The Worst Diner Foods to Never Order
There's something cozy and familiar about an old-fashioned diner. It could be the early morning waffles and endless coffee refills. Or it could be the late-night ventures for loaded nachos and chocolate milkshakes. Whatever it is that comes to your mind when you think of diner food, it's probably delicious. And it's also most likely loaded with oils, butter, grease, and a whole lot of sugar.
Yes, there are just some meals that fall into the worst diner foods category you're going to want to stay far away from. This doesn't mean you have to skip out on the occasional diner trip, though! It just means that you may need to be more selective with your choices. We talked with Laura Burak, MS, RD, CDN, about the worst diner foods you should most definitely try avoiding.
This one may seem like a no brainer, but when you've been out all night and want that greasy nightcap of fries, it's hard to say no. It's even harder to say no if it's offered as a side item to an entrée. Burak encourages her clients to not be afraid of swapping around side items because even healthy meal options like a veggie omelet usually come with fries.
"I tell my clients to order a baked potato or sweet potato instead, and/or a veggie or fruit salad on the side," she says.
Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, nothing beats a hot plate of mozzarella sticks. But the fat and oil content in these high-calorie snacks are extremely high. If you're just comparing mozzarella as cheese by itself, it usually contains lower sodium and calories than other popular cheeses like brie and cheddar. In this dish though, the mozzarella is then coated and deep-fried in low-quality oils that, according to a study from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, restaurants often use to save money. There goes any and all health benefits you could be getting if you were just munching on the cheese by itself. In fact, a 2019 study from BMJ revealed that there is a direct link between the consumption of fried foods and increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Yes, fried steak does sound like quite the delicious diner meal choice and it is juicy, flavorful, and crispy. But Burak warns that "the worst offenders are fried options high in calories and saturated fat like fried chicken and steak."
Consuming fried foods can be a dangerous game, but mixing that with red meat like steak is even worse. Steak is already high in saturated fats, which according to a study published in PubMed Central, saturated fats have found to be linked to various heart diseases and cardiovascular issues. They have also been known to raise cholesterol levels. So you want to be careful!
With a platter like "fish and chips," you're simply being served a giant plate of fried food. And fried fish specifically can be a tricky catch. A study done by the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, found that incorporating baked or broiled fish into your diet is a healthy choice for your heart. The study also found that fried fish consumed on a regular basis can increase your risk of heart issues by up to 40%.
Bacon Double Cheeseburgers
Diners are all about getting a "bang for your buck." So when you see the bacon double cheeseburger with fries on the menu, it could be hard to turn it down. You not only get a burger, but you get a double cheeseburger with bacon on top.
Aside from the dangerously high fat, grease, and oil content in a bacon double cheeseburger, the quality of meat used can also be harmful. When you see quick, low-priced meat on a menu, it is usually available that way because it is of lower quality.
There are proven benefits to sticking to high quality, grass-fed red meat. According to one study, beef that was grass-fed contains lower fat content and better preservation of healthy nutrients. Diners sell their food at a low price, so they as an establishment usually can't afford to source grass-fed meats and will go for lower-quality alternatives instead. (If you're looking for more helpful tips, your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!)
Tater tots are a delicious option at any time of day. They make for a good side item with eggs and sausage, or a good complement to a juicy burger. But this yummy fried snack is a menu item you avoid. Fried foods can lead to the various cardiovascular diseases and cholesterol issues we mentioned above. But it's also crucial to consider the types of oils being used to fry the tater tots. According to research done by the Harvard School of Public Health, most restaurants use trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils when cooking. These oils are cheap and can be heated and reheated. But they can lead to heart problems and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Loaded nachos are always a very tempting menu item. Warm, creamy, cheesy, and topped with shredded chicken or taco meat, it screams diner staple. This dish is extremely high in calories, fat and grease, and processed dairy, though. The fat content from the melted cheese and sour cream alone is high, but if you add beef to your nachos too, you're looking at more than 1,000 calories on one plate.
Burak reminds us to pay attention to portion sizes when we are at a diner as well.
"Portions are also an important piece of the dining out diner puzzle because they're typically gigantic and enough for several people so be careful and share meals or take home half for the next day," she says. You can guarantee that your order of nachos will be served on a plate much bigger than one servings' worth, so if you do order them, you should try splitting with a friend.
It's hard to think of a diner without thinking of a delicious chocolate milkshake with a cherry on top. But these dessert drinks are packed to the brim with calories, fat, processed dairy, and, of course, a lot of processed sugar.
Because people often see milkshakes as "drinks," they may order it alongside an entrée. That's just a no-go.
"These snacks may seem harmless but they can easily provide several thousand extra calories and artery-clogging ingredients to your diet in just one sitting," she explains.
Waffles might not seem like too terrible of an option at first. But Burak warns us that "when it comes to sweets, avoid meals like pancakes and waffles that are topped with ice cream, chocolate, whipped cream, and other unnecessary sugary extras."
Sugary extras are key here in understanding why waffles with whipped cream may not be a great option for your diner breakfast meal, and that's all because of the sugar. According to research from Frontiers of Bioscience, high levels of processed sugar can lead to heart complications, obesity, and lower cognitive functioning. The study also confirms that sugar is a highly addictive substance.
Additionally, a study from the Journal of Diabetes Research found that a breakfast consisting only of sugar and carbs actually hinders your metabolic and cognitive functioning throughout the day. It is better for your overall functioning to have a mixed breakfast of carbs, proteins, and fats. If you're craving waffles, try skipping on the whipped cream topping and instead ordering a side of scrambled eggs or veggies.
Now you're armed with everything you need to choose a healthier meal option when you're heading out for a diner trip!