Fast Food Picks and Pans

Report Highlights the Good, Bad, and the Ugly on the Menu

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 23, 2002 -- Healthy choices at fast-food restaurants are getting easier to find, but a new report shows the devil may lurk in the deals.

The study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) shows fast-food restaurants may be finding new ways to provide lower-fat, more nutritious options, but it's still much too easy to eat more than an entire day's worth of fat and calories in a value meal.

CSPI, whose previous reports raised eyebrows about the hidden fat and calories in movie popcorn, Chinese food, and Mexican foods, surveyed current offerings at popular fast-food establishments and picked the five best and worst options for diners.

In the "Best" category, new menu items based on fresh, low-fat ingredients got raves for both taste and convenience. The top 5 picks were:

  • Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad
  • Burger King Chicken Whopper Jr.
  • Subway's Low-Fat Subs
  • McDonald's Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait
  • Burger King BK Veggie Burger

"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, in a news release. "Fast-food salads like Wendy's are replacing boring iceberg lettuce with more interesting salads that don't taste like diet food."

Although Burger King garnered praise for two of its healthy menu items, it also swept the "Worst" category with the following items:

  • Double Whopper with Cheese
  • French Fries
  • Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shake
  • Hash Browns
  • Burger King Value Meals

Researchers say the chain has the most fattening hamburgers and french fries in the industry and a Burger King Double Whopper Value meal packs up to 2,100 calories, which is more than the total recommended daily calorie intake for most people.

Registered dietitian Joan Carter says it's time to re-evaluate where the value is when it comes to making healthy food choices. She says value meals and super-sized portions are merely marketing tools and not designed to maximize nutritional value.

Although pointing out dietary danger zones with reports like this is helpful, Carter says it's more important to develop a healthy relationship with food.

"Labeling food as good and bad just feeds into this love-hate relationship that gives food too much power," says Carter, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Food should be about giving joy and reinforcing connections with people, your ethnicity, and the joys of table," Carter tells WebMD. "Eating through a drive thru is not fulfilling what food is supposed to do."

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