Cheap Eats for Hard Times: Detailed Results
A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
With these health-based criteria in mind, The Cancer Project ranked all Value Menu offerings at each eatery. Items with the most points were ranked as the least healthful.
Points were given if the menu item had the following:
Grilled meat/fish/poultry: 1 point for every grilled item
Processed meats: 1 point for every processed meat item
High-fat dairy: 1 point for every high-fat dairy item
More than 300 calories (1 point) or 400 calories or more (2 points)
More than 10 grams of fat (1 point) or 20 grams of fat or more (2 points)
More than 2.5 grams of saturated fat (1 point) or more than 5 grams of saturated fat (2 points)
Cholesterol: 1 point
Less than 3 grams of fiber: 1 point
More than 400 milligrams of sodium (1 point) or more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium (2 points)
No fruit or vegetable serving (onion and pickles do not count, but lettuce, tomato or any significant fruit or vegetable do): 1 point
Using these scores, Cancer Project dietitians then chose the five worst Value Menu items from all fast-food establishments combined. To break a tie between the new McDouble from McDonald’s and the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy’s, these two items were further compared by ranking nutritional criteria—total fat, saturated fat, calories, and sodium—from highest to lowest. Based on those factors, the McDouble was named the fourth-worst Value Menu item, with the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger taking fifth place.
Junior Bacon Cheeseburger (Jack in the Box)
Rank: Worst value menu item
Overall score: 14
400 calories, 23 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 860 milligram of sodium, 1 gram of fiber, processed meat, grilled beef, high-fat dairy
The Junior Bacon Cheeseburger costs a dollar, but consumers who make it a regular part of their diet might end up paying a pretty penny in healthcare costs. This sandwich, which contains a beef patty, two strips of bacon, cheese, and mayonnaise, has just 1 gram of health-promoting fiber, but it weighs in at 400 calories and 23 grams of fat, including 8 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat. The beef patty is grilled, which exposes consumers to cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines. Bacon, like all processed meats, is associated with increased colorectal cancer risk.
Cheesy Double Beef Burrito (Taco Bell)
Rank: Second-worst value menu item
Price: 89 cents
460 calories, 20 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,620 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of fiber, processed meat, high-fat dairy
This burrito contains a double helping of processed beef, as well as nacho cheese sauce, seasoned rice, and red sauce. It weighs in at 20 grams of fat, including 7 grams of saturated fat, as well as 460 calories. It also offers an astonishing 1,620 milligrams of sodium—more than two-thirds the recommended daily maximum. The high levels of sodium commonly found in fast food can contribute to high blood pressure and calcium loss from bones.
Breakfast Sausage Biscuit (Burger King)
Rank: Third-worst value menu item
420 calories, 27 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 gm trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,090 milligrams of sodium, 1 gram of fiber, processed meat
The Breakfast Sausage Biscuit might be the worst possible choice for the most important meal of the day. It contains 27 grams of fat, including 15 grams of saturated fat, as well as 420 calories and 1,090 milligrams of sodium. The sausage patty, like all processed meat products, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. The Breakfast Sausage Biscuit also lacks the cancer-fighting fiber and antioxidants provided by a more sensible breakfast of oatmeal topped with nuts and berries.
Rank: Fourth-worst value menu items
Score: 11 points
390 calories, 19 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 920 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of fiber, high-fat dairy
The McDouble, which recently replaced the Double Cheeseburger on McDonald’s Dollar Menu, is a double disaster that derives more than 43 percent of its calories from fat. This sandwich, which contains two beef patties and one slice of cheese, has 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 42 percent of the recommended daily value of artery-clogging saturated fat, and 38 percent of the recommended daily value of sodium.
Junior Bacon Cheeseburger (Wendy’s)
Rank: Fifth-worst value menu item
Score: 11 points
310 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, .5 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 1 gram of fiber, processed meat, high-fat dairy
Covered with high-fat cheese and mayonnaise, Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger is packed with cholesterol and derives 46 percent of its calories from fat. It also features two strips of hickory-smoked bacon, a processed meat product that can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Wendy’s also offers the Double Stack, a sandwich with two beef patties. If the Double Stack is ordered with optional extras, including cheese sauce and three strips of bacon, it’s actually more unhealthful than the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger—but those options cost extra.