10 Fast-Food Burgers To Stay Away from Right Now, According to RDs
The origin of the first hamburger might be mired in the grease of lore and lies (with many who've claimed to be first since debunked). But a newspaper story published in 1894 touted that hamburgers could "fortify even Satan himself." Another equally old newspaper clipping jokingly referred to hamburgers as a food fit for evil-doers who love the dark (for reference, burgers were only served at night and typically purchased around 2 a.m.).
With the sheer volume of calories, fat, and sodium lurking in America's most beloved staple, perhaps these early nefarious mentions of the burger's beginnings are a caution to us all. Because, let's face it, with more than 42% of U.S. adults considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and that's not even counting the number of individuals considered overweight), is there ever a need for a burger that contains more saturated fat than is recommended for someone to consume in almost a week?
"All of these high-fat, fiber-less burgers and other meat-and-cheese-laden fast-food meals are part of what is fueling America's obesity and diabetes epidemics," says Karen Smith, a registered dietitian with the Barnard Medical Center in Washington D.C. who is also a certified diabetes care and education specialist. "Considering more than one in three U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, it is time for consumers to demand healthier options."
Until such time, we've partnered with Smith and two other registered dietitians to shed some light on just how bad-for-your-health the burger landscape has become. With their help, we've ranked the following 10 burgers from bad to absolute worst.
Jack in the Box Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger
People love bacon. Some even call it "meat candy." Others hang signs in their kitchens that say, "Either you love bacon, or you're wrong." But do you really need three slices of bacon on a cheeseburger? Jack in the Box thinks so. The online description states, "Whoever coined 'three's a crowd' has obviously never had this burger." Smith is not impressed.
"If the fat, sodium, and cholesterol won't stop you from ordering this burger, maybe its cancer-causing effects will," she warns. "According to the World Health Organization, processed meats [hello, bacon!] are group one carcinogens, and for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten daily, colorectal cancer risk increases by 18%."
Shake Shack Bourbon Bacon Cheddar Burger (Double)
This white-cheddar cheeseburger slathered with Maker's Mark bourbon-and-bacon-infused jam and ShackSauce is topped with crispy shallots and served on a toasted potato bun. Sounds devilishly good, no?
Unfortunately, "this burger provides close to 100% of the daily recommended maximum of sodium," warns Toby Amidor, a registered dietitian, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook. "Too many calories, saturated fat, and sodium with some added sugar (from the jam) make this truly a burger to skip."
Smith concurs, saying, "Even the shallots—the one redeeming ingredient of this burger—are fried!"
Five Guys Cheeseburger
We included Five Guys' Bacon Cheeseburger in a previous burger round-up, but this one is worth mentioning, too. According to registered dietitian and Physicians Committee nutrition educator Stephanie McBurnett, this is an appropriate five guys' burger…if it were split between five guys. When split, each portion would fall under 200 calories, 11g fat, and 210mg of sodium.
"With a side salad and fruit cup, this would be considered a healthy lunch," she says. "For one person, this is five times what you should be eating as your lunch entrée."
Carl's Jr. Double Sourdough Star
The Double Sourdough Star is a limited-time offering from Carl's Jr. that will be available until October 25, 2022. This one might not be a conventional hamburger (hence the sourdough bread), but it still makes the list. And, it also has bacon. And cheese. Two slices of American, to be exact. And that could be a problem because, according to the National Institute of Health, an estimated 68% of people worldwide (mostly from minority groups) are lactose intolerant.
"It's called the 'Double Sourdough Star' because it will surely turn your tummy 'sour' with two servings of dairy in this burger," McBurnett says.
Smashburger Double Bacon Smash Burger
This burger features bacon (again!), double patties, and loads of calories and fat. Amidor says this "calorie and fat bomb" is just way over the top with close to 50% your daily recommended maximum of "artery-clogging saturated fat."
McBurnett is concerned about the amount of sodium "smashed" into this burger. She warns, "The American Heart Association advises individuals that high sodium intake directly increases their blood pressure and damages their kidneys."
Burger King Texas Double Whopper
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but McBurnett says your waistline will also be bigger if you regularly consume this ½-pound behemoth of a burger layered with American cheese, crunchy pickles, bacon, jalapeños and more. And that doesn't even include fries and a drink!
Whataburger Bacon Blue Cheese Burger (limited time)
Packed with more than half the daily recommended amount of calories (based on a 2,000 calorie diet), cheese, bacon and beef, this Whataburger limited-time offering might impact your regular bathroom schedule.
"Thank goodness this burger is offered for a limited time because with 76 grams of fat from a beef patty, bacon and two different types of cheese, you won't be going to the bathroom anytime soon," McBurnett warns. "High red and processed meat intake and low fiber intake are the significant drivers of constipation and can also raise your risk of colorectal cancer."
Burger King Bacon King
With half a pound of beef (two ¼ patties) loaded up with crispy bacon and American cheese and brimming with mayo, ketchup and more, this Burger King offering has landed on multiple naughty lists.
According to Smith, "This is a fat, cholesterol, and sodium bomb! It contains more sodium, fat, and cholesterol than is recommended to consume for an entire day." She also is concerned about the high amount of protein in this menu item. "People often think high-protein diets are healthy. However, research indicates a positive association of high protein intakes—especially protein from animal-based sources—and all-cause mortality," she says.
Fatburger XXXL (Triple Kingburger)
One beef patty could be considered a decent portion and consumed as part of a healthy diet. But not three. Add to that the staggering amount of calories and fat, plus the fact that the carb load is equivalent to 4.6 slices of bread, makes this burger No. 2 on this bad-for-you burger list.
"Why someone needs 24 ounces of meat in one sitting is beyond me," Amidor says. "This is an example of overindulgence. With over 83% of your daily calorie needs (based on a 2,000 calorie diet), 51% of the daily recommended maximum of artery-clogging saturated fat, and close to 100% of the daily recommended sodium maximum, it's really over the top."
Smith concurs, adding that even though the menu description says the burger is made with fresh, ground 100% pure lean beef patties, "There is nothing 'lean' about a burger that is 52% fat!"
Steak 'n Shake 7 x 7
No joke, this burger boasts seven meat patties layered with cheese. Talk about lactose intolerance and a constipation starter! And that's not even getting to the amount of sodium contained within, which, by the way, is 158.33% of what an average healthy adult should consume in a day.
"Does anyone actually need a dietitian to tell them eating this burger is a bad idea?" Smith asks. "For someone sticking to the American Heart Association's recommendation to limit saturated fat to less than 5% of calories, this one burger has close to the amount of saturated fat someone would aim to stay under in a week!"
Amidor flat-out says this sort of burger shouldn't even be on a menu.
So, there you have it. 10 burgers to stay away from right now, straight from the experts who are in the business of keeping Americans healthy from a nutritional standpoint. While these gimmicky menu items might seem tempting, we hope you'll consider the cost to your health and your waistline.
What to eat instead?
Smith, who began researching plant-based diets in 2014 and has since become an entirely plant-based eater, suggests trying veggie burgers. "Black bean burgers, veggie burgers, and portobello mushroom burgers are far better choices," she says. "Chickpea burgers are also tasty, and I have found that vegan burger recipes that include some walnuts in them hold together really well."
Meanwhile, Amidor offers these simple better-for-you tips when it comes to eating burgers:
- Choose smaller-sized burgers. (Keep in mind though, that smaller doesn't always mean better—check the nutrition information before ordering.)
- Minimize additions. If you want cheese, then forgo the bacon or vice versa.
- Use ketchup and/or mustard instead of mayo to shave off calories and saturated fat.
- Pile on more veggies whenever possible.
- Forgo the fries. Instead, opt for a side salad.
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