As Morgan Spurlock's infamous 2004 documentary Supersize Me taught audiences around the world, McDonald's is not the healthiest food out there. When the documentarian lived solely on McFood for a month, he put on 24 pounds, saw his cholesterol skyrocket and even sustained liver damage. While the results aren't the same for everyone, the experience remains a cautionary tale.
But the dirty secret that Spurlock didn't tell you was that the game he played at McDonald's could just as easily be replicated at many supposedly "healthier" alternatives. As a matter of fact, chains like Pret a Manger, Chop't and Au Bon Pain all have numerous options with considerably more calories than a Big Mac. While calories are not the beginning and end of health, in many cases, the offenders also include more sugar and sodium as well.
"Health food, natural food, it doesn't always mean it's the best option for you," Lisa Moskovitz, a registered dietitian and owner of the New York Nutrition Group, told Mic. "Wherever you're going there is always a better choice and always a worse choice."
But don't take her word for it. If you have a weak stomach, now may be the time to abandon this article. For those who dare, here they are — the wolves in sheep's clothing — nine terrifying foods that tip the scales in all the wrong directions. To start, we have the original offender, the Big Mac:
To compare, options from some of the golden arches' competitors:
1. Poached Salmon & Avocado (Baguette)
Recently, the New York Times said Pret A Manger "comes closest to a healthy mass-market chain." Those considering buying a healthy baguette sandwich from the British-based company, however, might want to think again. The store's poached salmon and avocado boasts an impressive 750 calories. Of the store's eight advertised baguettes, all but two weigh in with more calories than a Big Mac. A few, like the roast beef and parmesan and the Italian prosciutto, have considerably more sodium as well.
2. Vegetarian Tomato Cheddar (16 ounces)
Despite its name, you may not be feeling very hale or hearty after eating 16 ounces of this vegetarian concoction. The vegetarian tomato cheddar contains 740 calories, 200 more than a Big Mac. For good measure, it also includes 36 grams of saturated fat — more than triple the McDonald's sandwich. The chain fares no better in sandwich-to-sandwich comparisons, with most offerings topping 600 calories.
3. Chunky Strawberry Bowl (16 ounces)
Chunky is an unfortunately apt description of how someone who ate this seemingly healthy fruit and yogurt bowl might feel afterward. The 16-ounce option (the chain's smallest size) contains 570 calories and 53 grams of sugar — a Big Mac clocks in at a comparatively modest nine. Jamba Juice also offers a number of "healthy green drinks" like the "Amazing greens smoothie." Sixteen ounces of the "tasty blend of super greens, pumpkin seeds, peaches, lemon and bananas" also has more sugar than a can of Coca-Cola, with triple the calories.
4. Cobb Salad
Following in the long tradition of salads that are actually spectacularly unhealthy is Chop't's Cobb salad. Featuring a thorough fixing of smoked bacon, a full egg and more sodium than a Big Mac, the company recommends adding to the fatness with a 120 calorie "steakhouse blue cheese dressing." Looking for a healthier option? If so, be sure to also skip the Vegetarian Powerhouse, which somehow manages to weigh in at 590 calories despite reportedly consisting of only "Broccoli, edamame, carrots, sunflower seeds, walnuts, craisins and apples chop't with spinach and romaine lettuce." Noticeably, the company's official nutrition information does not include a more detailed breakdown.
5. Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich on Sesame Semolina
A quick glance at Panera Bread's nutritional information reveals their Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich on Sesame Semolina will leave you much more than tongue-tied. At 670, a "whole sandwich" is over 100 more calories weightier than a Big Mac and also contains more sodium and more added sugar. A glance at Panera's other items reveals this list could be re-created many times over just using sandwiches, paninis and salads from their stores.
6. Newport Turkey Sandwich
One could be forgiven for thinking Au Bon Pain's Newport Turkey Sandwich was healthier. After all, turkey is often used as a more nutritious substitute for beef and Newport, Rhode Island, is a very wealthy place, and wealthy people tend to be thinner than the general public. It's all lies, though. For the full Newport Turkey Sandwich is, in fact, loaded with calories — 790 to be precise. It also has more sugar than a Big Mac as an added bonus. Unless you're aiming to look like a turkey for Halloween, this sandwich is also a swipe left.
7. Hummus Tahina Signature Salad
The chain's signature Hummus Tahina salad — one of their few heavier examples — blows the Big Mac away with 610 calories and 1450 milligrams of sodium. It's a painful reminder that when veggies taste that good, there's usually a very unappetizing catch.
8. Cedar Grilled Lemon Chicken
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but an Applebee's a day will have you on a gurney in no time. A fair number of the restaurant chain's appetizers approach double the calories of McDonald's Big Macs. To make the food more palatable to calorie-conscience consumers, the restaurant includes a "healthy" section on their menu. Even here, however, the Cedar Grilled Lemon Chicken still manages 570 calories. Added to the secret sauce is more than double the sodium of a Big Mac and 15 grams of sugar.
9. Rotisserie Chicken Carver
The most famous of the chain's "carver" sandwiches, the Rotisserie Chicken Carver appears innocuous with only chicken, mayo, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and an "artisan roll." As with many of the other offenders on this list, however, a closer look reveals the perilous truth that lies beneath. The simple ingredients mask 750 calories, with more than 40% coming from fat, and 1,470 milligrams of sodium accounting for 61% of the recommended daily value.