We know that most convenience food isn’t going to win any awards for top quality nutrition but when it comes to the good ol’ burger and fries, not all are made equal. We reveal the most unhealthy fast food in Australia, which greasy meals to avoid and which ones to pick instead.
The latest research by The George Institute for Global Health into the calorific catastrophe of Australian fast food has certainly given us some food for thought.
The study shows that some of our favourite fast food chains are packing in an average person’s entire daily energy needs in one single meal. Yikes!
The Most Unhealthy Fast Food
So who is the biggest culprit in the unhealthy fast food stakes…..?
And the winner (or fat gainer, should we say) is….Red Rooster with its Bacon and Cheese Rippa single meal.
This substantial meal packs a kilojoule-lade kapow with 7,730kj per serve, which is a whopping 89 per cent of the average adult daily energy intake.
I’m a bit of a shortie so my healthy daily intake is around 6,000 kilojoules (1,500 calories) per day so if this meal was my pick, I would be way over my nutritional needs from just one single meal. Crazy!
Is It Worth The BIG FAT Bite?
The Bacon and Cheese Rippa meal consists of a roll filled with 2 crispy chicken strips, cheese, two slices of bacon with mayo and Texas BBQ sauce, together with fries and a coke.
According to the FoodSwitch: State of the Fast Food Supply report, this big Rippa also suffered from salt overload, with a massive 4,571mg of sodium per serving, which is more than twice the amount you should be having in a whole day.
I would need to exercise intensely for around 8 hours to burn off the calories in this diet-devilish dish. OMG, soooo not worth it.
The Bacon and Cheese Rippa meal is off my list…forever!
But Is There Something Better?
At least Red Rooster isn’t trying to hide the details under the carpet. They very clearly state the kilojoule content of each menu item on their website. Looking at the option, the roast chicken and gravy roll is only 1,900 kilojoules and looks just as satisfying to me.
Second On The List…
Next up on the unhealthy fast food list in Hungry Jacks, which came a close second with the Whopper Hunger Tamers Meal. This gyranosaurus meal consists of TWO (!!) burgers, three chicken nuggets, fries and a medium coke. This package is intended for one very hungry person – no sharing necessary. The energy tally of this massive mouthful is 7,600kJ per serving, or 87 percent of the average adult’s daily energy intake in one meal.
Hungry Jacks are also completely transparent about the calorific values of their menu items and seeing that this meal packs in 100g of fat and 3,020mg of sodium makes me sick.
Right, another one crossed off the list.
Convenience Comes At A BIG Cost
Public health lawyer and Research Fellow at The George Institute Dr Alexandra Jones said that the pursuit of convenience should come with a serious health warning.
“Before lockdown Australians were making over 50 million visits to fast food chains a month and spending nearly a third of their household food budget on eating out,” she said.
“We may now have lost our ability to dine in, but it has never been easier to order fast food from the couch. While we’re moving less, fast food companies have been bombarding us on social media with suggestions for ‘comfort’ eating. This undermines efforts to maintain a healthy diet for both physical and mental wellbeing.”
Bad News Burgers
The report showed that Hungry Jacks was the worst offender in the single burger category. Its Double Angus Smokey BBQ burger provides a whopping 64 percent of daily energy intake and an alarming 87 percent of your daily salt allowance.
Even plant-based burgers are not immune. Just because a burger is meat-free, does not mean that it’s calorie-free. In fact, I am always shocked to see how fattening so-called ‘healthy plant based meals’ are.
In fact, quite shockingly, plant-based burgers had the highest energy content per serving in the entire burger category at 3,097kJ. I bet you didn’t expect that!
The vegetarian burger with the highest energy content per serving was the Grill’d Beyond Garden Goodness Burger on a gluten-free bun with 3,700kJ per serving – almost half a day’s worth of energy in the one burger.
This burger is made up of plant-based, meat tasting Beyond Meat pattie with tasty cheese, avocado, beetroot, cos lettuce, tomato, Spanish onion, relish & herbed mayo. It contains 52grams of fat and 1,130mg of salt. It sounds yum but we certainly wouldn’t call it healthy.
However, the researchers found that not all fast food chains were that forthcoming in their nutritional informational (hmmm…do you blame them?).
“We found that nutrition information provided by fast food chains isn’t always clear or consistent, making it difficult for people to choose wisely. The wide availability and promotion of meal options that contain excess energy are helping to fuel the nation’s obesity epidemic,” added Dr Jones.
We found that McDonalds wasn’t as clear about its nutritional values as its competitors and we had to download a pdf hidden deep in the dark crevices of their website to find the calorie counts of their food.
The other worrying factor, is the mountainous amounts of salt hidden in unhealthy fast food.
Out of the 144 combo meals analysed, 60 exceeded suggested dietary targets for sodium, 23 of these were from Red Rooster and 18 from Hungry Jacks.
“High salt intakes are closely linked to high blood pressure which is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart disease. By choosing some of these fast food offerings, people are storing up trouble for their health,” she said.
Fast Food Chains Are NOT Doing Enough!
The report also looked at trends between 2016 and 2019, finding that most brands for whom data was available had made little progress in making healthier product ranges during that time.
“Our research highlights that most products made by the major chains are unhealthy, sold in oversize servings and packed full of cheap and harmful ingredients. This is not great news for Australia’s health,” said Dr Jones.
“There are clear opportunities for companies to do better, like making healthier versions of products, replacing the less healthy ones with better ones in smaller serving sizes, and displaying complete nutrition information near the point of purchase, to help people make healthier choices,” added Dr Jones.
“In the meantime, our message to consumers is to limit your consumption of fast foods. Take the opportunity of more time at home to brush up on your cooking skills – home cooking from scratch will also have benefits for your health.”
Swap The Unhealthy Fast Food For Better-For-You Picks
But the good news is that you don’t have to give up on fast food altogether. There are still healthier picks you can make.
For example, at McDonalds the spicy chicken McWrap (grilled) weighs in at 1,780kj per serve. The sodium measure is still way too excessive though at 1,050mg.
At Hungry Jacks, the secret is to opt for a smaller portion size. Go for a Whopper Jnr, which is still pretty satisfying with tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles and sauce. Order it without cheese to keep the saturated fat and kilojoules down. This one is 1,550kj with sodium at 372mg. Not bad at all.
Or just forget the burger altogether and opt for sushi or Thai stirfries.
What About Pizza?
Subway is also a healthier takeaway option. In fact, a study in 2018 revealed that Subway was making the most advances to boosting the nutritional factor of their food offering. Although the research did find that major fast-food restaurants were still not doing enough in their commitment to healthy eating.
Domino’s Pizza was the worst offender at the time, with a total score of 3/100, although that was largely based on its failure to disclose its approach to health and nutrition. The popular pizza fast food chain now does share the nutritional value of its food quite clearly on its menu. But at 10,800 kilojoules for a Dominoes Big Philly Cheese Steak pizza, I think I’ll stick to homemade pizza.
What do you think is the most unhealthy fast food? What is your favourite fast food (healthy or not?) Tell us in the comments below.We may get commissions for purchases made using links in this post. Learn more.