Takeaway Food Week: Burgers

Two fast food giants dominate the local burger landscape: McDonald’s (800-odd outlets) and Hungry Jacks (300+ stores). That means there’s never far to travel for a burger fix, but be warned: if you choose the combo option, it’s all too easy to make a pig of yourself.Picture by rob_rob2001

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that choosing the easy, lazy option of a value meal (burger, fries and drink) can give you more kilojoules than you need, along with more sodium and more fat than a body requires and less of pretty much everything else. This territory was covered in Super Size Me back in 2004, and nothing much has changed, other than McDonald’s ditching some of the healthy meal options it was promoting back at the time.

Nonetheless, my own not inconsiderable experience of hanging out in burger joints suggests that most people do go for the combo/value meal, and the chances are good that they’re getting more kilojoules than they need as a result. The table below shows the kilojoule count for the main burgers on offer through McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks, and what happens if you add either small, medium or large fries plus soft drink to that order. (We’ve only included the main burger options here; you can access the full nutrition guides on the McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks sites — both are in PDF format).

This table does not make for happy reading. If you order a large combo/value meal/whatever you want to call it, then the Coke and fries alone will cover almost a third of your daily kilojoule requirements before you even add a burger.

The most shocking option here is the Large Ultimate Double Whopper combo from Hungry Jacks, which consumes a mammoth 7735 kilojoules — close to the total daily allowance for a typical adult. (The amount you should consume will vary depending on your gender and height, but around 8700 kilojoules is often used as a general benchmark figure.) I can’t help noticing that the Hungry Jacks options in general are more calorific than the McDonalds counterparts, and that there are far more high-energy options on offer. Adding the chips and Coke only makes matters worse. (That said, there are worse choices still on the menu: a large chocolate shake from Maccas has a whopping 2110 kilojoules. If you had that with your burger instead of a Coke, you’d have blown your daily kilojoule requirements in just one meal.)

The same principle applies to other standard combinations as well. A Bacon & Egg McMuffin on its own offers 1240 kilojoules, but adding the hash brown (638Kj) increases the total kilojoule count by 50%.

How can I make this healthier? The most obvious strategy to adopt is not to order a value meal. If you just have the burger itself, you’ll reduce the overall kilojoule count substantially (and reduce the amount of fat and sodium you’re consuming as well.)

You can also reduce the kilojoule count by choosing Diet Coke or Coke Zero or (shock! horror!) water. McDonald’s offers a range of meal options which get a Heart Foundation ‘tick’ for healthy choices, though it only covers a small percentage of their overall offering. And not that this doesn’t mean the meal is mega-healthy, or that you can wolf into desert afterwards without panicking; it just means it doesn’t exceed the boundaries to the same degree of other options.

How can I save money? Obviously, the cheaper cheeseburger and hamburger meals will save you some dough (especially if you choose the Hungry Jacks ‘Stunner’ deals), and the smaller sizes cost less than the bigger ones. That said, I’d still be sticking with the buy-the-burger-and-nothing else strategy. Yes, the incremental cost of adding fries and drink is low — but it still costs more than just buying a burger, and it potentially ends up stuck to your waistline.

I promised when we introduced this series that we wouldn’t judge people for ordering burgers, and if you have a small combo meal that doesn’t include the words ‘ultimate’ or ‘double’ or ‘grand’ in the title, it won’t do you a lot of harm. There’s also often free Wi-Fi on offer, which can make the burger joint a tempting stopping place. Just don’t do it every day, OK?

What are your best burger-without-guilt-or-waste tips? Tell us (with no extra cheese) in the comments.

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