It’s no secret that the U.S. has developed an intense love affair for fast food. The on-the-go lifestyle of most people means that a fries and a shake often reign supreme over elaborate, home-cooked meals. It makes sense, too. Why slave over a hot stove after a long day at work when you can just grab a hot n’ ready pizza on your way home?
But there is a noticeable downside to having sinfully delicious foods at your fingertips around the clock, specifically on the waistline. The USA has a bit of a reputation as one of the most unhealthy countries in the world, and our infatuation with trans fats and sugary sodas is a clear culprit.
Even with the recent trends in clean eating and plant-based diets, America hasn’t let go of its greasy habits. And while a giant burrito might be a fun treat after a wild night out, eating fast food habitually won’t do any favors for your overall health.
With countless chain restaurants lining U.S. highways and shopping plazas, it can sometimes feel impossible to avoid the drive-thru. But you can make informed decisions about which of these fast foods to consume and which ones to avoid.
These are the 25 unhealthiest meals found in fast foods restaurants in the USA.
You may have expected to see Wendy’s Baconator on this list, but Dave’s Triple Cheeseburger deserves a mention on the list of unhealthiest fast foods in the USA. According to Wendy’s website, it actually has about 110 more calories than the Baconator despite only having one type of greasy, fatty meat.
Throw in a side of fries and you’re looking at more calories, cholesterol, and fat than many people eat in an entire day let alone per meal.
The next time you drive by a Wendy’s, just keep driving. You might think the cheeseburger is worth it, but will you be able to resist adding a Frosty to your meal on top of everything else? Yeah, probably not.
The smell of Panda Express from across an airport is enough to make fast food fans miss an international flight. People flock to this U.S. chain for fast-casual Chinese food all the time, but rarely do they stop and consider the consequences of consuming an entire styrofoam tray full of high-calorie mall food.
A plate of Beijing Beef with chow mein noodles stays just under the thousand calorie mark at 990. This is about half of the daily recommended amount.
Add in an egg roll and that cute little fortune cookie and you’ve got a gut-busting meal that doesn’t do much for you nutritionally. Still want Panda Express but crave a healthier alternative? Swap out the noodles for mixed vegetables and consider a shrimp dish as your entree.
When Taco Bell forayed into the realm of breakfast the world was understandably intrigued. But some of the items make breakfast seem like the least important meal of the day. You most likely won’t have a productive morning after downing a sloppy Waffle Breakfast Taco.
These handheld “tacos” comes with your choice of sausage, bacon, or plain egg and cheese and, surprisingly, don’t have too many calories. But that doesn’t mean they’re good for breakfast!
Between the waffle and the syrup you’ve got yourself a top-of-the-morning blood sugar spike. And what follows a sugar spike? A crash. Don’t derail your day just for a little Taco Bell.
Some people think Panera Bread is a healthier fast food alternative, but they serve up a fair amount of unhealthy meals, too. Take the Steak and Cheddar Panini, a simple combination of beef, white cheddar, and bread. Sounds harmless, but don't be fooled.
You're getting almost 900 calories of purely refined carbs, processed meat, and fatty cheese.
And since most of Panera's sandwiches come with a side, that surely won't be the end of your caloric feast. Hot tip: choose an apple instead of chips.
Starting to notice a pattern? It seems that giant servings of red meat, fried foods, and cheese aren't the path to a healthy lifestyle. So it's no surprise that the Meat Mountain sandwich at Arby's has earned a place on this list.
Roast beef, ham, brisket AND fried chicken all make an appearance between two buns, forming a gargantuan display of pure USA overindulgence.
This seems like more of a novelty item on the menu, so make sure it's only a novelty item in your diet.
If you're surprised that bacon, beef, cheese, and french fries will give you health problems you may need to retake your high school health class. A classic USA burger is a fun treat here and there, but Five Guys does it so well that it's hard to stay away.
Eat here regularly and you're a shoo-in for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other metabolic issues that will make you wish you'd had a salad. Your skin might not look great, either.
Some people argue that the curly fries at Arby’s are among the best french fries in the U.S. fast-food scene. At some point, Arby’s got the bright idea to amp up the intensity of their fries with a profile of flavors inspired by Greek cuisine.
This resulted in the creation of the Loaded Gyro Fries, a unique addition to the lexicon of french fried fast food delicacies. While this dish offers a refreshing combo of tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, and red onion, it definitely should be considered a full meal instead of a side.
One serving gives you 820 calories to burn and 55 milligrams of cholesterol to reckon with.
And if you order a sandwich to go with it, you can expect an upset stomach.
Burgers are as patriotic as apple pie, hot dogs at a baseball game, and all the other unhealthy meals the U.S. is famous for. But the BBQ Back Rib Thickburger from Carl’s Jr. crosses the line beyond what constitutes as the typical USA burger.
This extreme dish takes a classic pile of fried onion rings, a beef patty, and a barbeque rib patty and smothers it in sweet, sticky sauce.
Oh, and there’s also a bun but who could care about that when you’ve got a mound of pork and beef to contend with? Anyone who can feel good after consuming this sandwich either has an iron stomach or simply isn’t human.
Of course, it has all the usual problems: high calorie count, lots of fat, and a great deal of sodium. But the real shocker is the 32 grams of sugar, which is almost as much as a can of Coca-Cola!
KFC has made it possible for fans of Nashville-style hot chicken to indulge in the spicy regional favorite far beyond the Tennessee state line, but you should make sure to only indulge once in a while. Or maybe even less.
Sure, the chicken meat will give your body some protein to work with. But the oily nature of fried chicken is rough on your stomach AND your arteries. Healthline.com warns against the many perils of a fried diet, explaining that food cooked in oil actually loses water and absorbs MORE fat. You’ll get a huge load of calories and a major dose of trans fat (that’s the bad kind).
The Nashville Hot Chicken meal comes with coleslaw and a buttermilk biscuit, and depending on which other sides you add, you could have a dinner that comes in at over 1,000 calories.
Whether it's chicken or beef, one patty or two, the Rodeo Sandwiches at Burger King are to be missed. The smaller sandwiches aren't too bad, but there's little to no nutritional value to justify them.
The big Rodeo Crispy Chicken Sandwich combines bacon, fried onion rings, sticky barbeque sauce, and of course a slab of big fried chicken. Giddy up on out of Burger King if you don't have excellent health insurance and a couple extra notches in your belt.
While it may not qualify as true southern barbeque, the McRib was an attempt by McDonald’s to diversify their burger-heavy menu. The sandwich was first introduced in 1981, though it became a sensation only when it was reintroduced to the menu in 1994.
You can only get the ‘Limited Time Only’ item every once in a while, adding to its appeal and keeping diners coming back for more time and again. But you may want to skip the McRib the next time it makes an appearance, and for more than one reason.
The sandwich’s 500 calories aren’t the biggest concern; It’s the 70+ ingredients that are a bit scary. According to Business Insider,
the McRib contains azodicarbonamide. Sound familiar? It’s the same flour-bleaching agent recently found in Subway's bread….and yoga mats.
Yoga is healthy, right?
Can you resist the flavor fiesta that is the Taco Bell Steakhouse Nachos box? You may want to try, considering the staggering calorie count which comes in at a staggering 1,130! Not surprisingly, sodium is a big factor here in this Mexican-inspired pile of indulgence.
Salted chips beneath a mountain of meat and melted queso flowing like magma is enough to get anyone’s blood pressure up if eaten on a regular basis.
Go ahead and treat yo’ self every once in a while, but stay away from these meaty nachos if you want positive feedback at your next doctor’s appointment.
This is NOT how you Sonic.
A six-piece order of wings has under 400 calories, but they also give you a whopping 89% of your daily sodium.
And that's just one part of the problem. You'll also be getting some sneaky sugar from both the sweet sauce on the wings AND whatever dipping sauces you might choose.
Overall, it's not really worth it for just six wings. If you do decide to take your chances, you might want to eat vegetables for the rest of the day.
Mornings are one of the easiest times to give in to the temptation of fast food. Late nights and early morning often lead to a breakfast of convenience - something easily obtained at Dunkin Donuts.
In addition to coffee and crullers, their extensive menu of breakfast sandwiches gives groggy commuters a one-stop-shop option for the most important meal of the day. But fans of the Sausage Croissant should reevaluate what constitutes a balanced meal.
The Am Heart Association recommends a maximum of 2,500 milligrams of sodium per day, and this sandwich has 1,370mg.
Combine that with a side of fried hash browns and you’re approaching the ceiling of your daily sodium limit.
Chipotle is known as one of the cleaner menus of the fast-casual dining community. The restaurant prides itself on offering only ‘real’ food, which can be hard to find these days!
You can definitely achieve dietary balance at Chipotle, but that doesn’t mean all of their items are created equal. A big burrito stuffed with chorizo, for example, might not benefit you as much as a leaner protein like chicken.
The giant flour tortilla isn’t so innocent either; Medicaldaily.com reports that the tortilla alone is 300 calories. Considering the burritos are usually also filled with rice, beans, sour cream, and cheese…..well, you can probably see where this is heading.
Ah, carbs. They are an integral piece of the Western diet. If only they were actually good for us. The Pizza Hut Box meals are the ultimately refined carb buffet.
Each box comes with a tray of pasta, two types of pizza, and a slab of breadsticks. Do we even need to get into the calorie count here? The Alfredo pasta alone is a bit too rich for daily consumption, even without the other stuff.
Why do restaurants sell breadsticks with pizza? It’s just more bread for your bread!
Occasional pizza cravings are unavoidable, so go ahead and enjoy a big cheesy pie but try to leave the pasta and breadsticks for another night. This is simply too much food.
Seafood can be an important component of a clean diet...unless it's from Culver's. The beloved Midwestern chain is known for their Butter Burgers and cheese curds, but their Northwoods Walleye Dinner might surpass them as the unhealthiest item on their menu.
While the fish itself might not be so bad, the "battered and deep fried" part adds unnecessary calories and loads of fat.
Don't be fooled by the notion of seafood as lean cuisine, because in the Midwest the fish is fried and the bellies are big.
What do you do when you crave a Po' Boy but can't make it down to Louisiana? Maybe you head to Popeye's for some Louisiana fast fix of Cajun flavors. If that sounds like you, it may be wise to find some recipes of your own and make some leaner options at home.
According to the nutrition information provided by Popeye's, there are about 800 calories in a Catfish Po' Boy, with over half of those calories coming from fat. All that oil and mayo really adds up!
Virtually nobody goes into McDonald's expecting a healthy meal, but you might not be aware of just how unhealthy some of their menu items are. Take the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich Meal, for example.
50% of its calories come from fat and when you add in fries and a gigantic soft drink you're in the coma zone. Don't worry, they've got a grilled chicken sandwich too.
A good rule to follow at McDonald's is "If it's fried, set it aside".
It's tempting to binge during breakfast. It's always touted as the most important meal of the day, so why not go all out? Here's where the Jumbo Breakfast Platter from Jack in the Box comes in. It contains all the U.S. breakfast classics: eggs, pancakes, hash browns, and your choice of breakfast or sausage. But you may not want to start your day with such a huge dose of sodium, cholesterol, and sugar.
It'll give you a quick endorphin rush at the beginning, but you'll end up feeling sluggish and unfocused for the rest of the day.
Waffle House might not technically be a traditional fast-food restaurant, but just because you're sitting in a booth doesn't mean the menu is any healthier. There are countless ways to blow your diet at Waffle House, but if there's one thing to stay away from it's Papa Joe's Pork Chop and Eggs breakfast.
The 2-chop plate is over 1,000 calories. That's quite a lot for one meal. Wash it down with a side of grits and you've got almost all your daily calorie allowance wiped out. Sorry, Papa Joe.
This footlong sub from Jersey Mike's is huge. And no matter what you put on a sandwich, if it surpasses 6 inches you're just asking for stomach pains. The best thing you can do is avoid the Big Kahuna, which resembles a standard cheese steak sandwich in its composition. At the end of the day, it's just a lot of mass.
16 inches worth of any food eaten at once is going to put a lot of stress on your body. Do your health a favor and downsize!
Hot dogs are already questionable, why do we have to bring chili and cheese into the mix? Coney dogs are a nostalgic culinary callback to the days of Coney Island. A USA classic, they certainly fit in with the nation's fast food landscape of fattening favorites.
Regardless of calorie count, you'll want to forego the processed meats that lie between these buns.
The World Health Organization classifies processed meats as a carcinogen, meaning you could be putting yourself at increased risk for certain cancers.
The tricky thing about White Castle is that all of the items are small, and none of them alone will really ruin your daily diet. But because of their quaint size, most people will order multiple Sliders, and they all vary on the nutrition spectrum.
If there's one Slider to avoid it's the Fish slider, thanks mostly to the trans fats generated from the deep frying process. Luckily, White Castle has a tasty selection of veggie sliders available in fun and interesting flavors.
Whether you go with the zesty Garlic Parmesan or the spicy Buffalo Wings, you won't find health and happiness by lunching at Checkers.
The cholesterol levels in these wings are so high you might trigger a coronary event right in the restaurant. Checkers' shakes, fries, and other decadent fast food items will only add to your post-meal misery.
Keep driving when you see Checkers and head to the nearest fresh produce stand. Your body will thank you, especially your heart.