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The Five Most Unhealthful 'Gourmet Burgers': Findings

A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
Winter 2009

Findings | Key Factors | Rating System/Detailed Results

As shrinking food budgets and rising unemployment levels push consumers away from full-service dining, a growing number of fast-food restaurants are offering "gourmet burgers" made with expensive types of beef and premium toppings such as Swiss cheese. Although high-end burgers may seem like a cheap way to enjoy a premium meal, these high-fat, high-cholesterol items can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. To determine which "gourmet burgers" pose the greatest risk to consumers’ health, The Cancer Project analyzed premium items sold by five large fast-food chains.

Findings

The Cancer Project’s dietitians found that some fast-food "gourmet burgers" contain more fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium than a person should consume in an entire day. All are high in calories, and many contain bacon and high-fat dairy products, both of which can increase cancer risk. The five most unhealthful items were ranked from worst to least bad. Here are the five worst fast-food "gourmet burgers":

 

Rank

Worst "Gourmet Burger"

Fast-Food Restaurant

1

Bacon Deluxe Triple

Wendy’s

2

The Guacamole Bacon Six Dollar Burger

Carl’s Jr.

3

Steakhouse XT Burger

Burger King

4

Sirloin Cheeseburger

Jack in the Box

5

Angus Bacon and Cheese

McDonald’s

 

Background

The "gourmet burger" trend was born in 2001 when French chef Daniel Boulud rolled out the db Burger, a sirloin stuffed with short ribs and foie gras that sold for $32. Full-service and fast-food restaurants in the United States quickly latched onto the trend. In 2004, the fast-food industry assisted in a public relations campaign to promote the supposedly superior quality of meat from Angus cattle. Burger King’s Angus Burger was one of the first fast-food "gourmet burgers" to appear in the American marketplace.

Many analysts believe that the recent economic downturn has actually increased the popularity of "gourmet" fast-food items. Unable to afford budget-busting meals at full-service restaurants, consumers are making more trips to the drive-through window. But many people do not downscale all the way to the dollar menu, so fast-food restaurants are cashing in by offering "gourmet burgers" to bargain-hunting consumers with premium tastes.

In addition to the higher price tag, these burgers come at a nutritional cost. With high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol, they put consumers at increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other obesity-related problems, as well as some forms of cancer.

Review Process

In October 2009, dietitians with The Cancer Project began to research "gourmet burgers" offered by national fast-food companies. The five most prominent fast-food chains selling these burgers were Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s.

Dietitians obtained menu information by reviewing company Web sites, visiting restaurants near The Cancer Project’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and contacting restaurants located out of state by phone. Price information was obtained at locations in D.C. and Austin, Texas, and may vary. The dietitians used the nutritional information provided on each company’s Web site.

Dietitians evaluated each burger based on key nutritional data, including the item’s calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber. Ratings also reflect whether the product contains processed meats such as bacon, which are linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer, or high-fat dairy products, which appear to play an important role in cancer risk.

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