The #1 Worst Takeout Food, According to a Dietitian
When it comes to nutrition, most of us know to adopt an "everything in moderation" mentality. But when it comes to eating out at a restaurant or ordering in from a local spot, you're far less in control of what is going into your food. That means you could be eating loads of additives, saturated and trans fats, and added sugar without really knowing it. After all, unless you're the one cooking it, you can't really guarantee what is going in your food.
Because of that lack of transparency, there are some takeout foods worth staying away from—as a general rule. No matter which restaurant you go to—fast-casual, fast food, or otherwise—it's recommended that you avoid this all-time worst takeout food at all costs.
We consulted Lisa Richards, registered dietitian, and author of The Candida Diet, about the worst takeout dish on any restaurant menu. No matter where you get these two items (especially if you get them together!), they will be loaded with an unnecessary amount of calories, trans fat, and even toxic additives. (If you're looking to make healthier choices, be sure to try out the 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)
The worst takeout dish you should never order from a restaurant is…
Chicken nuggets and fries
"The chicken McNugget has become an iconic figure of the McDonald's industry, but just because it is chicken rather than beef [doesn't] mean it should be considered healthy," Richards explains.
Unfortunately, all too often that's the perspective people tend to take when ordering takeout: Chicken is better than beef. But that's not exactly true; it's much more nuanced than that.
"Many consumers will opt for chicken at fast-food restaurants, assuming they are cutting back on the saturated fat that comes with red meat," Richards says. "This is not the case for most chicken nuggets, but especially McDonald's McNuggets because they are deep-fried."
Pair those nuggets with French fries—which, come on, admit it, what's a 6-piece nugget without a side of fries?!—and it's even worse.
"This tan-themed meal is loaded with saturated fat and refined carbohydrates that will do nothing to add to your health but lead to multiple side effects that take away from your health," Richards explains. "In the short term, this meal will increase your glucose levels rapidly and result in a crash and inevitable fatigue, brain fog, and the awful bloating feeling that comes along with a high-fat meal. In the long term, this convenience meal increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and chronic inflammation that is linked to a host of chronic illnesses and diseases."
A meal of deep-fried chicken nuggets generally contains anywhere from 800 to 1,840 milligrams of sodium—no matter where you order them from—but the McDonald's McNugget is particularly harmful because of the additives used in the recipe.
"The McNugget is made with a long list of ingredients that cause concern on many levels, due to their inflammatory and even toxic nature as [they are made] with the petroleum-based preservative Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)," Richards adds. More research is needed but TBHQ is thought to be carcinogenic, potentially increasing the eater's risk of developing cancer.
In the same vein, large fries at McDonald's will run you about the same amount of calories as the nuggets, about 490. Large Fries at Mickey D's also have about 400 milligrams of sodium and 66 grams of carbs as well.
"Fries and nuggets are a go-to for many when they're in a pinch and need a quick convenient meal. For others they're a go-to simply because they enjoy this carb and fat loaded combo," Richards says. "Unfortunately, for these two reasons specifically, it is best to avoid fries and nuggets and a fast meal regardless of where they're purchased."
Even as a cheat meal, eating a meal of nuggets and fries put your health at both short-term and long-term risk.
"To put it simply, the only thing this meal provides is a quick source of calories while taking away quality of life in both short and long term," Richards says.
So which takeout item should you order instead?
If you are set on getting chicken nuggets, try opting for a healthier side. At McDonald's, you can get the apple slices or mandarin oranges. Other fast-food and fast-casual restaurants offer other—healthier!—sides as well. Maybe a low-sodium soup, a half salad, or a side of vegetables or fruit.
"Rather than taking in added fats and refined carbs, it is just as simple and convenient to replace fried chicken, whether in patty or nugget form, with a piece of grilled chicken," Richards recommends. "Additionally, just about every restaurant chain now offers lighter menu items like fruit cups, side salads, and yogurt parfaits that would be as convenient and satisfying as a side of French fries."
Looking for more tips? Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!