Sure, one triple quarter-pounder with cheese contains more fat than you should eat in an entire day. But what about the Baja salad option? You may be surprised what the country's biggest fast-food chains are really serving you.
Would you like a side of trans fat with that?
At the country’s top fast-food joints, there’s a chance you’ll get one even if you pick something “healthy.”
We analyzed the nutritional information and ingredients of the top five chains as recently ranked by QSR Magazine, a publication for industry insiders. (QSR is short for quick-service restaurant, the trade term for fast-food restaurants.)
Not only did we learn that some cheeseburgers contain more fat than you’re supposed to eat in an entire day, but many seemingly harmless menu options – from salads to frappes – contain trans fat. As we explained in Trans Fat: When Cheap Means Costly, the Harvard School of Public Health has called them “the worst fat for the heart, blood vessels, and rest of the body.”
Before you learn what’s really in your favorite fast-food pick, keep these other facts in mind…
- Current FDA regulations allow food manufacturers to say that a food has zero grams of trans fat as long as it has less than 0.5 grams. So just because you see “0g” on a food Nutrition Facts label doesn’t mean it’s trans-fat free. It could have anywhere from 0 to 0.49 grams. The only way to know for sure is to consider the ingredients.
- Experts from the American Heart Association to Dr. Oz say it’s not safe to eat any amount of artificial trans fat.
- There are two types of trans fats: artificial and naturally occurring. A small amount of trans fat is found in certain meat and milk products, because it’s naturally produced in the stomachs of grazing animals like cows and sheep. You don’t need to worry about naturally occurring trans fats if you eat meat in moderation and avoid whole milk. It’s the artificial trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, that health advocates warn about.
- For the average person, the FDA recommends 20 grams of saturated fat, 67 grams of total fat, and 2,000 calories per day.
No. 1: McDonald’s
- Fattiest food: Double quarter pounder with cheese (2.5g trans fat, 19g saturated fat, 42g total fat, 750 calories)
- Fattiest surprise: Many of the McFlurrys, McCafe shakes, frappes, and hot chocolate have up to 1.5 grams of trans fat.
- Our take: All of McDonald’s beef sandwiches have trans fat, so avoid them entirely. In fact, if you’re serious about your health, avoid McDonald’s entirely. They’ve somehow managed to partially hydrogenate everything from McRib buns to sauteed mushrooms.
- See for yourself: Nutrition Facts for Popular Menu Items PDF, Ingredients Listing for Popular Menu Items PDF
No. 2: Subway
Fattiest food: Meatball pepperoni melt (1g trans fat, 12g saturated fat, 29g total fat, 600 calories) and big Philly cheesesteak (1g trans fat, 9g saturated fat, 17g total fat, 500 calories) – and that’s for 6-inch subs, not foot-longs.
Fattiest surprise: You won’t find much trans fat at Subway. Several other meat sandwiches have 0.5 grams, as does a mere 2 ounces of their ranch salad dressing, but that’s about it.
Our take: Subway doesn’t use artificial trans fats and admits a few products that contain meat or milk have “naturally occurring” trans fats. So as long as you’re wary of meat- and milk-heavy products, you can rest assured that your meal is trans-fat free.
- See for yourself: Nutrition Information page, Product Ingredients PDF
No. 3: Starbucks
- Fattiest food: Double iced cinnamon roll (1g trans fat, 12g saturated fat, 20g total fat, 490 calories) and butter croissant (1g trans fat, 11g saturated fat, 18g total fat, 310 calories)
- Fattiest surprise: Cheese and fruit box (0.5g trans fat, 10g saturated fat, 28g total fat, 480 calories)
- Our take: Starbucks stopped using partially hydrogenated oils in 2007, so as long as you go easy on the baked goods, cheeses, and whole milk, you’re safe from fat.
- See for yourself: Drink nutrition facts and ingredients, food nutrition facts and ingredients (note that you have to click on a specific drink or food to view its full nutrition facts and ingredients)
No. 4: Wendy’s
- Fattiest food: 3/4 lb. Triple (4g trans fat, 30g saturated fat, 67g total fat, 1,060 calories)
- Fattiest surprise: Baja salad (1g trans fat, 14g saturated fat, 32g total fat, 540 calories)
- Our take: In 2006, Wendy’s announced that it would no longer cook its fries or chicken in partially hydrogenated oils. Today, they’re still the only fast food restaurant whose fries I’d eat. And they should be commended because, unlike McDonald’s, their Nutrition Facts tool discloses all ingredients in all foods. Just don’t let your guard down: Although their site admits that “consumption of trans fats – often in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – increases the risk of coronary heart disease,” Wendy’s still serves plenty of it. Like McDonald’s, all their hamburgers (even the junior size) have trans fat, as do their chili, Frostys, and a couple of other items.
- See for yourself: Nutrition Information PDF, Nutrition Facts tool
No. 5: Burger King
Fattiest food: Triple Whopper sandwich with cheese (2g trans fat, 32g saturated fat, 82g total fat, 1,230 calories) – even without mayo it still has 2 grams of trans fat and more than 1,000 calories.
Fattiest surprise: Garden fresh salad chicken BLT with Tendercrisp and dressing (0.5g trans fat, 12g saturated fat, 48g total fat, 690 calories)
Our take: Burger King is about as bad as McDonald’s. Items ranging from biscuits to hot fudge topping contain partially hydrogenated oils, and you’ll find trans fats everywhere from breaded chicken items to shakes.
- See for yourself: Nutritionals PDF