How to Survive a Fast Food Worst-Case Scenario

Following the lead of Wilt Chamberlain, Adam vacated his native Philadelphia for Los Angeles following decades of acclaim and short shorts. He firmly believes that, when it comes to the opportunity for change, we’re on the goal line with bases loaded and no fouls to give. He also finds inspiration in mixed sports metaphors.
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Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Get a chance to read the 2,409 pages of the healthcare reform bill? Neither did we. But we do have interns, and they found a piece of the new legislation that’s set to keep fast food brutally honest.

A clause in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act section 2405 will soon require chain restaurants to post their menu’s nutrition information point blank to the public. Calories, fat, trans fat, sodium—all the bad news in black and white. The underlying hope is that Americans will take the information to heart and make the right diet choices, thereby staying healthy and out of hospitals. The reality is, fast food’s like manna from heaven, so we’re not making any plans to pass it up. 

Fast food is loaded with the most of everything we should eat the least, but we’re human and hungry, and eating bad’s just plain tasty. Rather than kicking our afternoons off with food comas and four-figure calorie counts, however, we’re only eating the best of the worst. We may like our burgers greasy, but we like our hearts beating, too. And fast food’s just so much better than hospital food.

So with a little research, we've pulled together the guiltiest fast food joints and made a menu of worst-case scenario tips. Naturally, our TakePart Health Editors would prefer you cook some grass-fed beef and organic veggies at home, but they lost a bet, and this is for science.

In all cases, size matters: less food equals less calories. It's simple math. Show some restraint. Chances are, unless it’s your first and last meal in months, you don’t need a Triple Whopper. Lunch isn't a contest, and if it was, you don’t want to win first place. Trust us on this one.

Here goes. Remember: only if you have to.

French Fries: McDonald’s Small Fries

Verdict: Out of the big three fast food chains (McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King), the Golden Arches scored the best. Just remember to stay small; less is definitely less when you’re talking fast food.
230 calories, 11 grams of fat (1.5g saturated), and 160 mg of sodium.

Classic Burgers: Wendy’s Junior Hamburger

Verdict: Size matters. A Junior Hamburger might sound like something off a kids’ menu, but it’ll save you a ton of time when you’re counting calories. Wendy’s puts one together with all the classic fixings, and without the subsequent food coma. 

230 calories, 8 grams of fat (3g saturated), and 500 mg of sodium

Signature Burgers: Burger King’s Junior Whopper

Verdict: Again, size matters, so go junior whenever possible. BK’s Junior Whopper is about half the size in nearly every belt-busting category than its proud pappy, the Whopper. Plus our interns assure us that Whoppers are only for people with something to prove.  Doubly so for Double Whoppers.

370 calories, 21 grams of fat (6g of saturated), and 570mg of sodium

Chicken Sandwiches:  KFC’s BBQ Honey Snacker

Verdict: Grilled chicken sandwiches generally beat burgers head-to-head where health’s concerned. The best of the big guys is KFC’s BBQ Honey Snacker, hickory-flavored honey goodness with just a tad of guilt.

270 calories, 3.5 grams of fat (0.5g saturated), and 530mg of sodium

Shakes: Arby’s 16oz Chocolate Shake

Verdict: Don’t do it. Seriously. You got your fries, you got your burger, just have a glass of water. But if you absolutely must, Arby’s 16-ouncer is as good as you’re gonna get in the dessert-disguised-as-a-drink category. Sleep tight.

507 calories, 13 grams of fat (8g saturated), and 357mg sodium

Dessert: McDonald’s Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream Cone

Verdict: Some days we get a kick out of self-loathing, and there’s no faster way to get there than washing down Mickey D’s with dessert. Sure it’s reduced fat, but if you made it this far in the meal, it’s clear you’ll eat anything.

150 calories, 3 grams of fat (3g saturated), 75mg of sodium

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