Your favorite fast food restaurant is often like your favorite city: Visit some neighborhoods and you live the high life. Visit others and you’re just plain asking for trouble. And that’s where Eat This, Not That! comes in: We’ve analyzed and graded 66 different chain restaurants—fast food and sit-down—to determine which ones have healthy options, and which could turn out to be diet disasters.
What we found will surprise you. Specifically, some of the fast food joints you’ve come to think of as terrible for you actually ranked alright—McDonald’s scored a B+, for example, so the Micky D’s drive-thru just might be your fast-lane to weight loss. Something even more shocking, though: more than half of the sit-down restaurants we graded ended up with our lowest scores!
To separate the commendable from the deplorable, we calculated the total number of calories per entrée. This gave us a snapshot of how each restaurant compared in average serving size—a key indicator of unhealthy portion distortion. Then we rewarded establishments with fruit and vegetable side-dish choices, as well as offering whole-wheat bread. Finally, we penalized places for excessive amounts of trans fats and menus that tempt you with fat-laden desserts. Hey, if the neighborhood is crowded with shady characters, sooner or later, one of them will jump you.
Here’s our restaurant report card for some of the unhealthiest restaurants. It’ll help you stay on the safer side of town.
We thought we'd see some improvements after we identified Baskin's Heath Shake as the Worst Drink on the Planet. All they did was lower it from 2,300 to 1,900 calories, leaving an almost equally egregious drinkable disaster to set back unsuspecting sippers. It’s typical of the menu there; B-R’s soft serve is among the most caloric in the country, the smoothies contain more sugar than fruit, and most of what Baskin sticks into a cup winds up with more fat than what'll end up on your plate at a steakhouse buffet. Check out our complete list of the 20 Unhealthiest Drinks in America to see the other liquid offenders. If you learn how to make smart choices when you sip, you can lose a few pounds a month—without giving up your favorite foods, or ever dieting again.
Most fast-food restaurants today are making at least some attempt to offset their bulging burgers and deep-fried sides with healthier options such as lean sandwiches or yogurt parfaits. But Carl's Jr. is swimming against the nutritional tide, trying to attract those with hearty appetites and less concern about fat, salt and calories. The lightest item on the breakfast menu, for instance, is the Hash Brown Nuggets—but even they have 21 grams of fat, and 5.5 of them are trans fats. (As a rule, you should try to get 2 grams or fewer of the stuff in an entire day!) The burgers are worse, and there's not a side on the menu that hasn't been given a long, bubbling bath in their trans-fatty frying oil.
From burgers to baby back ribs, Chili's serves up some of the saltiest and fattiest fare on fast-food row. In fact, with 3,810 mg of sodium and 122 grams of fat, Chili's Smokehouse Bacon Triple Cheese Big Mouth Burger earns the distinction as being one of the worst burgers in America. The Guiltless Grill menu is Chili's attempt to offer healthier options, but with only eight items and an average sodium count of 1,320 mg, there’s meager hope for nutritional salvation.
Applebee’s, IHOP, Outback, T.G.I. Friday’s
These titans of the restaurant industry are among the last national chains that don’t offer nutritional information on their dishes. Even after years of badgering their representatives, we still hear the same old excuses: it’s too pricey, it’s too time-consuming, it’s impossible to do accurately because their food is so fresh, or we have too much variety. Our response is simple: If nearly every other chain restaurant in the country can do it, then why can’t they?