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These Are Legit Some Of The Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Meals In The US

Whether this is a to-do list or a to-don't list is your call.

It probably doesn't come as a surprise that chain restaurants tend not to make the most health-conscious meals.

@yougottaeatthis / Via

Basically the whole point of having a meal at a chain like IHOP or Pizza Hut or the Cheesecake Factory is that these places serve huge portions of stuff that's just tasty AF, nutrition be damned. (Pizza with a crust made of detachable cheese-filled bread bowls, anyone?)

Now, thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's 2017 Xtreme Eating Awards, we have a short list of some of the most intensely unhealthy shit out there.

Each year CSPI "honors" unhealthy chain restaurant meals with Oscars-style awards like "Most Damage From a Supporting Vegetable" and "Worst Cheese in a Leading Role."

But in a land of detachable, cheese-stuffed pizza crusts, where do you even start when evaluating the unhealthiest stuff?

Three words: high-calorie mashups.

@intlfroyoassn / Via

Lindsay Moyer, senior nutritionist at CSPI, told BuzzFeed Health via email that the process started with looking at the menus of the top 200 chain restaurants in the US, as listed by Nation's Restaurant News.

"In addition to menu items that are outrageously high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar, we look for dishes that pile shocking amounts of unhealthy foods onto a single plate," Moyer said.

She said that these "high-calorie mashups" tend to be the worst offenders.

For example, "Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo puts three entrees and three sides on one huge tray," Moyer said via email.

Moyer said that while the "winning" meals are extreme examples, "even the typical dishes served in restaurants are a threat to Americans’ health because they raise the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. You get at least a thousand calories in a typical entrée at most restaurants. Expect another thousand each from the appetizer and dessert."

CSPI based its calculations on the FDA's recommendations for daily nutrient intake for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.

CSPI / Via

And look, no one is saying to commit yourself to a life of low-sodium, sugar-free, no-saturated-fat-ever heartache.

It's just that lots of added sugar is linked to heart disease and diabetes, too much sodium can raise your blood pressure, and having a ton of saturated fats (the fats in meat and dairy) to the exclusion of unsaturated fats (in fatty fish, avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butter, etc.) is not optimal for heart health.

So here are the top performers when it comes to high-calorie frankenmeals:

CSPI / Via

Award: Worst Visceral Effects

This meal comes with any three meats (BBQ chicken, jalapeño–cheddar smoked sausage, Chicken Crispers, or a half rack of baby back ribs). It's served with roasted corn, fries, chili–garlic toast, and pickles.

As CSPI reports, with the sausage, Crispers, and ribs, it contains about two and a half days of saturated fat, and about four days' worth of sodium.

CSPI / Via

Award: Least Original Breakfast

Take an omelet, add a cheeseburger and a side of pancakes with butter and syrup, and what do you get? A day's worth of calories, about four days' worth of cholesterol, and much more. CSPI noted, "It’s like eating four McDonald’s Sausage Egg McMuffins drizzled with 2 tablespoons of syrup."

CSPI / Via

Award: Worst Cheese in a Leading Role

For this meal, Buffalo Wild Wings starts with a bacon cheeseburger, then adds deep-fried cheese curds and a mayo-based sauce. As CSPI noted, this meal is the equivalent of about five Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburgers.

CSPI / Via

Award: Worst Adapted Pizza

This pasta dish is topped with four different kinds of meat (Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon) "that's been greased with butter and cream," according to CSPI.

CSPI / Via

Award: Worst Original Appetizer

Look, this is a 12-inch quesadilla filled with two kinds of cheese and two kinds of pork, then topped with more sausage and bacon as well as marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Granted, this is probably made to be shared, but even half of this pizzadilla is going to bless you with just about a day's worth of sodium.

CSPI / Via

Award: Most Damage From a Supporting Vegetable

Why eat a sweet potato with boring ol' butter when you can get it smothered in mini marshmallows and caramel sauce (which is 770 calories alone) to accompany your 16-ounce prime rib? And you get to choose one more side dish and avail yourself of the restaurant's unlimited rolls and peanuts. Come hungry!

CSPI / Via

Award: Most Ridiculous Ending

The name of this dessert says it all, but additional info that might be helpful: It has about six Snickers bars' worth of added sugar, so even if you split this with a friend, it's like eating three candy bars.

CSPI / Via

Award: Worst Cocktail Design

This boozy chocolate–banana milkshake is roughly equivalent to "pouring a 20 oz. Budweiser over five scoops of Breyers Chocolate ice cream," notes CSPI. That pretty much says it all.

Btw, here's what's bananas about this list.

Though these items are delivering galling amounts of the things the FDA recommends we limit, as Moyer notes, these aren't even the highest-calorie, saturated fattiest, saltiest, sweetest things out there. They just happen to be the super unhealthy items that met this year's criteria for being high-calorie mashups.


  1. Are you surprised by how unhealthy some of these dishes are?

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Looks like we are having a problem on the server.
Are you surprised by how unhealthy some of these dishes are?
    vote votes
    No? Restaurant menus are supposed to be full of delicious stuff that isn't necessarily super great for you.
    vote votes
    I mean, kind of. I knew this stuff wasn't like kale and lean meat with a side of brown rice, but I didn't think it'd be this unhealthy.
    vote votes
    I'm shocked! I'm love added sugar and salt and fat as much as the next person, but these feel...excessive? How can they get away with this?

If you want to learn more about recommended dietary intakes, check out BuzzFeed Health's previous reporting on fat, added sugar, and sodium.

Social image credits Buffalo Wild Wings and Yelp user