When most people hear the words ‘American fast food’, one word probably comes to mind: ‘unhealthy.’
Most of the fast food from chain restaurants in America is loaded with saturated fats and refined sugars, and as a result, consuming a lot of this food has been scientifically linked to a higher body mass index as well as an increased risk of numerous health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
With that being said, some fast food options in America are definitely more unhealthy than others.
Let’s be real, we all love a burger and fries once in a while, so it can be helpful to know which fast food items are the most unhealthy when it comes to choosing from the menu.
In this article, we will be talking about the 14 least healthy American fast food items (see also ‘Top 10 All-Day Breakfast Fast Food Restaurants‘). You might be surprised at some of the items that make our list!
The 14 Unhealthiest American Fast Food Items
While choosing a personal-size pizza rather than the large or extra large option might seem like a healthier choice, the Personal Meat Lover’s Pizza from Pizza Hut is actually one of the unhealthiest fast food items you can order in America.
Of course, part of the reason why this relatively small pizza contains a shocking 850 calories is the number of fatty meat toppings, including bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage, pork, and beef.
However, another reason for this pizza’s high calorie content is the double layer of cheese underneath all the toppings.
The excess cheese is a major contributor to the saturated fat and cholesterol present in just one slice of this pizza (4.5 grams and 25 milligrams respectively).
The fat, sugars and cholesterol in Pizza Hut’s Personal Meat Lover’s Pizza might not seem so bad when you look at the nutritional information for a single slice, but in reality, most people will have a couple of slices at least, so this particular Pizza Hut order can be quite detrimental to your health.
The Cinnamon Delights are one of the most popular menu items from Taco Bell, but unfortunately, they also happen to be one of the highest in calories and refined sugar.
If you’re not familiar with Cinnabon Delights, they’re basically deep-fried cinnamon pastries that have been coated in sugar and filled with an extremely rich frosting made of cream cheese.
Just one Cinnabon Delight contains 80 calories and 4.5 grams of fat.
This might not be a problem if you were able to order just one, but although Taco Bell does offer the option to buy these pastries in packs of 2, the only other option is the massive 12-pack, which comes to 930 calories altogether.
For those with gluten sensitivities or dietary restrictions, Taco Bell offers gluten-free menu items, so be sure to check their gluten-free options if you’re looking for alternatives to the Cinnabon Delights.
If your favorite item on the Sonic menu is the Supersonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger, you’re definitely not alone, but we have some bad news for you.
We’re sorry to report that the Supersonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger from Sonic, despite being one of the chain’s most popular items, is also probably the least healthy thing you could order off the menu.
Inside the Supersonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger, you will not only find 2 beef patties, but also an enormous amount of bacon and plenty of cheese hidden under the lettuce and tomato.
When you add the calories from the generous helpings of mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and the bun, what you have is a scarily unhealthy 1,190-calorie burger!
This can easily rise to 2,000 calories if you get a full meal including a drink and a side of fries.
And it’s not just the calories themselves you need to worry about – it’s where they come from.
There are 83 grams of fat in the Supersonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger (that’s not including any sides), and approximately 25 of those grams are from saturated fat. Yikes!
Since french fries are typically a side dish at fast food restaurants, you might not necessarily think of your fries as the main calorific culprit when you sit down to eat your food order.
However, if you order the large french fries from Five Guys (see also ‘11 Gluten Free Options To Order On Your Next Visit To Five Guys‘) on a regular basis, you’ll definitely want to start paying attention to the nutritional content because it’s not good.
In one large serving of Five Guys french fries, you’ll consume a massive 1,400 calories. For context, that’s actually more than the double cheeseburger from Sonic we just discussed (see above).
Not only is an order of large french fries from Five Guys super high in calories, but a shocking amount of those calories come straight from fat. In fact, there are 57 grams of fat in Five Guys’ large fries, and 1,314 grams of sodium.
According to the American Heart Association, you should have absolutely no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium every day, but ideally, you should limit your sodium intake to about 1,500 milligrams.
If you’re trying to eat according to the ideal limit set out by the AHA, your side of Five Guys fries alone would almost get you to your maximum sodium intake for the day.
You might think that chicken pot pie actually sounds like quite a healthy fast food option, and to be fair, it does.
However, while your average chicken pot pie sits at just under 600 calories (a filling but not overindulgent meal), the same can’t be said for the Chicken Pot Pie on KFC’s menu (see also ‘10 Tastiest Gluten Free Items At KFC‘).
Admittedly, the Chicken Pot Pie from KFC isn’t the most unhealthy item on our list, but it does come to almost 800 calories (790 to be exact, which is nearly 200 calories more than the average) due to the amount of cream in the filling and the buttery pastry crust.
From those 790 calories, you get 41 grams from fat. If you eat approximately 2,000 calories per day, you should only be eating about 66 grams of fat, so one KFC Chicken Pot Pie will take up most of your daily fat allowance.
Panera Bread is actually known to be one of the less worryingly unhealthy fast food chains in America, but it’s still a fast food restaurant at the end of the day, so you can expect to find some highly calorific and nutritionally poor options on the menu.
If you’re trying to make healthier choices when it comes to your fast food orders, don’t get the Mac and Cheese from Panera Bread.
Not only is the Panera Mac and Cheese sauce cream-based, but it contains no less than 3 different types of cheese: Jack, cheddar, and parmesan.
If you’ve ordered the Mac and Cheese from Panera Bread before, you might remember that the serving size is actually quite small. Even with all the cream and cheese, a small serving can’t have that many calories, right?
Wrong! Just one serving of the (admittedly delicious) Panera Bread Mac and Cheese comes to 920 calories when you take into account the calories from the actual pasta as well.
Luckily, as we mentioned just now, Panera Bread also offers plenty of healthier options, including a variety of Panera Bread soups.
Wendy’s is another very popular fast food chain in America (the 7th most popular overall, to be exact), and part of the reason for that is how rich a lot of the food on the menu is.
One of the most talked-about menu items from Wendy’s is the appropriately-named Baconator.
There are 2 ½-pound beef patties in the Baconator as well as several rashers of Applewood smoked bacon. The melted cheese between each layer and the crusty bun makes for an incredible-tasting and extremely filling meal.
However, the downside is that the burger alone (without any fries, other sides, or drinks) comes to just over 1,000 calories.
Not only is the calorie content of Wendy’s The Baconator extremely high, but this burger contains 67 grams of fat, making it one of the fattiest burgers on our list.
Remember earlier when we said that the average 2,000 calorie per day diet should contain no more than 66 grams of fat? Well, if you order this burger, you’ve already surpassed your fat allowance for the day.
While we’re on the subject of incredibly calorific and fatty burgers, the Triple Whopper with Cheese from Burger King is undoubtedly one of the most unhealthy fast food items you can order in America.
Burger King is the 5th most popular fast food restaurant in the USA, so it’s hardly surprising that it has some of the most indulgent menu items out of all fast food chains (see also ‘14 Best Southern American Fast-Food Chains‘).
However, the nutritional content of the Triple Whopper, especially when you get it with cheese, actually shocked us.
As you might expect from a burger called the Triple Whopper, this burger contains not one, not two, but three beef patties.
On top of that, you have the cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, and the bun as well as pickles, onions, and lettuce. All of that totals 1,216 calories, an alarming number of which come from saturated fats.
We discussed the Cinnabon Delights from Taco Bell earlier, but did you know that the Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Roll from Cinnabon itself is higher in calories than a box of 12 Taco Bell pastries?
One Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Roll from Cinnabon contains 1,090 calories. That’s because the cinnamon bun is topped with caramel sauce, frosting, and pecan nuts.
If you thought the calorie count of this dessert was bad enough, there are 51 grams of fat in every Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Roll and not much else of nutritional value apart from some healthy fats in the pecans.
Hardee’s (see also ‘12 Tasty Hardee’s Breakfast Menu Items‘) isn’t an especially popular fast food joint in America compared to other fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, but the chain made a name for itself with the Monster Angus Burger, which is one of the unhealthiest fast food items in the entire country.
On top of the ⅓ pounds of Angus beef in every burger, your order will contain lots of bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, which is why this burger is so delicious.
Unfortunately, the high fat content is also the reason why the Monster Angus Burger weighs in at a massive 1,420 calories.
This is almost ¾ of your average 2,000 calorie day, and if you choose to add fries or a drink to your order, you can easily hit the 2,000 calorie mark in just one meal.
We’ve already talked about the Triple Whopper with Cheese from Burger King, but another extremely unhealthy option on this fast food giant’s menu is the Bacon King Sandwich (see more about Burger King’s gluten-free menu here).
Burger King’s Bacon King contains 1,200 calories, so while it might not be the highest-calorie burger in American fast food overall, it’s still much more than your average person would plan to eat in a single sitting.
The Bacon King is made up of two ¼ pound beef patties, bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, and ketchup in a seeded bun.
This burger contains a shockin 104 grams of fat (significantly more than most people should eat in a day), 44 grams of saturated fat, 283.4 milligrams of cholesterol, and nearly 16 grams of sugar.
Shake Shack might be known for its milkshakes, but the unhealthiest item on its menu is the Double SmokeShack Burger.
While the single SmokeShack Burger contains a fairly reasonable 570 calories, the Double Smokeshack contains 1,140.
The reason this burger is so calorific (aside from the double patty) is due to the smoked bacon, ShackSauce, and toasted potato bun.
You’ve probably been waiting for McDonald’s to pop up on this list (see also ‘The 15 Greatest McFlurry Flavors Of All Time‘).
As America’s biggest fast food chain, McDonald’s is home to some of the most unhealthy fast food options, but you might not have expected the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes to surpass the other items on McDonald’s’ menu (see also ‘The Best Fast Food Breakfast Menus Ranked From Worst to Best!) in terms of calories.
In the McDonald’s Big Breakfast, you’ll get hotcakes, scrambled eggs, a biscuit, syrup, hash browns, a sausage patty, and 3 types of butter.
The entire plate comes to 1,340 calories with 63 grams from fat (24 grams from saturates) and 525 milligrams of cholesterol.
Our final frightening fast food item of the day is the Large Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Dairy Queen is known for its soft-serve ice cream and other dairy-based desserts, but the Large Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard takes the cake with 1,340 calories.
If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat of ice cream, chocolate and cookie dough, you might want to get one of the smaller size options, although even the medium contains over 1,000 calories and the small has 710.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Fast Food Always Unhealthy?
If your goal is to only eat food that nourishes your body and will help you to achieve optimal health, you should probably avoid fast food most of the time (see also ‘Late Night Fast Food: The 12 Best Places To Go To‘).
That’s because fast food menu items tend to be loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol, and refined sugar.
However, even at fast food joints that are almost universally classed as ‘unhealthy’, you will usually be able to find a healthier option such as a wrap or a salad.
Alternatively, you can simply opt for a smaller portion of your favorite fast food items (get the small fries rather than the large, for example).
Additionally, some fast food restaurants are definitely healthier than others, and most importantly, part of being healthy is about practicing balance and moderation.
It’s fine to indulge now and again, but it’s also important to make informed choices based on nutritional information.
What Is The Healthiest Fast Food In America?
As we mentioned earlier, some fast food joints are less unhealthy than others.
For example, Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, and Subway provide some of the healthiest fast food options in America, although all of these chains also have some pretty unhealthy options on the menu.
If you’re craving fast food but don’t want to overindulge too much, going to Subway, Chick-Fil-A, or Chipotle (see also ‘14 Amazing Chipotle Orders You Must Try‘) is definitely better than ordering from McDonald’s or Burger King.
How Popular Is Fast Food In America?
It’s a well-known fact that the fast food industry is thriving in America, but recent studies have produced eye-opening findings regarding just how popular fast food really is in the USA.
The first mind-blowing fact about American fast food is that there are an overwhelming 200,000 fast food restaurants across the country.
This is a startling indicator of how high the demand is for fast food (see also ‘10 Fast Food Orders That Are Low In Carbs‘) in America, and this is backed up by a recent study which showed that every day, 50 million Americans eat at fast food restaurants.
It’s estimated that about a third of Americans consume fast food (see also ‘12 Gluten Free Fast Food Options That Are Available To You‘) every single day, making America the biggest fast food consumer of any country in the world.
What Is The Most Popular Fast Food In America?
Overall, McDonald’s is America’s most popular fast food chain (see also ‘18 Fast Food Chains That Accept SNAP EBT‘), closely followed by Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, Taco Bell, and Burger King.
Subway comes in 6th, followed by Wendy’s in 7th, and Dunkin’ Donuts (see also ‘18 Amazing Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffees To Try‘) comes in at number 8 . Domino’s is also very popular, in 9th place, and the 10th most popular is Panera Bread. This is according to revenue.
In terms of the most popular types of fast food, burgers and fries come in first, with fried chicken, pizza, and sandwiches being the next most popular items.
America is the biggest consumer of fast food (see also ‘The Best Fast Food Options for Event Catering!‘) worldwide, and these 14 fast food menu items you can order in the USA reflect the size of the industry in calories, saturated fat, sugar, and cholesterol.
Next time you order at one of these chains, we recommend checking the nutritional information to find out what’s really in your favorite fast food treats.