Comparing Fast Food Restaurants

When you must eat at a fast food restaurant, here is information to help you decide the healthiest option.

Everyone knows that fast food is not the best option when you are trying to lose weight, or just eat healthier. However, there are times in life when we have no option but to eat fast food. The kids are insisting on going to a birthday party at one with a play place or you are on the road at meal time and you are starving.

As everyone knows, fast food restaurants tend to pop up in clusters, so it is rare that you will only have one to choose from. What is interesting is that a comparison of the three biggest fast food chains – Burger King, Hardees and McDonald’s – yields some surprising results, not only in which offers healthier choices, but in the nutrition of some of the choices that most people would automatically think are healthy.

Common Menu Items

Let’s start off with the most commonly ordered food at a fast food restaurant. At McDonald’s that would be a Big Mac, large fries and a large cola. Hardees claims the 1/3 pound Cheese Thickburger, large fries and large cola to be its most commonly ordered item. Burger King customers order a Whopper, large fries and large cola most often.

There is no doubt that none of these three meals are the best choice. Looking at McDonald’s nutrition values, the Big Mac has 540 calories, 29 grams of fat, 75 mg of cholesterol and a whopping 1,040 mg of sodium (the average person should not consume more than 2,400 mg of sodium per day). The fries carry 500 calories, 25 grams of fat, no cholesterol and 350 mg of sodium. The soda – 160 calories and 10 mg of sodium. This meal totals to 1,200 calories, 79 grams of fat, 1,400 mg of sodium.

The Hardees meal is even worse. The Thickburger has 620 calories, 33 grams of fat, 80 mg of cholesterol and 1,580 mg of sodium; the fries have 470 calories, 21 grams of fat, 5 mg of cholesterol and 1,640 mg of sodium; the soda has 160 calories, and 10 mg of sodium. After eating this meal, you would have consumed 1,350 calories, 54 grams of fat, 85 mg of cholesterol and 3,210 mg of sodium.

Burger King’s Whopper meal, though a little better than Hardees overall, beats McDonald’s in some areas but not in others. The Whopper, with everything on it, has 670 calories, 40 grams of fat, 75 mg of cholesterol and 980 mg of sodium, making it a bit higher in calories than McDonald’s but lower in sodium. The fries had 540 calories, 27 grams of fat, 75 mg of cholesterol and 830 mg of sodium. The soda was 380 calories and 10 mg of sodium. This meal totals 1,590 calories, 67 grams of fat, 75 mg of cholesterol and 1,082 mg of sodium.

Not So Healthy Options

Of course, if you are embarking on a healthy lifestyle, these would probably not be the meals you would choose. Honestly, once you start eating more healthy, these meals are far too much food for you and frankly, you won’t enjoy them after you eat them. But do not jump to the conclusion about what might be a healthier choice before reading further.

The immediate thought is that a grilled chicken sandwich with no cheese or sauces would be the best choice. Research shows however that this is not always the case. McDonald’s offers a grilled chicken sandwich. However, the nutrition values on their website do not give you the option of removing sauces and cheese. Hardees offers a Charbroiled Chicken Club and their site also does not allow you to remove toppings to get nutrition information. Burger King offers a Grilled Chicken Sandwich and you can remove ingredients to get nutrition info, so the values shown do not include sauce or cheese.

McDonald’s Grilled Chicken sandwich has 420 calories, 10 grams of fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 1,190 mg of sodium. Burger King’s Grilled Chicken sandwich had 370 calories, 7 grams of fat, 75 mg of cholesterol and 1,210 mg of sodium. Hardees Charbroiled Chicken Club had 630 calories, 32 grams of fat, 80 mg of cholesterol and 1,730 mg of sodium. Although healthier than the Whopper, Thickburger and Big Mac the sodium content of the grilled chicken sandwiches was actually higher in some cases.

Another option offered by fast food restaurants now are salads. However, Hardees only offers a garden side salad, so we will not compare salads at the three restaurants. Without dressing, however, be aware that the salads offered often have high sodium content even before the dressing is added.

The Surprising Best Choice

So, what is the best choice if you are forced to eat at one of these places? Surprisingly, at all three, the best meal choice is a hamburger, small fries and a water or unsweetened tea. Do not be fooled into thinking that a sweet tea is better than a soda, as McDonald’s sweet tea (32 oz) has 280 calories. A large soda only has 160 calories.

A hamburger at McDonald’s has 250 calories, 9 grams of fat, 25 mg of cholesterol and 520 mg of sodium; a small order of fries has 230 calories, 11 grams of fat, no cholesterol and 160 mg of sodium. Add a water or unsweetened tea and your total intake for this meal is 480 calories, 20 grams of fat, 25 mg of cholesterol, 680 mg of sodium. You could add a second hamburger and still have less sodium and calories than the grilled chicken.

At Hardees, a hamburger has 310 calories, 15 grams of fat, 35 mg of cholesterol, 500 mg of sodium; a small fries has 320 calories, 14 grams of fat, no cholesterol and 710 mg of sodium. This meal comes in at 630 calories, 29 grams of fat, 35 mg of cholesterol, and 1,210 mg of sodium. Although this meal is slightly higher than McDonald’s their burgers are a bit bigger and more filling.

Burger King’s hamburger comes in at 260 calories, 10 grams of fat, 35 mg of cholesterol and 490 mg of sodium. A small order of fries has 340 calories, 17 grams of fat, no cholesterol and 530 mg of sodium. At 600 calories, 27 grams of fat, 35 mg of cholesterol and 1,020 mg of sodium, this meal is comparable to McDonald’s in everything but sodium.

When making choices at fast food restaurants, it is important to be aware that what appears to be the obvious choice for healthy foods may not necessarily be so. Most fast food places have their nutrition information on display now and it never hurts to look that over before ordering. And whatever you do, never supersize your choice if good nutrition is a priority.

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