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Ranking Fast Food Burgers by How Unhealthy They Are

Big Mac? Double-Double? Baconator? Which is least likely to destroy my life?

We’re completely and utterly hooked on quick eats: More than one in three Americans eat fast food on any given day, according to a new and disconcerting (if not surprising) survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The data more specifically found that nearly half of American men (48.3 percent) eat fast food for lunch on any given day, and 39.1 percent of women do the same. Another 42 percent of Americans stop into a fast food restaurant for dinner, suggesting that many people are eating fast food more than once per day.

Burgers are (obviously) a popular choice here, and as you might imagine, a burger-stuffed diet is far from healthy, especially when said burgers are highly processed. “Red meat, in general, isn’t a particularly healthy food,” explains Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “Processed meats are considered to be a class I carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and red meat is likely a tumor promoter that may increase the risk of several cancers, including colon cancer and colorectal cancer. It may also increase your risk of heart disease.”

Worse yet, burger-slanging fast food restaurants are terrible for the environment. “Each three to four ounce beef burger utilizes the same amount of carbon as driving a standard car for eight miles, and uses the same amount of water as taking a five-minute daily shower for three months,” Hunnes says. “In fact, a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out stating that, in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change and limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or even two degrees Celsius, at this point), we as a collective species need to significantly reduce our intake of red meat.”

The lesson here: Stop eating all those fast food burgers if you want to (1) continue living and (2) prevent the world from sinking into the ocean.

But who am I kidding? Everyone loves fast food burgers. To see if it’s at all possible to mitigate the damage, I asked Hunnes to help me rank popular burgers by how unhealthy they are—from pretty damn unhealthy to diabolically, heart-crushingly unhealthy. That way, you can make the best of a bad choice.

Let’s get to it…

1) White Castle Original Slider: As you might expect, Hunnes explains that the White Castle Original Slider is the least unhealthy burger simply because of its small size. “This entire burger, including the bun, is only approximately two ounces,” she says. “It only has 140 calories, seven grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 380 milligrams of sodium.” But despite the small size of this burger, Hunnes recommends avoiding the temptation to double, triple or even quadruple your order. Which seems… unlikely?

2) Jack In The Box
Jumbo Jack: “The Jumbo Jack is lower in calories [520] than the next competitor, but it does have slightly more (artery clogging) saturated fat [10 grams] and trans fat [1.5 grams] than the Big Mac,” Hunnes explains. “However, it does have less sodium [580 milligrams], which is probably one of its only redeeming qualities.”

3) McDonald’s Big Mac: “While I’d never recommend that anyone seek out a Big Mac, this has—per calorie [the Big Mac has 540 calories]—one of the lower levels of saturated fat [10 grams], trans fat [one gram] and sodium [940 milligrams] for being one of the ‘bigger’ burgers,” says Hunnes.

4) Whataburger Whataburger: “The saturated fat content [eight grams] of this burger is actually slightly less than that of the Big Mac, but it contains 30 percent more sodium [1,220 milligrams]—this burger is more than half the amount of sodium that we should eat in an entire day,” Hunnes says. “But still, this is more saturated fat and trans fat [one gram] than we should be eating. The goal for trans fats is zero grams daily.” Lastly, this burger comes in at 590 calories.

5) Shake Shack Shackburger: “This contains the same amount of sodium as the Whataburger, so the only thing that sets it apart is that it contains more saturated fat [14 grams], which we should be eating less of,” Hunnes emphasizes. The Shackburger also has 530 calories.

6) Fatburger Medium Fatburger: “This has more calories [590] and trans fat [1.5 grams] than the Shackburger,” says Hunnes. “The sodium content [1,190 milligrams] is slightly lower.”

7) Burger King Whopper: “The Whopper contains more calories [660, which is one-third the recommended daily allowance for men], saturated fat [12 grams] and trans fat [1.5 grams] than some of the other competitors,” Hunnes explains. “The sodium content [980 milligrams] is a little bit lower.”

8) In-N-Out Double-Double: “This contains almost the entire recommended daily amount of saturated fat at 18 grams,” Hunnes warns. “It also has two-thirds of the amount of sodium [1,440 milligrams] that we should eat in day.” This burger comes in at 670 calories.

9) Carl’s Jr. Famous Star with Cheese: “With the addition of cheese, we continue to see high amounts of saturated fat [13 grams] on this burger, plus casein [animal protein found in cheese] that’s a possible carcinogen,” Hunnes says. This also contains 670 calories, and 1,210 milligrams of sodium.

10) Five Guys Cheeseburger: “This contains half the amount of calories [990] that some men should consume in a day, and more than half the amount that women should have,” says Hunnes, adding that this cheeseburger also boasts a lot cheese, which again, contains casein. “It’s also fairly high in sodium [1,050 milligrams].”

11) Wendy’s Baconator: “This is definitely the worst of the worst, because a whole other animal is added: You’ve got beef, cheese and bacon,” Hunnes explains. “This has the highest level of saturated fat [24 grams]—more than a day’s worth—and the highest amount of sodium [1,630 milligrams]. Unless you’re trying to join the dead animals that made up your food, I wouldn’t recommend eating this.”