10 Foods that Are Health Horrors

Dietitians name their top nutritional nightmares.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Halloween may bring spooks and goblins to your door, but they're tame compared to some of the terrors that haunt our diets all year long -- foods so bad, they qualify as nutritionists' nightmares.

WebMD asked several registered dietitians and other food experts to nominate their favorite "food horrors." Their submissions ranged from empty-calorie foods masquerading as nutritious to outlandish concoctions that tip the scales with obscene amounts of fat and calories.

1. Frightful Fried Foods

From a nutritional standpoint, some of the scariest foods are the deep-fat fried concoctions you can find at carnivals and state fairs.

Americans have tossed everything from turkeys to Twinkies in the fryer, but have you ever heard of deep-fried cola? Debuting at the Texas state fair -- and winning the creativity honor at the Big Tex Choice Awards contest -- was this deep-fried, Coca-Cola flavored batter, drizzled with cola fountain syrup, and topped with whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry.

2. Scary Steakhouse Specialty

Nutritional nightmares are readily available at many of your favorite neighborhood restaurants. Christine Palumbo, RD, nominated the deep-fried onion appetizer popular at some chain steakhouses.

One such appetizer, Outback Steakhouse's Bloomin' Onion, has more than 800 calories, 58 grams of fat and 22 grams of saturated fat, plus 1,520 milligrams of sodium. These numbers don't include the dipping sauce, which is also loaded with fat, calories, and sodium.

3. Monstrously Misleading

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a New York University nutrition professor and author of What to Eat, takes issue with not-very-nutritious foods that are labeled or advertised with healthy-sounding terms. She nominates "kids' fruit snacks that have no fruit whatsoever and are basically candy in disguise" as one potentially misleading food.

4. Big, Bigger, Biggest Burgers

There appears to be no end to the amount of calories and fat you can fit onto a bun.

Hardee's has the Monster Thickburger, boasting 1,420 calories, 107 grams (g) of fat, 45 g of saturated fat, and 2,740 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Carl's Jr. takes it a step further with the Double Six Burger, featuring two burger patties and three slices of cheese -- weighing in at 1,520 calories, 111 g fat, 47 g saturated fat, and 2,760 mg sodium.

Burger King is not far behind with its BK Stacker, loaded with four burgers, four slices of cheese, and 8 strips of bacon, coming in at 1,000 calories, 30 g saturated fat, and 1,800 mg sodium.

And the list doesn't end at fast-food chains. Ever hear of the "Hamdog"? This culinary creation from the former Mulligan's Tavern near Atlanta starts with a hot dog padded with cheese and half pound of ground beef. That's dropped in the fryer, then loaded onto a hoagie roll and topped with chili, bacon, onions and a fried egg. Mulligan's was also famous as the home of the "Luther Burger," a giant bacon cheeseburger with a Krispy Kreme doughnut for a bun.

Someone call the food police!

Of course, "most people know when they order one of these that it is not good for them," says Jayne Hurley, RD, senior nutritionist for the watchdog group, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

If you are thinking of your health, try ordering a plain burger with sauce on the side, along with a side salad.

The bottom line is that we should eat no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (equal to about 1 teaspoon). If you're salt-sensitive (that is, if your blood pressure is highly affected by salt), the number drops to 1,500 mg.

5. Appalling Appetizers

Dietitian Cynthia Sass, RD, nominated TGI Friday's "sizzling triple meat fundido -- a combination of cheese, pepperoni, bacon, and sausage served with breadsticks." While nutritional information for this appetizer was not available on the restaurant's web site, the fat-laden ingredients ensure that the fundido is a nutritional no-no.

6. Calorie-Laden Cakes

As if cheesecake were not high enough in fat and calories, the Cheesecake Factory adds chocolate candy, cookies, mousse, ganache, flourless chocolate cake crust, and other equally caloric extras to the rich dessert, says Jayne Hurley, RD. Even if you're just ordering a plain slice, cheesecake will set you back 630 calories.

Looking for a little nosh with your coffee? Starbucks Old Fashioned Crumb cake looks innocent enough, but that little square packs 670 calories.


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