,874.6 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (2 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 36 g protein

The chicken breast fillet in this sandwich is marinated in Popeye's seasoning, battered and breaded in buttermilk, and fried. It is topped with pickles, spicy mayo, Havarti cheese, and bacon on buttery toasted brioche buns. The sandwich alone provides 86% of the recommended daily maximum of saturated fat and 81.5% of the recommended daily maximum of sodium. You're better off ordering a kid's meal or a small order of chicken nuggets.

 7 Worst Fast-Food Chicken Sandwiches Right Now, Say Dietitians

KFC's 4 Piece Fried Chicken Combo Meal 

kfc 4 piece chicken combo meal
PER MEAL WITH MASHED POTATOES AND MEDIUM SODA: 1,240 calories, 60 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 3,290 mg sodium, 98 g carbs (5 g fiber, 55 g sugar), 82 g protein

This single order of four pieces of fried chicken served with mashed potatoes and a medium soda seems like a good deal for your dollar, but it's actually a disaster for your healthy eating plan. You do get a whopping 82 grams of protein, but your body can't efficiently utilize that much protein in one sitting. Plus the calories in this one meal are 62% of your daily recommended calories (based on a 2,000-calorie diet) and 143% of your daily recommended sodium intake—and you still have a few meals left for the day!

Raising Cane's The Caniac Combo 

raising canes caniac combo
Raising Cane's
PER MEAL: 1,790 calories, 104 g fat (16 g saturated fat), 3,160 mg sodium, 124 g carbs (15 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 89 g protein

This single-serve combo meal includes 6 chicken fingers, fries, 2 servings of sauce, toast, cole slaw, and a large fountain drink (cola included in nutrition information above). For this one meal, you're taking in 89.5% of your total daily calories, 73% of the recommended daily max of artery-clogging saturated fat, and 137% of the recommended daily max of sodium. If this is a meal you're ordering regularly, it can most probably lead to weight gain and put you at an increased risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Church's Texas Chicken's 3-Piece Mixed Combo (Original) 

Church's Texas Chicken's 3-Piece Mixed Combo (Original)
Church's Texas Chicken
PER ORDER (INCLUDES ORIGINAL WING, LEG, THIGH, REGULAR MASHED POTATOES WITH GRAVY, REGULAR COLE SLAW, BISCUIT, REGULAR COLA): 1,600 calories, 80 g fat (24 g saturated fat), 3,155 mg sodium, 99 g carbs (6 g fiber, 100 g sugar), 60 g protein

This meal is served with 3-pieces of chicken meal is just way over the top. It provides 80% of your total daily calories, 109% of the recommended daily max of saturated fat, and 137% of the recommended daily max for sodium. Further, if you're trying to calculate the calories of your meal, there is no calculation tool on the website—so you have to calculate each menu item separately by hand (good luck with that!). If you're really craving Church's Texas Chicken, then order a la cart and much less food.

Zaxby's 3 Nibblerz Sandwiches Meal 

zaxbys nibblers meal
PER Nibblerz sandwich, fries, small cola: 1,630 calories, 74 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 3,545 mg sodium, 195 g carbs (9 g fiber, 84 g sugar), 46 g protein

You may think ordering these mini sandwiches are a better-for-you choice, but they actually have more calories compared to the other regular sandwich meals. The calories are 71% of your daily recommended calories, 59% of the recommended daily max of saturated fat, and 1½ times the recommended daily max of sodium. There are better options like the grilled chicken sandwich, but order it without the sauce (or use 1 teaspoon) and skip the fries.

 8 Fast-Food Restaurants That Use Frozen French Fries

Bonchon's Bulgogi 

bonchon bulgogi
PER ORDER: 1,369 calories, 69 g fat (19 g saturated fat), 1,017 mg sodium, 92 g carbs (7 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 82 g protein

This Korean fried chicken joint serves up many dishes that are just way too high in nutrients that are already overconsumed, namely calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Although not a chicken dish, the Bulgogi made with thinly sliced marinated beef sautéed with mushrooms, scallions, sesame seeds, and onions and served with white rice, is one to skip.

If you think the fried chicken options including wings, drumsticks, and chicken strips are any better, think again. All those options also provide way too much artery-clogging saturated fat and sodium.

Wingstop's 10-Piece Wing Combo 

wingstop ten piece combo
PER LARGE 10-piece wing combo: 2,333 calories, 134 g fat (28 g saturated fat), 2,885 mg sodium, 163 g carbs (3 g fiber, 88 g sugar), 108 g protein

Although you may think you're getting a bang for your food buck, the nutrition info of this combo wing meal is outrageous. The 10-piece combo includes 10 bone-in mild wings, regular fries, honey mustard dip, and a 20-fluid-ounce cola. Calories, saturated fat, and sodium are all above the daily recommended maximum. The carbs are also the equivalent of eating close to 11 slices of bread!

 5 Breads Made From the Lowest Quality Ingredients, Say Dietitians

Jollibee's Chickenjoy with Jolly Spaghetti

jollibees chickenjoy and spaghetti combo
PER spaghetti with 2 pcs spicy chickenjoy and gravy: 1,205 calories, 54 g fat (14 g saturated fat), 2,920 mg sodium, 109 g carbs (10 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 64 g protein

This pasta and chicken combo includes one drumstick and one chicken thigh. The calories for the dish exceed 50% of the daily recommended maximum, 127% of the recommended daily limit of sodium, and 64% of the recommended daily max of saturated fat. Although it may appear better than some of the other choices listed for all restaurants, you'll still be ordering a beverage and perhaps a side dish—so the total calories, sugar, and more will inevitably go up for this one meal.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, MS, RD, CDN
Toby Amidor is an award winning dietitian and Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author who believes healthy and wholesome can also be appetizing and delicious. Read more about Toby
Sources referenced in this article
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