American fast-food culture is having a big moment—and is offering up increasingly elaborate delicacies. Gone are the days of simple burger and fry combo meals. Even milkshakes feel a bit one-note as we are being treated to a wide array of new, inventive menu items.
The downside? While there’s been a notable movement toward health-centric new offerings, not all of the latest fast-food releases are created equal. Many, in fact, are still being produced with an apparent disregard for nutrition altogether. We’re all for indulging occasionally, so this is not to say you need to avoid the tempting new menu items completely. But before you pull up to that drive-thru window, arm yourself with facts about what you’re about to order.
To help sort through the incredible abundance of options in the current fast-food market, we consulted dietitian Amy Goodson. Here are the new fast foods she’s highlighted as unhealthiest.
per burrito: 520 calories, 27 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 1,140 mg sodium
If you’ve ever done a late-night Taco Bell run (and regretted it in the morning), you may not be surprised to see that one of the brand’s new items made it on the top five unhealthiest list. This singular burrito is, in many ways, amazing. It rolls together nacho fries seasoned with Mexican spices, steak, tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream, cheddar cheese, creamy chipotle sauce, and nacho cheese sauce all inside a flour tortilla.
But it is also amazingly unhealthy. Goodson calls it “one to write home about,” noting that not only are you getting an impressive list of ingredients, but you’re also consuming 27 grams of fat and pretty much half a day’s sodium intake. “Almost half the calories in this burrito come from fat,” she adds.
A better option at Taco Bell is the plain bean burrito, which might be remarkably less fun but also contains a third of the fat.
Per cookie: 610 calories, 45 g fat (17 g saturated fat), 1,370 mg sodium
Goodson summed this one up pretty plainly: “Biscuits are a good way to increase the calories of a breakfast sandwich!”
Wendy’s recently added several biscuit sandwiches to its breakfast menu. This particular one piles grilled sausage and melted American cheese atop a buttermilk biscuit, and contains over half of the allotted amount of salt a person should consume in a day—and you’re getting it all at breakfast. Plus, as Goodson also pointed out, 45 grams of fat is a pretty large amount to start the day with as well.
The chain’s classic Bacon Egg & Cheese Sandwich, which contains one egg, Applewood smoked bacon, and cheese and comes on a warm muffin, is a much less unhealthy bet.
per order: 900 calories, 52 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 1,570 mg sodium
We love the constant innovation on Shake Shack’s menu. The burger slinger is always flipping the script on customers, offering new lineups and flavor profiles that keep things exciting. But one of their latest releases—the Buffalo Spiced Cheese Fries—is highly unhealthy.
“While potatoes provide nutrients like potassium and fiber, when you turn them into French fries topped with Buffalo cheese sauce and served with a side of more sauce (ranch in this case), you create a side dish with way too much sodium and fat, “Goodson says.
Instead of these indulgent spuds, opt for regular fries with ketchup and save yourself almost half of the calories, fat, and sodium.
per burger: 1,020 calories, 67 g fat (27 g saturated fat), 2,500 mg sodium
Dairy Queen is royally proud of their new burger release, the most substantial menu update they’ve had in years. The Loaded A.1. Triple Stack Burger, in particular, is quite the creation: it slathers three patties with Steak Sauce and creamy peppercorn sauce, and then stacks on thick-cut Applewood smoked bacon, melted Sharp American cheese, and onion rings.
As Goodson points out, this burger alone has more sodium than a person is recommended to consume in a day, plus over 1,000 calories. Instead of indulging in this extreme option, she suggests getting either a regular cheeseburger or a grilled chicken sandwich.
per sandwich: 1,200 calories, 58 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 3,070 mg sodium
The #1 unhealthiest new fast-food item is this Big Cubano on white bread, a Potbelly’s original. This indulgent sandwich comes with pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. According to Goodson, the meats and the cheese are driving up the calorie count and fat content. She also flagged the sodium count, which is so over the top it’s a bit absurd.
Instead, she recommends opting for the Original Turkey Breast and Swiss sandwich on multigrain bread instead and loading it with all your favorite veggies.