McDonalds has reached a level of notoriety, in the United States and globally, that few other companies can match. As the leader of the fast food industry, it was one of the primary beneficiaries of the industry's explosion in the 20th century. When the industry faced a downturn, however, McDonalds was also the company that faced the most negative attention.
Fast food restaurants have been targeted recently for their questionable employer tactics, use of tax loopholes, and the unhealthy nature of their food. McDonalds certainly shouldn’t be considered as a healthy choice, but does it deserve all the negative attention that it gets? I would argue that there are several fast food restaurants in the world that are unhealthier than McDonalds. In fact, this article will discuss 25 fast food chains around the world way more unhealthy than McDonald's.
A lot of these fast food places should be familiar to our US readers, though there are a handful that are found only outside of the United States. It is also important to note that I have taken a broad approach to what can be considered "fast food". I am not a health nut by any means, my only hope is that this article will give the general public a chance to make their own decisions about which fast food chains are the healthiest.
Those of you who live in the United States might not have heard of Pizza Pizza but I'm sure our Canadian readers have. Pizza Pizza is one of the most popular pizza franchises in the great white north, and by popular, I mean that there is one on almost every street corner in Toronto. One reason why I noticed Pizza Pizza in Toronto was because they will sell you a huge slice of pizza for only $3.00.
The reason that they can sell their slices so cheaply is because they are made of terrible ingredients.
This next entry should come with the disclaimer that I can't stand Popeyes. I am fine with some unhealthy food, as long as it tastes good, but Popeyes doesn't even have that going for it. Their chicken is habitually dry and they have the worst sides in fast food history. To top this all off, their food isn't even good for you to eat.
Their chicken is pumped full of preservatives. Popeyes has also come under fire for the way that they prepare their food. If you have ever seen the type of people that work at a Popeyes restaurant, this should be enough to make you second guess your order.
All that you have to do is look at a Wendy's hamburger to know that this is true. I love Wendy's but the amount of grease that they cook into their food doesn't exactly make me feel great the next morning. In addition, Wendy's hasn't made a concerted attempt to make their menu healthier like McDonalds has.
Their salad options are very limited and they include chili and a baked potato as their "healthy" options. Another of their signature items, the chocolate frosty, is also very unhealthy.
KFC has become the official name of this fast food brand after a court ruled that they cannot legally keep their name as "Kentucky Fried Chicken." This has been the companies name for decades but changes to their product have been so drastic that the food they produce cannot technically be classified as chicken. This isn't the only reason why KFC should be considered as unhealthy as McDonald's.
The manner in which they prepare their food has also come under fire in recent years. This means that the company is using unhealthy ingredients to make your food in an unhealthy manner.
I always get pumped up for a trip to Sonic, only to be disappointed once I start eating my food. Their gimmick is so cool that it manages to draw people in, despite the fact that the food itself is unhealthy.
Verywell Fit had this to say about Sonics drive thru system "Like almost every burger joint, healthy food at Sonic is limited. Sonic's menu is based primarily on their beef hamburgers and fried potato or onion side dishes. There are some chicken selections offered, but most of them are fried."
If you have eaten a full sonic meal, however, you know that their food is just filled with grease. I have gotten sandwiches there where the bread was completely soaked through by the grease. This can't be good for your digestive system.
Whether the food that you get from gas stations can fairly be considered fast food could be its own article but for the purposes of this piece, it counts. There are several gas station chains that make their own food but my favorite, and potentially the unhealthiest, is Sheetz.
You can get everything from pizza to French fries at Sheetz, and everything that you get is as unhealthy as you would expect from a tiny gas station kitchen. One aspect of Sheetz that makes it worthy of a spot in the article is that you can get your food without ever interacting with an actual person. This means that people can pig out without having to worry about being judged.
In the past several decades, the Chinese economy has exploded on a scale that is unmatched in the modern era. The influx of production in the country has largely not been accompanied by the safety and health regulations that we take for granted in the United States. This is great news for Master Kong's Chef Table, one of the biggest chain restaurants in China.
People in China love Master Kong's but they get away with putting a ton of unhealthy ingredients into their food. The same, however, could be said for the U.S. based fast food franchises that have opened all over China.
I have lived in Boston for more than two years and I have finally gotten used to seeing a Dunkin Donuts on every street corner. New England loves their Dunkins, which might explain why they have high rates of obesity in this part of the country. Everything on the Dunkin's menu is packed with either sugar or carbs.
Dunkin' proposed a plan to eliminate donuts from their menu and just sell coffee but it was met with significant opposition. The worst thing about it might be the fact that people are regularly eating it for breakfast, right when they are starting their day.
For some reason, people think that only giant chain restaurants are fast food. How something is prepared determines if it is fast food or not, so even an individually owned restaurant can be classified as fast food. These small shops have an even greater chance of being unhealthy than someplace like McDonald's because they are not being targeted by the authorities.
State and federal officials keep a close eye on fast food corporations to make sure that they are not skirting any FDA regulations, but they do not give the same attention to smaller businesses.
Smashburger is an up and coming fast food chain that has just recently expanded into Massachusetts. I think that Food Network says it best when it describes Smashburger: “as with many quick-serve joints, there are not-so-healthy and better-for-you menu options to choose from.”
Smashburger might be the new thing in fast food but that doesn't mean that it's the healthiest option. Many of their meals are packed with calories. I haven't seen any major complaints about the food being unhealthy but as the restaurant becomes more popular, you will see people complaining about the amount of grease in their burger.
This one is always a toss up. Like Coke and Pepsi, McDonald's and Burger King are so similar that people can't help but to constantly compare them. I actually prefer Burger King out of the two but I have to admit that it seems like McDonald's is the healthier option.
Supersize Me changed things at the Golden Arches and they have been forced to adopt healthier options to keep the press off of their back. Burger King hasn't had the same pressure, and it shows in their menu options. Burger King will have to get more healthy choices if they hope to compete with McDonald's in the new frontier of fast food.
Dairy Queen is consistently ranked as one of the unhealthiest fast food restaurants in the world. Not only are people getting the actual food at DQ, which is unhealthy, they are also getting dessert afterwards.
Therefore, this fast food joint has twice the potential of clogging your arteries and causing you to pack on extra pounds. McDonald's has some frozen treats but nowhere near the variety and selection of DQ.
I think you could argue that any place that is primarily a pizza shop can be considered a fast food restaurant, but at the very least, Pizza Hut should be. They mass produce pizzas with little regard for any artistry. The head chefs at Pizza Hut are also uninterested in making their menu especially healthy.
They do offer a salad bar but does anyone go to Pizza Hut for the salad bar? No, they go to stuff their face with one of the Hut’s signature meat lovers, or dessert pizzas.
I’ve never been to a Jollibee’s but one look at their menu tells me everything that I need to know about how healthy this fast food franchise is. Jollibee is a giant restaurant chain that has most of its 1500 outlets in the Philippines. Jollibee offers a lot of Asian cuisine but you can also order things like hot dogs, hamburgers, and fried chicken. But none of the litany of options at Jollibee can be considered especially healthy.
The food and health regulations in the Philippines are notoriously lax, so they can get away with a lot more than they would in the states.
There is no way that I could let Chipotle escape from this article unscathed. One of the most popular restaurants among college-aged students, Chipotle has recently come under fire for a string of illnesses tied to their product. Over the past three years there have been four separate E. coli outbreaks caused by improperly stored food at Chipotle.
A lot of the other entries in this article can cause health problems over time, but people who have been eating Chipotle have experienced immediate sickness as a result of their decision.
Jack in the Box not only has one of the creepiest mascots of any restaurant in the United States, they also have some of the unhealthiest menu options. One thing that always deters me from going to Jack in the Box (besides a fear of their mascot) is that I can always tell that their food is precooked.
Everyone knows that the burgers at McDonald's are made from frozen patties, but you can’t always tell when you’re eating it. You can at Jack in the Box. If the ingredients that they use are so bad that the person eating them can tell, can you imagine how bad they really are?
A couple of years ago I tried to find a White Castle near my house but was disappointed to find that they are now only found in the New York and New Jersey area. After doing some research, it seems like White Castle was the product of a bygone era. White Castle was very relevant in the 1990s when their cheap prices and bite sized burgers fit in perfectly with the 90s culture.
As people have moved further away from fast food in general, White Castle has suffered. These days, Harold and Kumar would probably be taking their fabled trip to some local pizza shop.
A have a personal anecdote that should relate how unhealthy the food at Chick Fil A is. When I was an undergrad, we could use our meal swipes at several fast food places on campus. My roommate would eat at Chick Fil A at least once a day, except on Sundays. By October of that year (less than two months into the semester), he was hospitalized for malnutrition.
The food at Chick Fil A is so devoid of necessary vitamins and minerals, that my roommate had to have an insulin drip, despite eating normal meals for breakfast and lunch.
If you have ever had Arby’s signature roast beef sandwich, you know that they are delicious. What makes them so delicious? Tons and tons of salt. My one friend refuses to go to Arby’s because everything on the menu makes him so thirsty. Once again, this can be traced back to the fact that Arby’s uses a ton of sodium in its food. This might make their food tastier but it is also terrible for the health of their customers.
Arby’s does offer a baked potato as a healthy side but everyone that I know ends up getting the curly fries anyways.
Cane's is the official sponsor of the University of Alabama football team, need I say more? This fast food restaurant sells a brand of chicken (and other down-homewares) that are beloved across the Mississippi River delta. Southern cooking may be delicious but it is rarely healthy. The picture above should give you some idea of the artery clogging deliciousness that fills Cane's menu.
The only thing good about Cane's is that it is mostly limited to the South, whereas you can find a McDonald's almost anywhere. So at least it is unhealthy on a lesser scale.
There are certain foods that I feel comfortable getting from a fast food restaurant. A burger and fries are usually a safe choice, as is pizza. I would not, however, recommend getting seafood from a fast food place. But this is exactly what Nordsee, a famous fast food restaurant in continental Europe, does.
This review from TripAdvisor should give you an idea about the quality of seafood that Nordsee sells: “I am amazed on many people just give excellent rating for something that is nothing more than average and not knowing the bad elements behind farmed fish and deep frying.”
This is not a risk that I am willing to take.
When most people think of fast food icons, they think of burger places like Burger King or McDonald's. Taco Bell, however, breaks the mold by being a fast food Mexican restaurant. But this doesn't mean that it is any healthier than those other brands. The ground beef that Taco Bell puts in its wraps is especially suspect. This meat is technically vegan, which begs the question, what is it made out of? It clearly isn't real ground beef.
The questionable nature of the ingredients that they use is just one reason why Taco Bell is less healthy than McDonald's.
You cannot take a road trip into the great white north without encountering a Tim Hortons. Canada is filled with this donut/coffee shop (named after a former NHL player, because Canada) and it has even bled into upstate New York.
The coffee at Tim Horton’s is fine, but every piece of food on their menu is packed with sugar. Donuts are their most popular fare, and they are so sweet that they are infamous for causing toothaches. I wonder if Tim Horton ate this much unhealthy food when he was the goalie for the Buffalo Sabres.
Places like Quiznos should be thanking their lucky stars for how popular Subway has become. Subway pours a ton of money into its marketing campaign, making it seem like a healthy alternative to fast food places. Other sub shops like Quiznos have gotten the run off from this campaign, and I think that most people would be surprised to learn how unhealthy their food really is.
You would have to eat two McDonald's value meals to equal the calories in one Quiznos sandwich. If you have ever seen a Quiznos sandwich, you know that it takes more than one to fill up a normal person.
You can say what you want about their food but Domino’s should get some credit for the way that they are constantly revolutionizing their delivery service. You can not only get your Domino’s pizza delivered to several hot spots throughout your city, you can also track your pizza from the kitchen to your house.
All of these measures are meant to make getting Domino’s more convenient but that might not be best for everyone's health. Domino’s pizzas are full of sodium and every dessert on their menu has a chance to clog your arteries.
References: Food Network, Trip Advisor, EatThis, Verywell Fit