Top 10 Fast Foods in Disguise

McDonald's DisguiseSome make no qualms about it. Others (and this may be worse) market their food under the guise of health while continuing to sell the same old garbage. Sure. They may provide healthier options than the junk they typically shill. But beware. Just like the food manufacturers that made it onto our Top 10 Junk Foods in Disguise list last week these fast food joints understand that it is the pretense of health that sells – not health itself. And it’s not just individual food items marketed as the “healthy option” that we take issue with. Now we have entire restaurants that the innocent public just assumes are healthy, either because they bill themselves as such or because, hello, smoothies are health food, right…anyone…Bueller?

The following is a list of the top 10 worst offenders:

Subway – Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki

Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki

Subway…eat fresh. Subway…the way a sandwich should be. Long before Jared walked on to the scene with his slimmed down physique and big pants, Subway was promoting itself as a healthy, nutritious alternative to fast food. And yes, we’ll hand it to them: A sandwich with lean deli meats and a few veggies does beat a supersized McDonald’s meal, but once you’ve added all the extras and condiments (hello sugar-laden salad dressing!), the difference is far less staggering. Let’s examine the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, for example. It makes the list because it makes their silly list of “6 grams of fat or less.” Because fat makes you fat, right? Well, no. Weighing in at 370 calories, this six inch sub doesn’t, at least at first blush, appear to be all that terrible, until you look at the 59 grams of carbohydrates and the 19 grams of sugar. Double those figures for the foot-long. Our verdict? You’d be better off making a quick chicken salad at home!

Jamba Juice – Smoothies

Jamba Juice Smoothies

It’s a drink. I’ll have one in place of a meal, it’s filled with “healthy” fruit and vegetable juices. They let me add supplements. it’s…hardly better than ice cream. Touted as a breakfast drink, the Sunrise Strawberry Smoothie includes an alluring blend of strawberries, banana, soy milk and non-fat yogurt as well as a whopping 49 grams of carbohydrates, 43 grams of which come directly from sugar! We don’t know about you, but that’s certainly not something we’d like to wake up to (or deal with at 10 am once the sugar high wears off!)

Baja Fresh – Taco Salad

Baja Fresh Taco Salad

We pick on Baja Fresh here only because of all the large Tex-Mex fast food chains, Baja Fresh is the one that the unassuming public is most likely to consider healthy (and taking pot-shots at Taco Bell was just too darn easy!) Either way, taco salads at most of these joints, are defined as a salad only in the loosest form possible. The no-meat tostada salad, for example, contains 1,010 calories, 98 grams of carbohydrates and 1930 mg of sodium. On the plus side, it does contain 32 grams of protein, but at this point, any attempt to call this dish nutritious is pretty much futile.

McDonald’s – Fruit and Yogurt Parfait with Granola

McDonald's Fruit and Yogurt, Granola Parfait

McDonald’s? I’m loving it, especially when I can load up on 31 grams of sugar in one, convenient 5.3 oz serving of the Fruit and Yogurt Parfait with Granola. In fact, this particular breakfast treat is so loaded with sugar, that it’s included as the second item on the ingredients list, behind only milk. Also, think you’ll be fine if you just pick the fruit out? According to the site’s nutrition information page (keep digging on the Web site and you’ll find it eventually!) the strawberries have been combined with konjac flour. For what purpose? We can only assume so that we’re “lovin’ it” even more.

Wendy’s — Baked Potato

Wendy's Baked Potato

Touted on the Wendy’s website as a “tasty way to get your veggies,” the broccoli and cheese potato consists of a “piping-hot baked potato straight from the oven topped with tender pieces of broccoli and a creamy cheese sauce.” But what does one 10 oz baked potato really give you? A whopping 320 calories and 69 grams of carbohydrate, and that’s before you “personalize it” with bacon pieces, reduced fat acidified sour cream (sounds tasty!), “Buttery Best Spread” (notice that they didn’t actually say butter) or chives (presumably where you’re getting your veggies). Sensible alternative to fries? Uhh… no. In fact, at this point, you’d probably be better off opting for the fries. After all, as they say in the campaigns, “it’s way better than fast food…it’s Wendy’s.”

Kentucky Fried Chicken – Now Trans Fat Free

KFC No Trans Fat

Here at Mark’s Daily Apple we’re all for reducing trans fats. Really we are. In fact we think it’s actually kind of admirable that KFC has taken a stab at improving the nutrition content of some of its foods. However, when eliminating trans fats is your biggest health marketing tool, you’ve got a problem. Also, if you cast your mind back a few years ago (2003 perhaps) KFC did try to capitalize on the whole Atkins craze by positioning itself as carb-concious food…at roughly 10 grams of carbohydrates per piece.

Quiznos – Sammies

Quiznos Sammies

Marketed as a 200 calorie snack, these mini-sandwiches are consistently advertised – and presumably, only tasty – when laden with cheese and dressing. However, adding these extras will hike your sandwich from a manageable 200 calories to a whopping 320 calories (depending on how heavy-handed your sandwich maker is!) per morsel. Further confusing the American Public (and, we’ll admit, us too!), the advertised sammie meal includes 2 sammies and a side, boosting your calorie and carbohydrate content to well over 800 calories and approximately 100 grams of carbohydrates. Also, have you seen how small these stupid things are? It’s a snack at best…and we’re being kind here.

Noodles & Company – Noodles

Noodles & Company
They claim to be one of healthiest fast food joints in the U.S. (even going as far as to say it’s a “hamlet of health,”), but can a place that bases their dishes around noodles really be that healthy? Well, to be honest, the website is so darn confusing, we’ll probably never find out! Looking for low carb choices? They’ll guide you to a page that suggests that you “eat up, eat right, eat well and just eat already” and then suggests that you load up on protein (chicken breast, sautéed beef, organic tofu, etc) with nary a mention of what exactly you are supposed to eat these things with. Still not convinced? Let’s look at the mushroom stroganoff, which boasts savory sherry cream sauce, fresh mushrooms and parmesan with egg noodles. Be prepared folks, because you’re about to ingest a whopping 1,000 calories, 116 grams of carbohydrates and 25 grams of saturated fat. Very healthy indeed!

Starbucks – Skinnies

Starbuck's Skinnies

You gotta give Starbucks credit for pumping out (literally) sugar-free syrups, but don’t be fooled by the green aprons, ambient music and skinny label: There are still 20 grams of sugar and 230 calories in a Venti Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte. Granted, it’s leaps and bounds better than the traditional Cinnamon Dolce Latte, which packs a whopping 50 grams of sugar and 410 calories, but still, don’t let the skinny name fool you!

TCBY – 96% Fat Free Yogurt

TCBY Yogurt

We like to think that most people aren’t fooled anymore by the notion that frozen yogurt is better for you than ice cream. But TCBY would like you to think so. With all the calcium and probiotics it has to offer (not to mention being nearly fat free!) TCBY is clearly a sensible alternative to sugar laden Baskin-Robbins fare. Turns out a measly 1/2 cup of said yogurt packs in 20 grams of sugar. 1/2 cup! And how are they still using “fat free” as a selling point?!

Do you have a “healthy” fast food experience? Hit us up with a comment…

Patrick Q Flickr Photo

Further Reading:

Carl’s Jr. – ‘Feel Good About Being Fat’

Fast Food Indulgence, Dirty Marketing Tricks and Personal Responsbility

The Consumerist: Burger King, a Cigarette Lighter and a Kid’s Meal

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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36 thoughts on “Top 10 Fast Foods in Disguise”

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  1. And to think, I used to be one of those people that thought giving up fried food was good! That was only a good start!

    Is there a post somewhere where Mark refers to suggested percent daily values of calories, fat, sugar, carbohydrates and protein?
    I’d really like to start evaluating my diet based on numbers. I am so glad I found this website. I can’t even remember the last time I ate anything in a fast food establishment that wasn’t a dry side salad. (Thank goodness!)

  2. What is the calorie count of the Baja Fresh Tostada if one does not eat the shell, selects charbroiled chicken, and requests light beans and cheese?

    It clearly is significantly less. The calories are really in the shell!

    Hence, do not eat tortillas!

  3. Chipotles and Donatos, both own soley by McD’s, are the same way. All I see is big, cellulitic monsters going in and out of both of those places!

  4. Cortney –

    Check out these posts to get started…

    and do some searching. We have nearly 1,200 posts so you are bound to find something addressing your health and fitness questions. If not, feel free to drop us a question in any comment board. We try to answer them all (especially those we haven’t already discussed ad nauseum) through our weekly “Dear Mark” posts.

  5. Subway really is a culprit. I was so convinced Subway was the healthy choice, they even put the calorie content on their napkins! Of course, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a 6″ sub with no cheese and a glass of water and called it a filling meal.

  6. Mark,
    I am pretty convinced that healthy and “ready to eat” are most of the time, two mutually exclusive charachteristics of food. I honestly can’t think of anything which nothing is wrong with it. Resturants even manage to screw up the simple spinach salad by topping it with sugar loaded and heavily processed dressings (Kiwi Mango anyone ??). I am even skeptical about their Oil&Vinegar, as I am sure they either use canola oil or low quality olive oil.

  7. My co-workers like to think they are eating healthy by getting a heaping helping of brown rice with “grilled” veggies covered in a sugary sauce from Panda Express. I try to tell them otherwise, but separating them from their “rice-is-good-for-me” mentality is like… well… trying to take the white off rice. 🙂

  8. Cool post, Aaron! It’s so crazy how the marketing usually doesn’t correspond to the actual nutritive of the food itself.

    I was floored when I read about all the sugar in Jamba Juice smoothies. They make a big deal about looking “healthy” with packets of vitamins and whatnot. Usually the sherbet, non-fat yogurt, soy milk, and powdered bases will rocket the sugar content up. Many of those drinks don’t really have “fruit” in them at all.

    When I drink one with friends, I make sure it’s all fruit + water or the matcha powder drink without the extras (just ice and water…I love tea on its own, especially matcha).

    Anyway, it’s cheaper to make it at home and probably more healthy too. A small green tea latte made on the espresso machine is heaven.

    Ditto on Subway. A 6″ is mostly bread and not much else even if you ask to pile a lot of salty pallid-looking veggies on it.

  9. Al,

    You said, “I am pretty convinced that healthy and “ready to eat” are most of the time, two mutually exclusive charachteristics of food.”

    Not at all true. Please take a look at nearly every type of fruit and nuts and most veggies.

  10. Cortney,

    Just ask yourself a simple question before buying something and eating it….”Was it around 1000 years ago?”…if the answer is NO…then put it down. Or if it has a label or package (processed foods)…put it down. Meat..veggies…fruits…nuts…seeds…all been around for a long time…start there and you won’t have to count calories or portions, as those are used mainly when dealing with processed foods.

  11. oh, so sad – I love getting two fruit and yogurt parfaits for a treat whenever I fly. They’re better than a cheeseburger and fries but I have to admit, the fact that the berries are mixed with an ingredient I don’t even know makes me wanna puke. Somehow,with all that sugar, I still pass right out on the plane!

  12. Great article, but I’m not sure why you chose to single out the harmless konjac flour in the “yogurt” parfait when there are far more worrisome ingredients in there (the sugar, for one).

    Konjac is largely composed of glucomannan, an excellent source of fiber and a prebiotic. It has been consumed for centuries in Asian countries for its health and digestive benefits. Not that it helps that bizarre chemical “yogurt” concoction become any healthier, but I feel that a bit of research is in order before condemning an ingredient with a funny name…

  13. I didn’t read any condemning. It’s just not a necessary addition to fruit and yogurt.

  14. jameson-

    Empty calories. Those sugars can add up before you know it. But all in all not the worst thing in the world for you. I’d eat that (assuming it tastes good) before the TCBY listed above. They must not use much of the whey protein they list as one of the ingredients… only 1 g/serving…

  15. When I think of the 80’s, frozen yogurt comes to mind. I ate a lot of it because after all it was low-fat. What was I thinking?

  16. Steve said, “Chipotles and Donatos, both own soley by McD’s, are the same way. All I see is big, cellulitic monsters going in and out of both of those places!”

    In 2003, Donatos was re-aquired from McDonald’s by the family of the founder. McDonald’s started to unload its interest in Chipotle in 2006 and no longer owns any of it.

    Hate on Chipotle all you want, but it’s one of the very few quick-service places I know of that offers antibiotic-free meat along with veggie options that aren’t loaded with additives. One can do fairly well there if one can cope with a few carbs every now and then.

  17. If you do have to eat out, you just gotta not be stupid about it. If it weren’t for the insanely high prices i’d eat at subway A LOT.
    Just get a salad with plain chicken, olive oil on top. It’s not that hard and it tastes good enough. It just really hurts your wallet because you’ll have to get 2 to be satisfied and they charge extra for the salads 🙁
    So yea, I end up not eating there at all…. but still -.-

  18. See, everyone? Naomi has just showed you how it’s possible to forage at Subway. Use your wits and you can make a nearly survivable meal at almost any fast food place…if you HAVE to.

  19. This is an awesome article. Somewhere along the way I decided to stop eating hidden garbage with my healthy foods and it does make a huge difference on the scale and in my pocket. My favorite is when you do try to order something healthy and then they throw you a curve ball…”for an additional 25 cents you can have a large order of fries with that” I DON’T want fries. “How about 2 apple pies for only $1?” Eating out can be very tricky and if you’re not careful there’s always someone out there ready to feed your hunger with whatever.

  20. I agree with Ankoku-jin. Konjac is probably the only good thing in that garbage. It is a source of fiber and will help the victim, er, consumer feel full. This is a good thing in that they will buy less junk to stuff in their faces…

  21. I don’t have a problem modern-foraging at Chipotle Grill, if home-prepared food isn’t an option. At least CG attempts to provide better food ingredients than the typical options. When we are traveling in unfamiliar territory, our navigator device can find the nearest CG for us so we can ignore the other places.

    I get the Carnitas (pulled pork) “burrito bol” option, on a bed of romaine lettuce; no tortilla, rice or beans (ok, sometimes I ask for 1/2 a spoonful of black beans); the chunkier diced tomato mild salsa; and lots o’ sour cream. If my son is with me he orders guacamole and I steal some from him because the portion is usually quite generous. We request water cups (CG’s courtesy cups are large) and fill them with carbonated water at the soda fountain machine and add a slice of lemon (free and tastier than soda). My glucose meter approves.

    This week I was pleasantly impressed during my first Burger Lounge visit. BL was fairly fast (order at the counter and the meal is delivered to the table a few minutes later on real plates with metal silverware). Burgers are made from grassfed beef (and have informative cards on the tables and counters that describe the many benefits of grassfed vs. grainfed feedlot beef). Prices are very reasonable, somewhat higher than fast food, but not as much as a sit-down place. It was no problem to order my burger bunless on a nice caesar salad with store-made dressing, though I think next time I would split a salad – I couldn’t finish it. Instead of croutons, the salad is garnished with taro root cut into “shoe strings”. Not sure how they are fried, but BL does claim to use peanut oil, not soybean. Though they were tasty, I would probably ask to not have the taro root garnish again, as I don’t need the added starch. I did taste the onion rings and they are really, really good, with not too much breading and attractive chopped parsley. It was hard not to eat them, actually. French fried no longer appeal to me at all, but excellent onion rings are still hard to resist (if someone will share with me – I don’t risk order them for myself).

  22. Or, you could just avoid the whole thing all together. All the things these places pump out can be made better at home. Seriously, who can’t make a f*&$%!# sandwhich? You can go into a store and buy all the meat,lettus and tomatos that will feed 4 people instead just yourself for the same price

  23. Thanks so much for the info on fast food places. Would like to see a lot more.We’re all short of time for cooking at home.Maybe you could tell us what is safe to eat at these fast food places if any.

  24. The only place I really like to get fast food these days is Chipotle. Bol with chicken, veggies, tomato, guac and lettuce sounds pretty primal to me. I like to double up on the meat too!

  25. I used to have organic sesamebread with soy spread and strawberry marmalade for breakfast….add to that a glass of ultra-pasteurized goat’s milk.

    Sure sucked when all this sugar started to crash about 1 hour later and I was back in the kitchen raiding the fridge.

    Now I have 1 glass of RAW goat’s milk and a handful of blueberries for breakfast and feel no ill effects. I can also start my Intermittent Fasting right after consuming this without a problem. Sure is funny how your body utilizes foods it can actually recognize and aren’t DEAD.

  26. I actually hate how people think Subway is healthy, it is so not! Too much sodium, sugar and carbs.