A fast food meal with excess sugar and salt, as well as high fat content, is not a healthy option for either adults or children. While many fast food establishments have made reductions in trans fat content and substituted oils, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that most eateries still allow chemical and food additives, including sodium nitrite, olestra, sugar substitutes and artificial colorings, to be added to many fast foods.
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Fast food restaurants offer massive drink cups and unlimited refills to in-house diners. As of March 2010, Americans average 144 calories from sugar-sweetened soft drinks each day, an increase from 1977 of 135 percent. But high sugar is only one of the problems with carbonated drinks. Caffeine levels are also high, contributing to sleeplessness and problems for the body in metabolizing calcium.
French fries contribute "...20 percent of the calories from a fast-food meal via the fat in the frying vat," according to a study done in Hawaii and reported in 2010 in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Fries, even when prepared in natural oils as opposed to high saturated fat, are still poor fast food choices. The National Institutes of Health report that most fries are fried in corn oil, which is "known to contribute to heart disease." French fries can pack the same number of calories as a burger, depending on the fast food vendor, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. They also have high levels of sodium.
Crispy Fried Chicken
Extra crispy deep-fried breaded chicken makes the worst fast food list with over 400 calories for the average breast piece, over half of those calories coming from fat. Oven-baked breasts average 320 calories, with 130 from fat. Wings, strips, "popcorn" and drumsticks offer less nutrition and higher calories and fat for each serving. One large popcorn chicken piece totals 550 calories, with a whopping 320 of those calories from fat.
Ice Cream Milk Shake
Iced milk or yogurt shakes provide low-sugar alternatives to shakes made with whole milk ice cream. In an effort to upgrade menu options, several large chains introduced "old fashioned" shakes with regular milk. The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates that a medium shake using real ice cream adds 760 calories to the diet as well as 29 grams of fat (nearly two days' worth of saturated and trans fats, both of which are linked to heart disease).
Creamy sauce, flaky pie crust, added sugars and preservatives make pot pies a poor fast food selection. The average pot pie has 690 calories, but 360 of these are from fat, for a total of 40 grams of fat for each pie. The sodium content is in excess of 1,700 grams.
Double patties, cheese and a bread insert push double-beef hamburgers into the worst choice category for fast food dining. One double burger adds more than 1,000 calories compared to a hamburger, in addition to 33 grams of saturated fat, without even calculating trans fat. Double burgers are more than double trouble for healthy eating.
Macaroni and Cheese
Cheese (or a substitute for the natural varieties of cheese) and starch are the main ingredients in mac n' cheese. Some chain fast food restaurants create extra calories and nutritional problems by frying the mac n' cheese into balls loaded with additional cholesterol and fat contributed by the frying oils. A small side order of 100 grams serves up 180 calories, 80 of them from fat.
Cream Cheese Desert Pies
After a tasty fast food meal, nothing finishes off the meal in a more satisfying way than a tasty slice of cream cheese pie. Cheese cake, cream cheese and cheese-and-berry fillings contain an average of 250 calories, with half of those coming from fat.
Potatoes are high in starch, and fast food hash browns are also high in salt. Deep-fried, pre-formed wedges or bricks are soaked in oils that push hash browns onto the worst fast food list.
Any deep-fried fast food is unhealthy, but deep-fried sugar pies add a double whammy, elevating them to the worst choice list for fast food dining. Center fillings are high in sugar and preservatives, and the crust absorbs frying oils in the same manner as french fries.