The Unhealthiest Fast Food Restaurants Of 2024

Arby's Mcdonald's Burget King White Castle
Arby's Mcdonald's Burget King White Castle - Static Media / Getty

Everybody hates to admit it, but sometimes fast food is the answer to our next meal. We all get to a point where we forget to pack lunch or simply don't feel like slaying away behind a stove to make dinner. It's times like these when a quick swing by at our local fast-food joint becomes the next best option.

Yes, fast food is ultra-convenient when we need a last-minute feast, but we should all know by now that consuming fast food too frequently can give rise to a whole range of health issues. It's no secret that these foods are highly processed and loaded with questionably high levels of saturated fat, sodium, sugars, and trans fat. Don't even get us started on the calories that are packed into most fast-food tuck-ins.

Of the many fast-food joints that are out there for your convenience, some of them may render healthier options or just generally serve food that's nutritionally on the healthier side. However, as you'll soon see, a lot of these fast food chains are far from ideal when it comes to making the smart decisions for nutrition.

Read more: Fast Food Hamburgers Ranked Worst To Best


McDonald's food and drinks
McDonald's food and drinks - Patcharaporn Puttipon4289/Shutterstock

The world wouldn't be the same without the extremely profitable McDonald's franchise, now would it? Since its inception in the 1940s, McDonald's has mushroomed to over 100 countries across the globe, with over 40,000 restaurants in operation today. It's been theorized that Mickey D's sells around 6.5 million burgers every single day.

Regardless of its global success, it goes without saying that McDonald's is one of the unhealthiest fast food chains around today. Sure, it has a few healthy offerings on its menu, but frankly, who orders a salad at McDonald's? In fact, salads only make up a measly 2% of sales for McDonald's. With most of the meals that we like to wolf down here, we are sure to get more than half a day's fix of sodium, fat, and sometimes even calories.

One of the most popular McD's orders is the famed Big Mac meal. Anyone who chomps down on one of these is going to consume around half a day's total calorie, carb, fat, and sodium intake. This combo also contains 63 grams of added sugars, which goes over the 50-gram daily value by 26% -- yikes! The large fries are also a popular order at Mickey D's, thanks to their affordability. It's probably not the best idea to make a meal of the fries, though, as it's a carb and fat-heavy meal with minimal protein. Large fries contain over 800 calories and a staggering 40 grams of fat, which would reach the daily limit for some consumers.

White Castle

White Castle signs
White Castle signs - Bruce VanLoon/Shutterstock

White Castle's story goes back all the way to 1921. It was savvy businessman E.W. "Billy" Ingram and kitchen whiz Walter Anderson who dreamed of the first-ever fast-food burger joint in humble Wichita all those years ago. Not only is this brand credited for pioneering the fast food concept in America (and probably the rest of the world, too), but apparently, it is also responsible for creating the modern hamburger that we know and love today. Chew on that, McDonald's!

Alas, it did make it onto this list for good reason, and that's due to the lack of fresh produce on its menu. Just by having a quick glance at White Castle's menu, it quickly becomes rather apparent that it seems to only offer burgers, waffles, and fried sides, with absolutely no vegetables or fruits whatsoever.

The most popular orders at White Castle are the sliders, and it's one of the main reasons that the chain is still around today. The Original Slider, Jalapeno Cheese Slider, and the Cheese Slider are the most popular sliders, and combo offers include four sliders, fries, and a drink. You're looking at 1,420 to 1,540 calories when ordering any one of these combos with medium fries and a medium iced tea. This is an insane amount of calories for one sitting, don't you think?

If you're someone who watches calorie intake or likes to add in a bit of fresh produce with a fast food order, then White Castle is probably not the best choice.

Burger King

Burger King cheese  burger food
Burger King cheese burger food - Deutschlandreform/Shutterstock

Burger King may not be the reigning monarch of fast-food joints, but it sure has always been a ceaseless contender for the throne. What started out as Insta-Burger King in 1954 is now a transnational fast-food enterprise present in over 100 countries, serving over 11 million customers a day.

It may be one of the biggest fast food companies known for its signature burger, the famed Whopper, but this brand isn't exactly known for offering a very healthy menu. With the growing knowledge of nutrition and the lack thereof in most fast-foods establishments, a lot of these kinds of eateries have managed to lace their menus with healthy options in recent years. However, Burger King hasn't really put much effort into creating grilled meat options or salads for those who want a wholesome choice.

Most of the sides are fried and add up to 300 calories, so if you are health conscious, your best bet would be to practice portion control when visiting this establishment.

Carl Jr's

Carl Jr's burger and fries
Carl Jr's burger and fries - Alidelphia89 / X (Formally known as Twitter)

Founded in 1941, this franchise is loved for its iconic charbroiled burgers and other delights. While McDonald's offers more simple burgers on the small side, and Burger King leans more towards medium-sized sandwiches, it's Carl's Jr's that has built its reputation around crafting nearly impossibly large burgers.

This franchise may have its one-of-a-kind charbroiled monster burgers going for it, but like most eateries on this list, Carl Jr's is known for its emphasis on convenient and deliciously unhealthy foods rather than serving eats that offer nutrition.

Unfortunately, most items on Carl Jr's menu scream ultra-high calories and should really only be enjoyed on the odd occasion for those who are trying to be more health conscious. Most of the high calories in its offerings come from the high amount of fat. Another alarming thing that one will notice from Carl Jr's menu is the fact that most of its famed charbroiled burgers contain trans fats, and there are a handful of these sandwiches, like the Double El Diablo, that contain a whopping 4g of this health-wrecking anti-nutrient.

Checkers & Rally's

Checkers & Rally's food
Checkers & Rally's food - Deutschlandreform/Shutterstock

Prior to 1999, it was just Checkers and Rally's doing its own separate things, but following a merger, the two became one of the biggest double drive-thru establishments in America. Today, this fast food brand has the same menu, the same distributors, and employees work for the same bosses. Checkers, Rally's, or Checkers & Rally's (depending on who you are) are known for its good, quick-service foods, not to mention scrumptious seasoned fries.

Whatever you decide to call it, this chain's menu is overtly known for having foods that are imbued with sneaky ingredients. From a quick peek at its menu's nutritional value, from the start, it's pretty clear that there are high levels of saturated fats. Most of the burgers and sandwiches will set you back over 500 calories, and some -- like the Smoky BBQ Bacon Buford -- break the1,000 calories mark. This doesn't even include the calories that would follow with additional fries. The chicken wings are also a cause for concern as these items' calories predominantly come from fat. There also seems to be a deficiency in healthy meal options and snacks, so anyone trying to watch their calorie or nutrient intake should visit this establishment cautiously.


Arby's drive thru sign
Arby's drive thru sign - Andipantz/Getty Images

Anyone who heads to Arby's anticipates a juicy sandwich stuffed with layers of sliced roast beef or other indulgent varieties, such as bacon, brisket, chicken, etc. Some may visit this chain thinking that the so-called roast beef is healthier than most burger fast food chain options, but think again. The roast beef used in the Arby's sandwiches happens to be ultra-processed, which can lead to an array of health concerns, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and so much more. Furthermore, Arby's meals are loaded with sodium. The WHO recommends a sodium intake that is lower than 2,000mg a day, and more than 50% of the roast beef sandwiches go over this recommended daily amount, while the remaining sandwiches hover near this value.

Arby's does have items on its menu that may appear to be healthy, like the wraps and gyros, but don't be fooled, as these menu items contain more calories than some of the classic sandwiches. The Crispy Chicken Club Wrap and the Greek Gyro will set you back with 880 and 700 calories, and this doesn't even account for accompanying sides and drinks!


Bojangles fried chicken, biscuits and fries
Bojangles fried chicken, biscuits and fries - Deutschlandreform/Shutterstock

Bojangles may not have the titan status as some of the chains on this list, but it is still one of the fast food superstars in the fried chicken game. You may not even have heard of this chain, depending on where you live, as the Carolina-born franchise only recently started expanding to the West Coast.

Bojangles has strong ties in places like Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, thanks to the Cajun Southern-style fried chicken and biscuits. It also has a good reputation for serving "fresh, fast food" as the biscuits are made from scratch every 20 minutes, and it's also asserted that the chicken is never frozen.

Bojangles may serve delicious and authentic Southern cuisine, but most of the menu items are sadly loaded with excessive levels of calories and salt. The fan-favorite Cajun Chicken filet biscuit contains 1,720 milligrams of sodium and 570 calories, of which 240 calories come from fat. Add Bo-tato rounds and a drink with the order, and you'll bump up the calories to 1,020 or 1,610 if you're feeling extra famished.

Most of the calories come from fats and saturated fats, seeing as most of the menu items are deep-dried. The menu may be tasty, just don't expect to find anything green other than a side order of green beans.


Popeyes chicken
Popeyes chicken - Tony Prato/Shutterstock

Popeyes is another fried chicken joint in the fast food industry. Launching in the early 1970s, much like Bojangles, it also built its heritage on Cajun and Creole culinary characteristics from the North American South. The only difference between the two is that Popeyes is from Louisiana and has a menu that is unique to New Orleans, which means it includes some seafood options, too.

It may have some of the best deep-fried chicken in the game, but sadly, its menu is also one of the least healthy ones out there. A lot of fast food restaurants have added more nutritious menu items in recent years as the world has become more health-conscious, but Popeyes has not conformed to this beneficial movement just yet. The CEO has even admitted that the healthy options never sold, so the brand just stuck to the same unhealthy menu items that have always been on offer.

The signature Chicken Sandwich is the chain's most viral item, but no one seems to be batting an eye at the 753 calories coming solely from this sneaky sandwich alone. Add Cajun Seasoned Fries and a drink, and you're ramming the calories up to around 1,318.


Sonic Drive In
Sonic Drive In - Tada Images/Shutterstock

Sonic carhops on roller skates may be a rare sight these days, but customers still pack out the parking spaces for the brand's slushes, burgers and other fast food items. Sonic's menu is pretty standard when compared to most fast-food joints, so we'd like to think that some people probably go here just for the "dining in the car" experience rather than the actual food.

Whether you go there for the food or the experience, when it comes the to nutrition of the food on offer, things aren't looking great. You're looking at around 1,500 calories when ordering the a standard cheeseburger, medium tots, and a mini milkshake. Most of Sonic's medium milkshakes carry upwards of 700 calories, but a large milkshake is where things really go overboard. For example, a large Oreo peanut butter milkshake contains 1,580 calories and upwards of 80 grams of fat. Keep in mind that the recommended fat value is 44 to 78 grams a day.

The franchise has a highly assorted menu that's packed with processed and fatty foods, but you won't find any salads on the menu here. The vice president, Scott Uehlein, unabashedly stated why Sonic doesn't have salads: "I don't know why we would do a salad, but we can do some tots."

Jack In The Box

Jack in the Box spicy chicken burger and fries
Jack in the Box spicy chicken burger and fries - Birch Photographer/Shutterstock

Bojangles may have made its mark on the Southeast, but it's Jack in the Box that has a stronghold on the West Coast. It started out like any fast food joint, with mostly burgers on the menu in the 1950s, and later saw rapid expansion when it started adding more variety to the menu. Unlike a lot of chains on this list, one can get tacos, burgers, pitas, sourdough sandwiches, and chicken teriyaki bowls all in one place. Thanks to this mashup of a menu, you could perhaps even say that this chain's menu offers the most variety when compared to other fast food chains in the U.S.

If you are one who frequents Jack in the Box on the reg, then we're guessing you're probably not too concerned about the number of calories you're consuming. Sure, most fast foods are notoriously known for having high calories, but Jack in the Box really takes the cake.

Some of the shakes alone offer half the calories for one person per day, and the trans fat in every milkshake on offer includes 1.5 grams or more. Furthermore, out of 13 burger options, 10 of them have over 1 gram of trans fat, and some of them carry as much as 3 grams.

Five Guys

Five Guys sign
Five Guys sign - Manuel Esteban/Shutterstock

What sets Five Guys apart from most of the burger franchises on this list is probably the 250,000 burger combination possibilities on offer. The best part of this feat has got to be the fact that the 15 burger toppings on offer for you to mix and match as you please are all entirely free, no matter how much you choose to stack on to your burger.

This chain may have great burgers to feed fast-food frequenters, but sadly, the menu at this joint offers very little beyond greasy fast food. Of the food that is on offer, one can expect most of the meals to be loaded with calories, saturated fats, and sodium. You're in for about 3 grams of trans fat when you get a single hamburger or hotdog with regular fries and a milkshake, as each of these items contains at least 1 gram of trans fat. Some of the toppings that go with the meals also have a fair share of high fructose corn syrup, such as ketchup, mayonnaise, relish, and BBQ sauce.

If you are looking for a non-burger, lower calorie option at this burger joint, your best bet is going to be the 280 calorie Veggie Sandwich.


KFC fried chicken
KFC fried chicken - SIN1980/Shutterstock

KFC is the most ubiquitous and profitable fast-food chicken eatery in the world. There are roughly 29,990 branches globally, and this brand has a footing in around 147 countries around the world today.

KFC's finger-licking good chicken is celebrated for its 11-spice recipe, which remains a secret to this day. KFC has several items on its menu that may offer some nutritional value, like the salads, but let's be real: who actually visits a Kentucky Fried Chicken to order a salad? Anyone visiting this eatery is probably doing so for its signature fried chicken.

It's no secret that anything deep-fried in canola oil is going to be high in saturated fats and, therefore, calories, too. This is one of the aspects that make most KFC meals fat and calorie-heavy and it throws all possibilities of a balanced meal out of the window. Besides the high fat and calories that are a cause for concern, most of the foods are loaded with sodium, too. The Chicken Sandwich is one of this chain's best-selling items, and half of the calories in one of these come solely from fat. Opt for a four-piece fried chicken combo and you could be looking at roughly a day's worth of calories for a single meal.


fast food, burgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, onion rings
fast food, burgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, onion rings - Jenifoto/Getty Images

Our pursuit to highlight the least healthy fast-food restaurant chains of 2024 included assessing a few key characteristics. We sought out obvious culprits that make food unhealthy, such as ultra-high calories, sodium content, sugar content, and, of course, the levels of fats, including saturated and trans fats.

We then looked at the ratio of items on each fast-food chain's menu with high levels of these nutritional components. We also scoped out the menus to work out which ones lacked fresh produce or snack and side options that are on the healthy side. We also probed other sites with science-based facts so that we could get down to the elements that make meals healthy or unhealthy.

Read the original article on Mashed