Burger King sweeps the worst ... but also has two bests

Fast-food menus are getting better ... and worse, says the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Burger King swept the Worst category with its Double Whopper with Cheese, French Fries, Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shake, Hash Browns, and Value Meals. But Burger King also sells two items in the Best category–the Chicken Whopper Jr. and BK Veggie Burger. McDonald’s Fruit ’n Yogurt Parfait, Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken Salad, and Subway’s Low-fat Subs were also among the Best.

CSPI, whose studies of Chinese, Mexican, and other restaurant fare have gained world-wide attention, reports on the “Best & Worst Fast Foods” in the September issue of its Nutrition Action Healthletter.

CSPI’s choices for Best fast foods were:

  • Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken Salad. Mixed greens, chicken breast, roasted almonds, mandarin orange segments, and half a packet of Oriental sesame dressing make this 420-calorie salad taste as though it were served in a downtown bistro.
  • Burger King Chicken Whopper Jr. Any grilled chicken sandwich is a good choice. But unlike some competitors, a Burger King Chicken Whopper actually tastes grilled. Why order a junior? Because that’s the only way to get a normal-sized sandwich these days. A junior clocks in at 350 calories, while the regular Chicken Whopper has 580 calories.
  • Subway’s Low-fat Subs. Subway’s line of “7 subs with 6 Grams of Fat or Less” and Jared, the company’s ubiquitous spokesperson, have helped lead the way to healthier fast food. Its new low-fat “Select Subs”--Honey Mustard Ham, Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, and Red Wine Vinaigrette Club--range from 310 to 370 calories and are downright delicious.
  • McDonald’s Fruit ’n Yogurt Parfait. Eat it for breakfast, a snack, dessert, or a refreshing lunch. Where else can you get two-thirds cup of luscious berries layered between low-fat yogurt and topped with crunchy granola? At just 380 calories (280 if you skip the granola) and just two grams of saturated fat, it’s a nutrient-rich bargain.
  • Burger King BK Veggie Burger. Not surprisingly, the BK Veggie Burger, the first meatless sandwich at any big burger chain, has less saturated fat (two grams) and fewer calories (330) than just about any hamburger at any chain.

“The major fast-food chains are responding to consumer demand by adding foods that are both good for you and delicious,” says Jayne Hurley, CSPI senior nutritionist and co-author of Restaurant Confidential (Workman, 2002). “Fast-food salads like Wendy’s are replacing boring iceberg lettuce with more interesting salads that don’t taste like diet food.”

Not all of the news from the world of fast food is rosy. Burger King, with the most fattening burgers and fries in the business, swept CSPI’s Worst list:

  • Burger King Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shake. It looks like an ordinary shake. But thanks to the ice cream, a medium (22 oz.) has 760 calories and 29 grams of heart-breaking fat (1 ½ days’ worth). A large (32 oz.) crams in 1,200 calories and 42 grams of saturated plus trans fat—the kind that cause old-fashioned heart attacks. Burger King managed to design a drink that is worse for your heart than even the worst burgers.
  • Burger King Fries. Burger King’s French Fries are the worst. Period. A King Size order has 600 calories and 30 grams of fat, 16 of which are saturated plus trans fat. Fries may look like a side dish, but when it comes to calories and heart-threatening fat, they’re really burgers in disguise.
  • Burger King Hash Browns. This breakfast side order can ruin your diet for the entire day. A large order has 15 grams (three-quarters of a day’s worth) of saturated plus trans fat.
  • Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese. A wider burger and a wider bun make a single Whopper worse than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese or a Big Mac. A second slab of beef brings the total to 1,150 calories and 33 grams of saturated plus trans fat.
  • Value Meals. All Value Meals offer an economic incentive to stuff your gut, and Burger King’s are the worst. A Burger King Whopper Value Meal’s calories range from 1,300 to 1,800 depending on the size of the soft drink and the fries. Make it a Double Whopper and you’re talking 1,600 to 2,100 calories. The Chicken Whopper Jr. Value Meal cuts some sat fat, but with the fries and soda, it’s a long way from healthy.