By now it’s common knowledge that the majority of the foods served at fast food restaurants are, for lack of a better term, really bad for you. Even though a single McDonald's cheeseburger is relatively low in fat and calories, it’s also very low in actual nutrients. And while we tend to think in terms of fat and calorie content when we’re discussing the health benefits (or lack thereof) of fast food, there’s another major culprit to be on the lookout for: cholesterol.
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Cholesterol is an essential structural component of cell membranes and is also necessary for the formation of steroid hormones and vitamin D. In high concentrations, however, cholesterol (especially “bad” cholesterol, or LDL — low-density lipoprotein) can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition in which artery walls thicken as the result of an invasion and buildup of white blood cells (also known as hardening of the arteries). This can result in a heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
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More foods are high in cholesterol than you may think. Dairy products, buttery baked goods, fried foods, eggs, red meat, and fatty meats like bacon, sausages, and ribs are fairly well-known to be high in cholesterol, but it’s also abundant in plenty of seafood, like shrimp and certain types of fish. By and large, the more trans fats and saturated fat a food product contains, the higher in cholesterol it will be.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams — 200 milligrams if you already have heart disease. If you’re looking to watch your cholesterol intake, we recommend staying away from the breakfast menu at your local fast food joint, because on the whole it’s the breakfast items that have the most shockingly high amount of cholesterol. For example, a Sausage McMuffin with Egg at McDonald’s contains a whopping 285 milligrams of cholesterol, and a McDonald’s Big Breakfast with hotcakes and a large biscuit, which is one of the unhealthiest fast food items anywhere, contains an insane 575 milligrams of cholesterol (along with 1,150 calories and 60 grams of fat).
While the highest-cholesterol fast food menu items are invariably a part of the breakfast menu, for today’s purposes we’re taking a look at the highest-cholesterol items on the regular menus at the 12 biggest fast food chains. If you’re watching your cholesterol, some fast food items are OK to eat. Just stay away from the breakfast menu, and stay away from these items.
#12 Taco Bell: Chicken or Steak DoubleDilla (100 Milligrams)
Taco Bell’s new “DoubleDilla” has a double portion of meat and cheese, along with a double portion of cholesterol. Both the steak and chicken varieties contain 100 milligrams of cholesterol; the chicken contains slightly less fat and fewer calories than the steak, with 910 calories and 42 grams of fat versus 920 calories and 44 grams of fat, respectively.
#11 McDonald’s: Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (165 Milligrams)
The Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese has more cholesterol than any other item on the regular McDonald’s menu, with 165 milligrams of cholesterol. It also contains 740 calories and 42 grams of fat.
#10 Dairy Queen: ½ lb. Flamethrower Grillburger (165 milligrams)
Tipping the scales at 165 milligrams of cholesterol is DQ’s ½ lb. Flamethrower Grillburger, two quarter-pound patties stacked with pepper Jack cheese, jalapeño bacon (whatever that is), and mayo-based FlameThrower sauce. It also contains 1,010 calories, 71 grams of fat, 26 grams of saturated fat, two grams of trans fat, and 1,670 milligrams of sodium.
#9 Burger King: Triple Whopper (170 Milligrams)
If you keep adding patties to your burger, the cholesterol will add up. A Triple Whopper at Burger King contains 170 milligrams of cholesterol, along with 1,160 calories and 75 grams of fat.
#8 Five Guys: Bacon Cheeseburger (180 milligrams)
Five Guys’ burgers automatically come with two patties; if you want a single-patty burger, you have to order it “little.” For that reason, this chain’s burgers are some of the unhealthiest around, with the standard bacon cheeseburger clocking in at 180 milligrams of cholesterol, along with 920 calories, 62 grams of fat, 29.5 grams of saturated fat, zero grams of trans fat (yay!), and 1,310 milligrams of sodium.