ADVENTURES IN FAST FOOD: Just How Unhealthy Can One Eat, Anyway?


    I got the notion that it might be fun to spend the day visiting fast food restaurants and ordering the least healthy item on the menu.  I wondered just how unhealthy a person can eat over the course of a single day, relying only on fast food for nourishment.  There was nothing scientific about this inquiry, nothing of potential value to mankind. However, I thought it would be a fun little exercise that would give me bragging rights.  So, I waited for an appropriate day and studied my maps.

    The ground rules I laid out for myself were simple.  I would order breakfast, lunch, and dinner at three different fast food outlets, and also make two stops for juice or coffee, and dessert after dinner.  Six stops altogether.  For meals, I would choose one single item from the menu. I was allowed to look up the nutritional information to help choose the most unhealthy item. I decided that for mobility, I would travel by bicycle instead of car; this would help me stay awake and would also negate to some degree the damage I intended to inflict on myself. The fast food outlets would be chosen randomly from local establishments, which in this case meant restaurants in and around Phoenix, Arizona.  I set no time limit for myself, but meals had to be eaten at appropriate times.  I allowed myself a bottle of water to nurse while I biked; beyond that all nourishment would come in the form of whatever I ordered.

    With these rules firmly in place, I decided I was ready.  Generally, a human diet should contain about 2000 calories a day, with no more than 65 grams of fat and 1500 milligrams of sodium.  I decided to keep a running tally in all three categories, just to see how much I could obliterate the recommendations.

    Breakfast: 9AM, Burger King, 3521 West Van Buren, Phoenix, AZ

    ultBurger King happened to be the closest place to home, so I figured I might as well start there for breakfast.  The typical morning fare at Burger King are breakfast sandwiches, which trade under the vaguely obnoxious name Croissan’wich. There were eight varieties of Croissan’wich to choose from, as well as three varieties available on biscuits instead. None looked especially appetizing; all had a kind of knock-off quality, as if they were items from a poor man’s McDonald’s.  Then, my eyes came to rest on the Ultimate Breakfast Platter.  This was more like it.  Essentially eggs and sausage patties augmented by three starchy side dishes (a biscuit, pancakes with syrup, and fried hash browns), I figured there was no way it could be healthy.  As I settled into a booth to chow down, I found out just how unhealthy it was: 1420 calories, 84 grams of fat, and 2950 grams of sodium.  I was a little startled by these numbers, as the portions were not particularly large.  However first blood had been drawn; with breakfast alone, I consumed 70% of the daily calorie recommendation, and had already exceeded my daily allotment of fat and sodium (the latter by a factor of two).  The taste?  Eggs were spongy and tasteless, the syrup was intensely sweet and bore no hint of maple, and everything was pretty salty.

    Mid Morning Smoothie: 10:30AM, Jamba Juice 3110 N Central Ave #100, Phoenix, AZ

    moodNext stop was Jamba Juice for a smoothie, to help rinse the salt out of my mouth.  I had to be careful at Jamba Juice; I didn’t want to run the risk of accidentally choosing something healthy. Fortunately, the choice was easy.  I picked up a 24-ounce Peanut Butter Moo’d, which was an embarrassing thing to order, but which fit the theme of the day very nicely.  It tasted like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ground up in a blender, with all the cloying sweetness that implies.  The damage was 770 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 490 milligrams of sodium. These were good totals.  One smoothie had now put me over my day’s recommended calorie intake, and extended my overindulgence in fat and sodium.  The drink is not what I would call refreshing; it was so sweet my teeth started tingling and it sat like a brick in my stomach.  By the time I was done, I had no idea how I would fit the rest of the day’s food in. Fortunately, I had about two hours to bike until lunch time.

    Lunch: 1PM, Chipotle, 1515 N 7th Ave #120, Phoenix, AZ

    carnI didn’t exactly work up an appetite on my bicycle between 11:00 and 1:00, but I did manage to get things sloshing around enough that I was sure I could find room for lunch.  I fancied Mexican because it was nearby and because I hadn’t ever set foot in Chipotle, and had been meaning to for years.  I decided to go for the Carnitas Burrito.  Carnitas is essentially fried pork, dripping in fat.  At the very least, the burrito did contain actual items that resembled healthy food; it contained white rice, black beans, lettuce, cheese, fajita vegetables, corn salsa, tomato salsa, sour cream, and guacamole in a tortilla-bursting mess.  The best thing I had tasted so far, I got it down without much difficulty, adding 1,410 calories to the kitty, along with 23.5 grams of fat and 3,020 milligrams of sodium.  I had now consumed 4 days’ worth of sodium by lunchtime.

    Afternoon Coffee: 3:30PM Starbucks, 650 E Osborn Rd, Phoenix, AZ

    aaaNot feeling very hungry, I pulled into Starbucks around mid-afternoon for a caffeinated pick-me-up.  I wasn’t sure how unhealthy a cup of coffee could be; when I was a kid, coffee had 0 calories.  I eventually chose the Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino, which didn’t taste much like coffee at all.  More like a milkshake, but with an impressive 140mg of caffeine, it didn’t go down especially smoothly as I was beginning to become aware of the limitations of what can fit in a stomach.  Nonetheless, I fit it all in, another 590 calories, with 22 grams of fat and a relatively modest 340 milligrams of sodium.  I felt a little guilty about there not being more fat and sodium, but took heart in knowing that I was up to 4,190 calories, more than two days’ worth.

    Dinner: 5:30PM, Subway, 530 E McDowell Rd #104, Phoenix, AZ

    meatballSubway usually dodges much of the criticism leveled at fast food restaurants about unhealthy food, since it is theoretically possible to order a relatively healthy sandwich consisting of lean meat and vegetables.  However, about half of its menu items are just as bad for you as anything you’ll find in Fatburger or KFC, and I ordered the worst.  A 12-inch Double Meatball Marinara with Cheese set me back 1,720 calories before I even loaded on the extras.  Another 84 grams of fat and a stunning 4,960 milligrams of sodium made this an impressive sandwich, no matter how you sliced it.  Not bad tasting either, but the sauce clearly had a sizable amount of sugar in it, and the thing is messy as hell to eat (I saved a few calories when one meatball dropped out of the bottom, bounced off my lap, and rolled under the next table.)  It was just as well; at this point I could feel my liver and other internal organs I didn’t know I had protesting at the abuse.

    Dessert: 6:30PM, Dairy Queen, 5050 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ

    sundFor my purposes, the Turtle Waffle Bowl Sundae (Dipped) seemed the perfect way to end the day.  A chocolate encrusted “waffle” (more like an enormous cookie) holds ice cream, whipped cream, caramel, and nuts.  If I were a kid, and this were the only food of the evening, I would have been ecstatic.  However, this was a chore to get through.  My body protested with each mouthful, and I came very close to skipping the dessert portion of my experiment.  However, in the end, I got all 810 calories of it down, along with its 34 grams of fat and 380mg of sodium.  The waffle was the hardest part; the ice cream had taken up every last nook in my stomach, and the waffle had to be forced.  But I got it down, and my mission was complete.

    For the day, I had consumed 6,520 calories, 267.5 grams of fat, and 13,040mg of sodium. That works out to more than three days of caloric intake, over four days of fat, and over a week’s worth of sodium.  I’m no scientist, but I would hazard a guess that if someone were to switch to this menu daily, they would be dead within a month.  While part of me felt like an idiot for consuming so much for nothing more than a topic to write about, part of me also felt assaulted.  After all, what had I done so wrong?  I had a typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I had ordered no side dishes or drinks with my meals.  I had a smoothie, a coffee drink, and dessert to augment the meals.  It was a busy day of eating, but not especially egregious; imagine if I had added fries and sodas to my meals.

    Oddly, the day after, I actually had an appetite again.  It was as if my body was telling me that I had failed to garner even a minimum of nutritional substance, like vitamins.  This, I realized, is the slippery slope people find themselves on at lunchtime.  You can eat until you burst, and yet your body will still inquire where the vitamins are.  Some people will opt for more junk to sate the hunger, and a downward spiral begins.  I decided to ride my bike instead.  Within a week, I hope to negate all the damage I caused with a single day’s worth of meals.