Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on September 04, 2020

French Fries


The humble potato, fried in a vat of simmering oil, and finished with a sprinkling of salt. What could be simpler? Apparently, quite a lot. Fast-food fries often have more than 15 ingredients, including sugar and artificial coloring. They also have preservatives like sodium acid pyrophosphate and tert-butylhydroquinone, which in high doses has been linked to vision problems.



Ground beef, right? Sure -- but there also may be growth hormones and antibiotics, which can end up in your system. And in one study, some burgers had over 100 calories more per serving than the fast-food places said they did.



It’s the same soda you buy at the grocery store. But when you get it at a fast-food chain, you get more calories because the drink sizes are so large. And we’re not talking “supersize.” A large soda at a typical fast-food place is about 32 ounces and has about 270 calories. Studies show that if you order it, you’ll drink it.

Breakfast Sandwich


Some of the ingredients listed for what one national outlet calls a “fried egg” include modified corn starch, soybean oil, medium chain triglycerides, propylene glycol, artificial flavor, citric acid, xanthan gum, and -- oh yeah -- egg whites and yolks (listed separately). If you didn’t bargain for all of that, ask for the propylene glycol (also used in fog machines and to make polyester) on the side.

Hot Dog


What’s in them? Let’s just say they make full use of the animals that supply the meat. They’re also loaded with salt and saturated fat (which most Americans get too much of) and with nitrates, a preservative linked to diabetes and cancer.

Chicken Nuggets


A piece of chicken breast battered and fried to golden perfection? Not exactly. There’s meat in there, but there are also bones, blood vessels, nerves, connective tissue, and skin. And they have loads of salt and fat, which are linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Strawberry Milkshake


Besides milk and sugar, one leading fast-food outlet also adds high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives like sodium benzoate, and artificial flavors and colors to this drinkable dessert. One thing that appears to be missing: actual strawberries.



The first ingredient listed for almost any sauce served at a fast-food restaurant is sugar. It may be called sucrose, dextrose, maltose, rice syrup, barley malt, high-fructose corn syrup, or any number of other things, but the end result is the same: quick delivery of lots of calories with almost zero nutritional value.

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3) Stockbyte / Thinkstock

4) Violette Nlandu Ngoy / Thinkstock

5) Monkey Business Images / Thinkstock

6) Dana_Zurki / Thinkstock

7) Brand X Pictures / Thinkstock

8) JoanieSimon / Thinkstock



American Journal of Medicine: “The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads ‘Chicken Little.’”

Consumers Union: “Which fast food chains serve meat on drugs?”

National Institutes of Health: “Toxicology of tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ),” “tert-Butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) protects hepatocytes against lipotoxicity via inducing autophagy independently of Nrf2 activation,” ”Cytotoxicity and DNA damage properties of tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) food additive,” “Risk Assessment of Growth Hormones and Antimicrobial Residues in Meat,” “A review of potential metabolic etiologies of the observed association between red meat consumption and development of type 2 diabetes mellitus,” “Total N-nitroso compounds and their precursors in hot dogs and in the gastrointestinal tract and feces of rats and mice: possible etiologic agents for colon cancer,” “Small, medium, large or supersize? The development and evaluation of interventions targeted at portion size,” “What is the role of portion control in weight management?”

Sugar Science: “Hidden in Plain Sight.”