19 Fast-Food Items You Should Never Eat, According to Dietitians
America loves fast food. It's estimated that there are over 192,000 fast-food businesses in the U.S. in 2020, according to IBIS World. And it makes sense—it's convenient, quick, and yep—pretty tasty.
"Just like eating one salad doesn't make you healthy, eating one fast food meal does not make you unhealthy," says Mike Gorski, RD, registered dietitian, and owner of MG FitLife. "That being said, MOST fast food options can be quite deceiving in their total calories, be loaded with subpar ingredients, sodium, trans fats, saturated fat, and sugar."
While you don't need to cut fast food completely from your diet, eating it in moderation and making healthier choices when ordering can help soften the dietary blow it usually delivers. But some fast food options are far worse than others. Read on for the 19 unhealthiest fast-food items you can (but shouldn't) order. And for more on how to lose weight, you won't want to miss The Best Ways to Lose Belly Fat for Good, Say Doctors.
McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
"No, not the Big Mac, but the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese is actually the highest calorie burger option at McDonald's. Coming in at 720 calories, and a massive 42g of fat (2.5 grams of Trans Fat) it actually has almost 200 more calories in it than the Big Mac. Couple this with a large fry, and a large soda, and this meal could easily be more than most people's daily calorie needs." — Gorski
Instead, why don't you reach for any of The 5 Healthiest McDonald's Burgers, According to a Dietitian?
Culver's Triple Bacon Deluxe Burger
"Being from Wisconsin, Culver's is a staple of our fast food industry. They make some of the most amazing burgers in the fast-food game. However, the Culver's Triple Bacon Deluxe Burger is so obscenely high in calories, that there is no reason anyone could physically feel good after eating such a thing. At 1,090 calories, and 76 grams of fat, this burger alone would put most Americans past half of their daily needs for calories, and possibly OVER their daily needs for fat."— Gorski
Burger King Triple Whopper with Cheese
"According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in order to reduce your risk in developing heart disease, saturated fats should be limited to less than 10% of your total intake. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, this sandwich alone contains 126% of the recommended daily value of saturated fat and 49% of the recommended daily value of sodium. These two numbers alone should be convincing enough to stay far, far away." — Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To protect your heart, replace this burger with any of the 20 Foods That Can Help Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.
Sonic Sauced Jumbo Popcorn Chicken Large – Buffalo
"The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and these wings contain 4,670 milligrams of sodium—that is 203% of your recommended daily value! 540 calories of this item are coming from fat which is more than half of the total amount of calories in the item itself. Excessive amounts of sodium and saturated fat can increase an individual's risk of developing heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. These numbers can be scary if you consider eating 3 of these per week. If you want to keep that heart healthy and strong, avoid this food item." — Valdez
McDonald's Large Caramel Frappe
"Can you imagine consuming 88 grams of sugar in a single drink? Well, believe it because it's true. The American Heart Association recommends that men should consume no more than 36 grams of sugar per day and women no more than 25 grams of sugar per day. This McDonald's 'coffee' (more like dessert if you ask me) should be avoided at all costs or consumed, sparingly." — Valdez
For a substitute, read our report: The Best and Worst McCafe Drinks at McDonald's.
Chili Cheese Fries from Dairy Queen
"I think most folks see 'cheese fries' as a side item, but this is not your typical side of fries and that's where people can get into trouble. This contains almost 1,000 calories, 52 grams of fat and 2,280 milligrams of sodium which almost exceeds your daily sodium limit." — Amber Pankonin MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and owner of Stirlist.
Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Pub Triple
"The highest calorie burger on the menu, this burger contains 1,520 calories, 106 grams of fat, and 1,910 mg of sodium. It's recommended that 20-35% of calories should come from fat in our diet, which means for a 2,000 calorie diet a person should get between 44 to 77 grams of fat. A better choice would be the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger which is only 390 calories, 24 grams of fat and 660 milligrams of sodium." — Pankonin
Panera Bread Mac & Cheese
"This Mac & Cheese contains over 1000 calories, 67 grams of fat, 2220 mg of sodium and only 2 grams of fiber. Fiber can help make us fuller longer, so if you are eating out, try to order something with fiber to help with satiety. A better choice would be the broccoli cheese soup which contains 360 calories, 1,330 mg of sodium and 6 grams of fiber." — Pankonin. Speaking of fiber—98% of Americans don't eat enough of it. The result? What Happens When You Don't Eat Enough Fiber.
Burger King Triple Flame-Broiled Whopper Sandwich with Cheese
"It has 82 grams of fat, 32 of which is saturated (recommendation is not to exceed 10 grams/day of saturated fat), and 4.5 grams of trans fat, which we want to avoid completely (they lower HDL and increase LDL). The sandwich contains 1470 milligrams of sodium, which is more than half the daily recommendation. The bun provides simple carbs and no fiber." — Silvia Carli, MS, RD, CSCS, registered dietitian at 1AND1 LIFE.
Domino's Italian Sausage Marinara Pasta Dish
"This dish has processed meats, which bring the sodium content to 1650 milligrams. It has 36 grams of total fat, 15 of which are saturated and 0.5 trans fats. The 27 grams of protein provided by this dish is not worth the caloric load of 700 calories and the fat and sodium content." — Carli
Dairy Queen Large Caramel Apple Pie Blizzard
"1200 calories with 48 grams of fat, 33 of which are saturated and 1.5 trans. This item contains 134 grams of sugar and a mere 20 grams of protein. This is probably the worse you can get nutritionally out of any fast-food item (the large size should not even be allowed for sale if I were to decide)." — Carli
KFC Classic Bowl
"With 2350mg sodium per serving it practically meets 100% of the recommended daily value (DV) of sodium, in a single meal. It also has 35 grams of total fat (54% of the DV) and 6 grams of saturated fat (30% of the DV) in a single serving, which makes it not the ideal choice for anyone concerned with heart-healthy foods." — Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.
Starbucks Venti Caramel Frappuccino Blended Beverage
"With 470 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 73 grams of sugar, this drink should be in the category of dessert—not coffee beverage. Even if you were to customize it and choose a grande size and non-fat milk you would still be consuming 55 grams of sugar – which is more than is recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for an entire day." — Gans
"With 24 grams of saturated fat and 3,030 grams of sodium, I feel that this is a heart attack waiting to happen." — Gans
Taco Bell Double Decker Taco Supreme
"A fried taco and a white flour taco walk into a bar… why? Why would you need both? And then stuff it with ground meat (in an age where scaling back on daily beef consumption is advised), a sauce laden with oils we don't recommend, and a scattering of vegetables? This item also packs nearly 1/3 of your sodium limit for the day. And that's if you can stop at one." — Monica Auslander Moreno, RD, is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for JOI.
Starbucks Pumpkin Scone
"As festive as it may be, 46 grams of sugar isn't a party. That's 11.5 packets of sugar in a single pastry, and very little protein or fiber to keep you satiated. The white flour, the sugar, the butter, the lack of fiber, and the lack of any fruit/vegetable here makes for a sad Starbucks situation. And this is before a beverage. We have nothing against scones—but you could do much better baking your own and incorporating pumpkin puree or oat flour for plant power and fiber." — Auslander Moreno
Next time you head to Starbucks, make sure you know of the 8 Healthiest Starbucks Orders, According to a Dietitian.
(with sofritas, cilantro brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, guacamole, queso, roasted chili corn salsa, sour cream, chipotle honey vinaigrette)
"With plant-based taking over headlines and Chipotle being a favorite, your order can turn quickly. This order above has 1300 calories, which could be close to 3/4 of a day's calories. This bowl even though it is plant-based includes some high calorie, high-fat toppings like dressing, cheese, and sour cream. A quick way to make it better is to choose one of the 3 options instead of all 3." — Tony Castillo MS, RD, LDN , performance dietitian at Nutrition For Performance.
Wendy's Triple Bacon Jalapeno Cheeseburger
"This cheeseburger has as many calories as the chipotle salad. This doesn't include fries or a drink. This 1,330 calorie bomb is full of inflammatory fats and lacks fiber which means you will eat this and be hungry within the hour. There are much better options and by choosing just a burger with one patty instead of three, you save close to half the calories." — Castillo
McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
"This meal also has over 1,300 calories and it's only breakfast. It contains 123% of your recommended saturated fat intake and 91% of your sodium intake. After eating this breakfast you will most likely feel bloated." — Castillo. Start your day off on the right foot with these 13 Breakfast Foods That Will Help You Eat Healthier.