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Fast foods: 1989 "best" and "worst." (includes fast food nutrition quiz)

Fast Foods: 1989 "Best" and "Worst"

I was beginning to think it would never happen. Twenty years after America put a man on the moon, three major fastfood restaurants are actually selling non-fried chicken. It's about time.

But the new grilled chicken sandwiches introduced by Hardee's, Jack-in-the-Box, and Carl's Jr. don't exactly herald the dawning of a new age of healthful fast foods.

The industry leader, McDonald's, for example, is rolling out a fried McChicken Sandwich that has more calories and fat (albeit less saturated fat) than a Quarter Pounder. And Jack-in-the-Box has unveiled The Ultimate Cheeseburger, with enough fat (15 3/4 teaspoons) to swipe the Coronary Bypass Special title from its previous holder, Wendy's Triple Cheeseburger. Mazel Tov.

Fast food is here to stay. One by one, hospitals, colleges, and military installations are caving in to pressure from Ronald McDonald and his cronies. In June, a high school in Gilroy, California actually pleaded with McDonald's, Burger King, and other chains to open a franchise on its campus.

"There's a lot of grease [in the tacos]," a Gilroy senior told The New York Times. "But it tastes good, so you don't think about it."

Since fast food is not going to disappear, it's important that the restaurants put some healthful items on their menus, and that consumers have some way to tell the good from the bad.

To that end, we present (in alphabetical order) CSPI's 1989 "Best and Worst Fast Foods." (For a more comprehensive listing, see our Fast Foods poster or slide-guide. Use order form.)

THE WORST

Hardee's Big Country Breakfast w/Sausage. If Hardee's Country Breakfast is "big," the heart attacks they may lead to could be "massive."

By your last swallow of scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuit, and sausages, you will have ingested more than 1,000 calories, 1,950 mg (one teaspoon) of sodium, a day's worth of cholesterol (280 mg), and more than a day's worth of fat (16 3/4 teaspoons).

We doubt you'll return for lunch. Jack-in-the-Box Ultimate Cheeseburger. When Ronald was a McInfant, a hamburger meant just over one ounce of cooked ground beef, toppings, and a bun. You can still get a small burger at McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's, and size alone makes them some of the best bets on the standard fast food menu.

But most meat patties (Quarter Pounders and their cousins) now weigh in at three ounces after cooking. And extra cheese, bacon, sauces and/or mayo boost their dose of fat sky-high.

Despite strong competition, Jack-in-the-Box has managed to break the 15 1/2-teaspoon Burger Fat Record previously held by Wendy's Triple Cheeseburger. Along with its 16 teaspoons of fat, Jack's Ultimate packs 942 calories and 1,176 mg of sodium. Arby's Roast Chicken Club Sandwich & McDonald's McChicken Sandwich (Tie). Some of the worst fast foods have names that make them sound better than they are. McDonald's new chicken sandwich and Arby's roast chicken Club Sandwich are good examples.

Roast chicken sounds innocent enough. Yet Arby's 610-calorie behemoth packs more fat than a Big Mac. The saturated fat content (8 grams) tops Arby's Beef 'N Cheddar sandwich, and the sodium (1,500 mg) beats everything on the menu except the Bac'n Cheddar Deluxe.

It's the cheese, bacon, and ` mayonnaise that make this sandwich a loser. Either remove them or order something (almost anything) else.

A McChicken Sandwich might seem like a healthful alternative to a burger. But it's fried. All that oil and mayo supply more calories and fat than a Quarter Pounder.

Granted, the fat is less saturated, so it's not as bad for your heart. But your waistline can't tell the difference. Nor is unsaturated fat any better when it comes to raising your risk of breast and colon cancer. Taco Bell's Taco Light. It's bad enough that some "light" foods are no lower in fat or calories than their regular counterparts. Now Taco Bell has created a "light" that's actually worse.

Your basic unadorned Taco Bell taco (beef, cheese, and lettuce on a tortilla) isn't so bad. It has 183 calories and 2 1/2 teaspoons of fat. Thanks to the sour cream and extra 1/2 oz. of beef, a Taco Light has more than twice as much of each. That's worse than a Taco Bellgrande, a Soft Taco Supreme, a Super Combo Taco, and a Double Beef Burrito.

A Taco Bell spokesperson told us the taco is called "light" because "it's made with a flour tortilla...[which] doesn't absorb as much oil as a corn tortilla when it's fried." Wise up, Taco. The fat's coming from someplace...and it isn't the lettuce. Taco Bell's Taco Salad. It's hard to believe, but the fattiest food you can buy at Taco Bell is a salad! With the shell, this platter of beef, cheese, and beans (is that some lettuce hidden under the meat?) packs 14 teaspoons of fat and 941 calories. That's over 90 percent of the fat and 85 percent of the saturated fat the average adult should eat in an entire day.

Even the sodium--all 1,662 mg of it--tops the rest of the Taco Bell menu.

THE WINNERS

Burger King Chicken Salad & McDonald's Chicken Salad Oriental (Tie). The word "salad" is no guarantee that you're eating light. McDonald's Chef Salad has three teaspoons of fat (thanks largely to the egg yolks). That's more than a hamburger. Even some chicken salads, like Jack-in-the-Box's or Hardee's, are fatty.

That's why McDonald's and Burger King deserve credit for keeping their chicken salads low in fat (under a teaspoon). Burger King's salad, which tasted better to us, has slightly more salt (both chains cook their chicken in a mixture of sodium phosphate, salt, and other seasonings).

The real danger with salads is what you put on them. McDonald's has a tasty, lowfat Oriental dressing, but each tablespoon (there are four in a packet) has 180 mg of sodium. Use the whole thing and your meal packs 950 mg.

At Burger King, the five salad dressings have anywhere from 115 mg to 215 mg of sodium per tablespoon. And unless you pick the Reduced-Calorie Italian, each of those tablespoons will add another teaspoon or two of fat to your meal. Use the whole packet and you end up with as much fat as two hamburgers. Jack-in-the-Box Chicken Fajita Pita. The fast-food fajita is here. A fajita (fah-HEE-tah) consists of grilled strips of chicken or beef and a few vegetables, usually eaten in a rolled-up tortilla.

Jack-in-the-Box's Chicken Fajita Pita is the best so far. It's got slightly less fat (two teaspoons total) than Taco Bell's chicken or steak fajitas. Even the fattiest fajita (Jack-in-the-Box's beef) isn't fatty by fast-food standards.

If it weren't for the 703 mg of sodium, the Chicken Fajita would be close to perfect. Change your seasoning, Jack! Taco Bell Bean Burrito. Although the chef adds corn oil to the beans, the finished burrito has only about two teaspoons of fat and a mere 9 mg of cholesterol. Not bad.

Sodium is on the high-ish side (763 mg with green sauce, 888 mg with red sauce), but it's still below the beef burritos and taco salads.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Carl's Jr. Charbroiler BBQ Chicken Sandwich. This smallish west coast chain specializes in fat-laden burgers, but its charbroiled chicken sandwich rates an "Honorable Mention."

The BBQ's single teaspoon of fat contributes only 14 percent of its calories. Low-fat barbecue sauce in place of mayo means the Charbroiler is even leaner than Hardee's Grilled Chicken Sandwich. But sodium is still excessive at 955 mg. On the plus side, you get a honey-wheat (not to be confused with 100-percent whole wheat) bun. Hardee's Grilled Chicken Sandwich. Hardee's is certainly trying. Though its menu is splattered with disasters like the Big Country Breakfast, the chain is one of the few in the burger business to cook its french fries in vegetable oil rather than beef tallow.

Now Hardee's gets an "Honorable Mention" for its tasty Grilled Chicken Sandwich, which has less than three teaspoons of fat. That's almost one-third less than Jack-in-the-Box's Grilled Chicken Fillet and less than half what you'd get in a McDonald's (fried) McChicken Sandwich.

If you ask Hardee's to hold the (reduced-calorie) mayo, you get only about one teaspoon of fat. Like Carl's Jr., you get a (gasp!) multi-grain bun. It, too, is less than 100 percent whole wheat, but considering the cotton-puff buns most fast food sandwiches are served on, it's a milestone.

If it weren't for the Grilled Chicken Sandwich's 1,240 mg of sodium, Hardee's would have a winner.

CSPI Interns Mimi Wolfe and Vivian Fu compiled information for this article.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:1443
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