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14 Worst Fast Food Chains for Your Health

We all have those busy days when hunger pangs strike, there’s nothing in the fridge, and the lure of our favorite food chain or the drive-thru seems like the perfect solution. Fast food often appears to be the answer to our hectic lifestyles, but is it really worth it?

Numerous studies show that regular fast food consumption increases the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. A study found that eating fast food more than twice a week is linked to a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Beyond the excessive calories in burgers and fries, fast food poses additional health risks due to hidden ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, preservatives, and processing agents that can damage the body.

Here are the 14 unhealthiest fast-food chains and an in-depth look at the detrimental ingredients and practices contributing to their rankings.

1. Arby’s

Healthy and filling roastbeef sandwich
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Arby’s is popular for its roast beef sandwiches, which might seem healthier than a typical burger, but the truth is quite different. These sandwiches and sides often come loaded with calories, fats, and sodium. For example, their Half Pound Beef’ n Cheddar sandwich packs in a whopping 740 calories, 39 grams of fat, and 2,530 milligrams of sodium.

Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, many of Arby’s menu items contain processed meats, which are linked to a higher risk of certain cancers.

On top of being unhealthy, Arby’s is also on the pricier side. No wonder many customers are frustrated with the food’s quality and consistency these days. 

2. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

Fried Chicken on Square White Plate
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Popeyes is well-known for its fried chicken, which, while undeniably delicious, often comes at the expense of your health. The extensive use of batter frying and rich, creamy sauces significantly elevates the calorie count and fat content of their dishes.

A favorite on their menu, the spicy chicken sandwich, is particularly concerning from a health view. It packs nearly 700 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat  (more than the American Heart Association recommends for your entire day!), and 1,634 milligrams of sodium.

Additionally, the use of preservatives and additives to enhance flavor and shelf-life further detracts from the nutritional value.  So, enjoy it as a treat, but not as a staple!

3. Sonic Drive-in

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Sonic Drive-In is a unique drive-in experience where carhops still deliver food directly to your car, which is fun and convenient. However, the restaurant’s menu is a health hazard. 

Burgers, hot dogs, and fried foods are high in calories and fat, which can damage cardiovascular health and contribute to rapid weight gain. Furthermore, their sugar-laden slushes and shakes only add to the unhealthy mix. These drinks provide empty calories without any nutritional benefit. One serving of their much-loved “Sonic Cherry Limeade” contains 65 grams of sugar.

Moreover, in 2018, Sonic Drive-In faced heavy criticism when three employees were arrested for placing an ecstasy pill in a kid’s meal hamburger. The incident damaged Sonic’s reputation and called for the need for stricter food safety protocols.

4. Jack in the Box

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In 1993, Jack in the Box faced a major health crisis due to an E. coli outbreak from their hamburgers. Four children died, and over 700 people got seriously ill because of undercooked beef patties contaminated with E. coli. 

In response, Jack in the Box improved its food safety measures and started testing meat for pathogens. However, while the restaurant is trying to introduce healthier options, the core menu remains heavily processed and calorie-rich (but nutrient-devoid).

The Ultimate Cheeseburger, for instance, contains 820 calories, 59 grams of fat, and 1780 milligrams of sodium and problematic additives like MSG and sodium nitrites.

5. Taco Bell

Mexican Tacos with Beef and Vegetables
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Taco Bell is known for its Mexican-style menu, but many of its items contain excessive sodium, fats, and calories, like most fast food items. Taco Bell has also been subject to backlash over the quality of its ingredients. In 2011, the chain faced a lawsuit claiming that its seasoned beef was only 35% actual beef, although the lawsuit was later withdrawn. 

Now recently, another lawsuit claimed that their Mexican Pizza had only half the beans and beef advertised. Other items like the Crunchwrap Supreme and Veggie Mexican Pizza also allegedly overstated their fillings. These claims mislead the customers and add to the unhealthy nature of meals

6. Carl’s Jr. 

Western style bacon burger with onion rings and bbq sauce close up
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Carl’s Jr. is another fast food chain that has several health concerns with its menu. For example, the Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger has over 1,000 calories and 70 grams of fat, along with significant amounts of sodium and added sugars.

One major issue is the use of additives like BHA and BHT, which may have carcinogenic effects. Additionally, many menu items are cooked in unhealthy oils, such as palm oil and soybean oil, which are high in trans fats that can contribute to heart disease. There’s also TBHQ, a chemical preservative that can cause nausea and delirium in high doses.

7. Dairy Queen

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Dairy Queen is a favorite among people with a sweet tooth because of its soft-serve ice cream and indulgent desserts. Besides contributing to excessive sugar and fat consumption, this fast food chain also uses unhealthy additives to maintain the flavor, texture, and shelf life of its products. For instance, treats like the Blizzard and DQ Cakes often have high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and various food dyes like Red 40 and Yellow 5. These ingredients have been studied for their links to hyperactivity and other health issues.

Moreover, a study found that none of Dairy Queen’s kids’ meal combos followed any of the nutrition standards.

8. McDonald’s

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McDonald’s is synonymous with fast food, but its health reputation is less than impressive. Many menu items are high in trans fats, sodium, and sugars. Moreover, McDonald’s use of artificial additives and preservatives like TBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane, phthalates, along with high-fructose corn syrup and processed meats, poses significant health risks. 

McDonald’s has faced numerous controversies, from the “pink slime” in their chicken nuggets to claims of misleading advertising about the healthiness of their food. 

9. Wendy’s 

Portrait of one young handsome caucasian brunette man in a black t-shirt sits at a table near the window in a diner and appetizingly eats a burger, biting it, close-up side vieweating ice-cream in
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Wendy’s offers a range of burgers, fries, and shakes that are high in calories and fats. The Baconator, one of their most popular items, contains 960 calories, 66 grams of fat, and 1,630 milligrams of sodium, making it one of the unhealthiest fast food options available.

The chain has also been involved in controversies over the quality of its beef and the use of artificial ingredients. While Wendy’s has promoted fresh, never-frozen beef, the overall nutritional content of their menu is concerning.

10. Subway

Beautiful Woman in Shopping and eating burger
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Subway likes to market itself as the healthier fast food option, but things get interesting when you take a closer look. Many of their sandwiches, especially the ones loaded with toppings, sauces, and cheese, are high in calories and sodium.

A lot of people think they’re making a healthier choice at Subway and end up overindulging. While they offer veggies and lean meats, the healthiness can quickly go out the window with high-fat sauces and sugary drinks. The trick to eating healthy at Subway is making smart choices, but that can be easier said than done with their vast menu.

11. Little Caesars

Woman eating pizza in cafe
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Little Caesars is a popular pizza chain known for its affordable prices and convenience. However, these benefits come at a health cost. Their Classic Pepperoni Pizza, a fan favorite, contains 280 calories per slice, with 11 grams of fat and 560 milligrams of sodium. A typical meal might consist of multiple slices, but the intake of calories, fat, and sodium can be multiplied. 

The chain has faced critique over its use of high-fructose corn syrup in its sauce and processed meats that are high in saturated fats.

12. Burger King

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Burger King often gets criticized for its high-calorie, high-fat menu options loaded with sodium and sugar. The chain uses artificial additives like high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and flavor enhancers such as MSG. Sodium phosphates and modified corn starch, used to improve texture, have potential health risks.

Their sugary beverages and milkshakes are also a concern. A large Chocolate Fudge Sundae has over 50 grams of added sugars, more than the recommended daily intake

The use of artificial preservatives and flavor enhancers has raised alarms about long-term health effects, including metabolic disorders and neurological issues. Finally, Burger King has faced criticism for marketing items as “natural” or “healthy” despite having artificial additives and high levels of unhealthy fats and sugars, misleading consumers. 

13. KFC

Unhealthy overeating. A woman bites chicken nuggets, close-up.
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Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC, tempts many with its crispy, finger-lickin’ good chicken. But it’s actually a nutritional nightmare. A single Extra Crispy Chicken Breast contains about 530 calories, 35 grams of fat, and a sodium content of 1,050 milligrams!

In addition to being high in calories and fat, KFC’s offerings are often laden with preservatives and artificial additives. The use of hydrogenated oils means you’re consuming trans fats, which are known for raising bad cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of heart disease. Over the years, KFC has faced criticism and even lawsuits for the high levels of trans fats in their food.

There have been unsettling health incidents as well. In 2008, a location in Sydney, Australia, was found to have sold Salmonella-contaminated chicken, leading to severe food poisoning cases.

14. Five Guys

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Five Guys fans love its generous portions and customizable burgers. But, let’s be honest, the nutritional stats are pretty shocking. A typical Five Guys Cheeseburger packs 840 calories, with added fats and sodium. So, while the food is tasty and filling (short term), it has minimum nutritional value.

People have also pointed out that they use a lot of oil and butter, which add up the calorie and fat content even more. And if you go for customizable options, they can again lead to weight gain with all the extra toppings. Even though Five Guys uses fresh ingredients and makes everything to order, it’s hard to ignore the high levels of troublesome ingredients and preservatives in their items.

27 Ways Real People Were Able to Lose Weight Sustainably without Extreme Dieting

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Finding it challenging to lose those stubborn extra pounds, and growing more disheartened by the digits on your scale? The plethora of diets, exercise routines, and conflicting guidance can, without a doubt, feel quite bewildering. In the midst of numerous choices and contradictory information, you might naturally ponder: Where should you even commence?

27 Ways Real People Were Able to Lose Weight Sustainably without Extreme Dieting

Food Trivia: 8 Questions to Test Your Healthy Eating Knowledge

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Culinary delights are not merely sustenance; they are a wellspring of comfort and jubilation. However, amid the delectable tastes, it’s crucial to recognize that understanding a balanced and healthful diet is both engrossing and vital for our overall well-being. Whether you’re a seasoned epicurean or someone who savors a fine meal, embark on a journey of gastronomic enlightenment with these eight captivating questions designed to challenge your culinary acumen!

Food Trivia: 8 Questions to Test Your Healthy Eating Knowledge

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