In the past year there has been a lot of talk about what the United States contributes to the international community. One aspect of American culture that has certainly spread to other countries is our obsession with fast food. There was a time when there were only a handful of fast food corporations jockeying for our dinner money but now it seems like there is a different franchise on every block.
The influx of fast food places has taken a noticeable toll on the health of the American public. The United States has a major problem with obesity and fast food consumption is one of the primary causes. As such, this list will countdown America's 20 most unhealthy fast food chains.
Most of these you will have heard of but some of them may have escaped your notice. Some regional chains are only available in certain parts of the country, while others, like McDonalds, are available worldwide. The only thing that these fast food chains have in common is that the majority of their menu is incredibly unhealthy. If you can think of any unhealthy fast food chains that didn’t make our list, feel free to mention them in the comments.
20 Smashburger - A Decent Price For A Not So Decent Meal
They recently opened a Smashburger in my city, so I stopped by to see what the fuss was about. Smashburger bills itself as the fastest growing fast food chain in the country and I realized why immediately upon entering their restaurant. Fast food prices have experienced significant spikes in the past decade but this restaurant has apparently avoided the trend. Despite selling more high-quality products than Burger King or McDonalds, Smashburger’s prices were only slightly higher than either of these giant corporations.
With Smashburger’s prices being so low, it raises the chance that customers will overeat.
Therefore, even though their food itself might not be as bad as some other entries, the overall result is the same.
19 McDonalds - Even If It’s Not Supersized
Believe it or not, there was a time when people didn’t know how unhealthy McDonalds was. This was until a documentary called Supersize Me. The man in the documentary only ate McDonalds, for every meal, for several weeks and he got so sick that they had to end the experiment early or risk his life. McDonalds made several changes to their menu in response to the backlash from this film. The most famous of these changes was when they abandoned their “supersize me” program. Despite these changes, McDonalds still isn’t very healthy.
It is consistently ranked as one of the worst offending fast food places in the entire country.
18 Quiznos - It Isn’t Just Fries
When most people think of fast food restaurants they think of places that sell burgers and french fries. This is usually accompanied by a misconception that burger restaurants are more unhealthy than other types of fast food. This is not universally true. A good example of this is Quiznos. Quiznos is often compared to Subway but this is only because they both sell subs. While Subway has consciously made its food increasingly healthier, however, Quiznos product is anything but.
Their food is incredibly greasy and the way that they prepare their subs is meant to harness all of this grease.
17 Harold and Kumar Get Fat at White Castle
White Castle is a weird restaurant. People who haven’t lived in New Jersey or Philadelphia have probably never been to White Castle but almost everyone under the age of 35 has heard of this fast food chain. Part of this can be attributed to the cult classic Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, but there is also something to the unique experience that White Castle provides.
This restaurant isn’t known for its full burger, it is famous for its sliders. These little burgers trick people into thinking they haven’t eaten that much food when, in reality, they have just scarfed down the equivalent of three full-sized burgers with a single serve of sliders.
16 Getting Shook at Shake Shack
Many of the restaurants on this list are especially unhealthy because they offer something (besides the standard fast food fare) that isn't good for their customers. In the case of Shake Shack, I am talking about alcohol.
Shake Shack first began to gain national notoriety because they offered hard milkshakes. I can personally attest that Shake Shack's regular milkshakes are very good, so I can see how people could over indulge in them.
Therefore, even though the actual food at Shake Shack may be healthier than the food at other fast food restaurants, they still deserve a spot on this list.
15 5 Guys and A Stomachache
A recent survey found that Five Guys is the most popular fast food restaurant in America. This ranking system was not based on how many people eat there every year (this ranking is obviously dominated by McDonalds), it was based on how people who ate fast food a lot ranked the restaurants based on 5 criteria.
Five Guys is also the favorite fast food restaurant of this author. Five Guys might be winning the eye of the public but it isn't winning over health critics. They consistently rank it as one of the unhealthiest meals that people can eat.
14 Dairy Queen- The Queen of Unhealthy Food
Dairy Queen makes this list because it offers something that most other fast food places don't: ice cream.
Sure, you can get a cone or a flurry at most large chains, but nowhere else can you sample the wide array of sugary treats that DQ has to offer.
A couple of years ago, I saw a commercial for a triple later Oreo pie. There is no way that this is a healthy eating option.
I am guilty of enjoying Dairy Queen's $5 lunch deal but I will try to go there less after compiling this list.
13 Wendy's - The Sneaky Red-Head
If there was any entry on this list that was my Achilles heel, it would be Wendy’s. All of their food is great but I especially love that I can get chili as a side instead of french fries. I was therefore devastated when I learned how incredibly unhealthy Wendy’s food is (even by fast food standards). Even my beloved chili is full of things that a person shouldn’t be eating on a regular basis.
I would be lying if I said that I had sworn off Wendy’s all together but I have certainly cut back since I've learned about all the health risks related to eating their food.
12 Burger King - Second Fiddle is Still Bad
Can you imagine being a lifelong Burger King employee? As if it’s not bad enough that you’ve dedicated your life to a giant fast food conglomerate, you are constantly stuck playing second fiddle to those clowns (pun intended) at McDonalds.
It seems like everything Burger King does is a step behind their top competitor and the company never achieved the iconic status that the golden arches have.
One area where BK was able to get a leg up on its competitors was its healthy food division. But even the 100-calorie menu at Burger King isn’t entirely healthy. It’s only healthier in comparison to the normal menu.
11 In-N-Out - and Out Again
Most Americans have never experienced In-N-Out burger because it only has restaurant locations on the west coast. Those who have tasted this legendary burger are generally happy with their experience but their digestive tracks are not.
From what I have read about In-N-Out is that the name describes how easy it is to get your food and go. But it also describes the food's interaction with your digestion...
In-N-Out is incredibly greasy, and eating it comes with all the negative consequences that always come with eating greasy food. This is one aspect of the west coast that the east coast would be better without.
10 Arby’s - Can't Trust Those Curly Fries
Unlike some other entries on this list, Arby's is very forthcoming about the ingredients for their famous roast beef sandwiches. While we applaud this fast food chain for their honesty, after looking at said ingredients, I cannot label Arby's food as anything other than unhealthy.
There are a lot of health concerns with Arby's product but the thing that I found most disturbing was that almost everything on the menu had an extremely high salt content. Eating there is just a heart attack waiting to happen. It doesn’t help that their food is so delicious that you find yourself wanting second helpings.
9 Pizza Hut - Fast Food Or Not?
I had an internal debate over whether any (or all) pizza can be considered fast food. It can be prepared with a quickness that corresponds with fast food but pizza seems like its own, distinct industry. If pizza can be considered a fast food, Pizza Hut is certainly the fast foodiest. The Hut is all about cutting cost and standardization, two pillars of the fast food industry. Another reason why Pizza Hut resembles fast food is how unhealthy it is.
There are more calories in a single slice of Pizza Hut pizza than there are in several items from McDonalds dollar menu.
8 Charlie’s Cheesesteaks - 12 Inches of Heart Attack
The restaurant Charlie’s Cheesesteaks is an anomaly to me. I have never seen one in a normal location, I have only seen them in food courts at shopping malls or airports. I have eaten there, and the food is good, so that isn’t what keeps Charlies from expanding past the food court market.
I have a theory: Charlie’s is so unhealthy that only people who are almost forced to eat it (such as at airports with limited options) will choose to do so regularly.
I found Charlie’s delicious, but even I have to admit that the food tasted incredibly unhealthy.
7 Chick-fil-A - Monday Through Friday
When I attended college at West Virginia University, one of the best things about the school was their food court. We could use our meal swipes at several chain restaurants, including Chick-fil-A.
I liked Chick-fil-A, but not as much as some of my friends did. One kid, in particular, ate it just about every day for lunch and dinner. By the end of the semester he was hospitalized for being malnourished.
I know that there aren't practically any foods that are healthy enough for someone to eat every day but this story leaves a lasting impression of Chick-fil-A’s health benefits.
6 Chipotle - A Buffet of artery blockers
I was in college when the Chipotle craze hit America. The Hispanic food server was very popular among kids my age, meaning it was constantly displayed all over social media. This led to even more people trying it and Chipotle began building new stores to meet this demand. But is it good for you? The short answer is no.
Chipotle isn't as dependent on grease as some of the other foods on this list but they still use a lot of artificial flavors and extracts that aren't good for our bodies.
Also, the buffet style that Chipotle uses encourages overeating.
5 Sonic - Not Even Fit For A Hedgehog
The coolest thing about Sonic is the unique eating experience that it provides. Instead of ordering food at the counter like you would at a normal fast food restaurant, Sonic allows its customers to pull up to a parking station, order over an intercom, and have their food brought out to them.
This is totally different from any other fast food place that I have ever been to. One thing that isn’t different about Sonic is the quality of their food. They push the same greasy dribble that ever other burger and fries place does. The only exception is their milkshakes, which are also unhealthy.
4 Panda Express - Grease, Sickness, and Cultural Differences
For a longtime, Panda Express held a mythical place in the back of my mind. I love fast food and I love Chinese food, so why wouldn’t I like a place that incorporates both. I tried Panda Express for the first time last year and I was not impressed. I could taste the grease on the food and I felt incredibly bloated and tired afterwards.
Chinese food isn’t supposed to be healthy anyways, at least not the way we eat it. The food was designed for the smaller portions that they eat in Asia, so when Americans gorge themselves on it, it can be very fattening.
3 Taco Bell - Fake Meat But Real Fat
I honestly have no idea what the meat at Taco Bell is made out of. Even worse, I’m not sure if I want to know.
The founders of Taco Bell were able to build a multi-billion-dollar company selling a “meat like” substance covered in cheap toppings.
This is certainly an impressive accomplishment but it does not bode well for the health of people who eat Taco Bell on a daily basis. Ignoring the suspicious nature of their meat product, almost every item on Taco Bell’s menu has an extremely high fat and sodium content. Many people enjoy Taco Bell but they probably will not enjoy the heart problems that go with it.
2 KFC - Not Actually Made In Kentucky
I abhor Kentucky Fried Chicken. My siblings loved it, so when I was growing up, I was always outvoted and made to go there for dinner. As I have grown older, my feelings toward the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices has not grown. My own biases aside, KFC is not good for you.
It is owned by the same company that owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell and that should tell you everything that you need to know about the quality of their chicken.
KFC pitches their product as a home-cooked meal, as opposed to traditional fast food, making it all the more dangerous.
1 Cinnabon - My Dream Come True
I have never been to a Cinnabon before but it is certainly on my bucket list. You may have already figured out that I actually like fast food. I am also an avid eater of cinnamon rolls. To me, this sounds like Cinnabon and myself were a match made in heaven. The only obstacle? Cinnabon’s food is very bad for you.
Their pastries are made up almost entirely of sugar and carry almost no nutritional value. This will not stop me from sampling their wares someday, but it will prevent me from letting it become an everyday habit.