Few things in life give us greater pleasure than quenching our hunger with some freshly made fast food. But whether it’s a bag of hot, crispy fries, a juicy burger, or a giant slushy, more often than not, you’re signing up to indulge. And you can assume that the better something tastes, the more nutritionally devastating secrets it holds.
For more fast-food news, check out 8 Worst Fast-Food Burgers to Stay Away From Right Now.
While the vast majority of fast-food orders are less than healthy, we set out to find that # 1 unhealthiest fast-food item, one everyone’s eating right now but should not. We teamed up with dietitian Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, to answer that complicated question. She broke it down for us, explaining that when she considers an order’s nutritional value, she looks at four factors: calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
“These four things are contributors to heart disease when consumed in excess,” Goodson explained. “And typically when foods are extremely high in these categories, they are likely low in fiber and other nutrients. A good rule of thumb is that if you are eating half your daily calories and more than half of the recommended daily fat and sodium intake in one item, it is likely not the best choice. “
So, based on these standards, what is the unhealthiest fast-food item in America?
And the unhealthiest fast-food item is. . .
Goodson pointed to both Wendy’s Big Bacon Cheddar Cheeseburger Triple and Shake Shack’s Link Burger Triple as runner-ups, but ultimately it was the relatively new Burger King offering that took the crown. The Spicy Ch’King Deluxe Sandwich, which came out just last summer, is just about as unhealthy as an item can get. It rings in at 1,499 calories, 149 grams of total fat, and 4,755 milligrams of sodium.
“This chicken sandwich is the worst, nutritionally speaking,” Goodson says, explaining that the exorbitant calories and fat and sodium levels come from the fried chicken’s breading and the mayonnaise-based sauce, which, unfortunately, also seem to be the most delicious parts of this sandwich.
The calories here represent three-fourths of what an average adult should be ingesting in a day, and the sodium is over double the daily recommended amount (2,300 milligrams), according to regulations set by the American Heart Association.
Of course, chicken sandwiches are generally high in fat and sodium, but even among the unhealthiest options out there right now, the Spicy Ch’King stands out as an over-the-top option in every aspect. For comparison’s sake, Popeyes’ spicy chicken sandwich has 700 calories, 42 grams of fat, and 1,473 milligrams of sodium, while Wendy’s Classic Big Bacon Cheddar clocks in at 810 calories, 45 grams of fat, and 2,250 milligrams of sodium, even with all the fried stuff it holds between the bun.
“Pair Burger King’s Spicy Ch’King with a fried side item and this is a calorie and sodium nightmare,” Goodson says. “Just way too much for one meal! And the challenge? Many people are eating like this every day of the week, maybe even multiple times a day.”
To build a better burger or sandwich at a fast-food pit stop, Goodson recommends replacing any creamy, mayo-based spread with ketchup, choosing just a single beef or chicken patty, and adding all the veggies you are able to. Bonus points if you can get it on a whole grain bun!