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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Comments

    yeah I just order a big mac or a whopper on its own, guilty pleasure now and then.

    Kilojoule counts mean nothing without being broken down into Carbs/fat/protein/fibre
    Can't you get hold of the proper nutritional information panel?

      I made a deliberate choice not to include thoseother details on this particular table, as it would get very crowded otherwise and we'd end up with a mega-table no-one would want to read. Not saying that they're not important, just didn't include them for this analysis (they're in the linked guides). Some of those details will come up in the other categories later this week.

      Er, that's rubbish J. Yes, the form the energy is in can make slight differences to how much energy your body will burn, but at the end of the day what matters, and it all that matters, is energy in vs energy out. You're burning excess or storing excess depending on whether energy in or out is higher.

      Energy is energy is energy. Take a high school physics class sometime.

    I'm surprised at the HJ's Veggie burger having more calories than the meat counterparts. That just seems weird.

    Also the link to McDonald's nutrition guide is broken

      Thanks for the McSpot, fixed now.

      It's not a surprise that veggie burgers are worse - just because they're not meat doesn't mean they're not full of other stuff - the veggie burger at Subway has the most kilojoules after the meatball.

    Paul's Hamburgers in Sylvania.
    There is only one shop in the world, so forgive me for mentioning it - it's not exactly convenient if you're living outside the St George/Sutherland shire.
    However, this place has burgers that are an absolute gem - I know people who have travelled from Mount Druitt for a burger at Paul's. They're a local mainstay - there for 50 years. They do burgers the old fashioned way with real meat and real lettuce and everything fresh.
    I can eat one of these babies and need nothing until breakfast the next day because I'm so bloody full after!

    I do a maccas meal about once a week, but always with either a diet soft drink, or water.
    I'd be interested to see in the chart the difference it makes in the total compared to a sugary coke.

    Thanks for the good work Grand Angus Kidman :-)

      The Coke counts for 937 (large), 612 (medium) 428 (small) if you want to modify the calculations.

    i wonder how many days it will take before people start arguing on the benefits of low carb/high fat diets...oh wait...

    No mention of the local milkbar type hamburger joint?

      Hard to get any meaningful kilojoule or nutrition figures, since there'd be so much potential variation. Not disputing that they'll generally produce a much nicer hamburger -- and if you're having one as a treat, that's important -- but covering McDonald's and Hungry Jacks does serve a lot more readers, ultimately.

        Perhaps in future articles you could just include *one* example of something as ubiquitous as a "Fish shop burger with the lot" with a warning that the example is not necessarily representative.

        (Though getting nutrition data might take a bit more work on your part than just going to a fast food giant's corporate web site)

          Thanks for the back-handed accusation that I'm lazy. I still think there's too many variables for a generic number to be useful.

          Great idea, and what would that info be useful for?

          Oh that's right, absolutely nothing. :P

    Don't follow my lead and do any of the following.

    1. Bacon deluxe challenge. How fast can you eat two large bacon deluxe meals (only 1 soft drink). My record is 7:20 but my friend did 6:20. I have attempted this maybe 5 times.

    2. Dual Quad Burgers. You know the pounder from McDonalds? Maybe not, because it is unadvertised. But Hungry Jacks decided to introduce a quad burger at one stage. That's 4 beefs, 4 cheeses, 1 bacon and a pool of BBQ sauce. Don't ever buy one of these. But better yet, don't buy two of these, especially not in one sitting.

    3. "The Macca's Challenge" (see http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=37332666204&v=info). Someone has developed a points system based on number of meat patties, cheese slices etc ordered on a single burger. Do not attempt to win this contest. Do not end up in the hall of fame. I must admit I do not hold any of these records.

    I am sorry but your figures are all off.

    Once you partake in any of those meals the explosive diarrhea that follows for the next few days cancels out any caloric intake.

    I'd be interested in comparing this table to something like Grill'd burgers, which I tend to go to as a healthy[er] / fresh[er] alternative (not really in the 'fast food' category though)

      The thing that strikes me about grill'd burgers is how relatively cheap they are - they start at around the $10 mark and are well over twice as big as anything you can get at mcdonalds/hungry jacks for the same price, while being not-horrifically-bad for you.

      They even have their $8 'mini-moo' burger which is almost shrunk to a normal meal size, for the health conscious.

      Just having a quick look at the nutritional information on the Grill'd website, most of their burgers are in the 2000-2300 kilojoule range, so they really aren't any healthier in that respect. They are probably 'fresher', but that's not going to help if you're watching your weight.

      that info is available on the Grill'd website. The standard grilld burger is 2250, not much different to a maccas quarter pounder

      for the grilld burgers with bacon, egg, pineapple etc they dont specify but those ingredients would significantly increase the figure above

      this is my main problem with takeaway joints that try to put the health spin on their products, sumo salad for example have a basil chicken and penne salad which sounds healthy enough, yet has 3241 kj

    I'm on a diet that requires me to pay attention to caloric intake and I'm also quite a fan of Oporto burgers. I did totally avoid them for a few months, but there came a time when I actually felt like it so I looked up all their caloric values and worked out what I can eat.

    I found that I can squeeze a very occasional lunchtime single fillet bondi burger, small fries and a coke zero in if I don't eat breakfast. I am totally one of those people who orders a diet drink with a meal, because I know full well that the calories in a coke will add a bunch to the whole meal.

    Obviously I won't get any points for paying attention to meal planning or macronutrient breakdown, but I also prefer to know that if I really, truly feel like it then it's ok.

    In regards to the veggie burger options being very high in calories, I believe that it would be because most of the veggie patties are deep fried.

    I have also eaten at Grill'd and they are reasonably good, although I stayed away from the hot chips.

    Skeptoid did an in interesting podcast on fast-food once. And unlike supersize me would suggest there were more people who tried this after supersize-me, some them conducted by scientific instituions, and they all lost weight.

    They ate whole fast food-diets but they didn't do the following which supersize me did:

    1) Over-eat (ie: they only ate until they were full) unlike supersize me where he deliberately gorged himself every meal.
    2) They weren't vegans before going on largely meat based diet.

    All the participants in all of them actually lost weight.

    Also with kilajoules is not as easy to work how much to eat in 1 day compared to calories. But in Brian Dunning's (Skeptoid) podcast where he did use calories his figures for a big mac were around 510 calories, which is about 1/4 of what an average male should eat a day.

    So maybe not super healthy but if you only ate 4 big macs a day ur about on track.

    Anyway check out the article here:

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4088

    It would have been good to see something like the KFC burgers there too.. Give us a full comparison with the mainstream takeaway joints.

      We're covering chicken today. That said, there's a point where the lists get so long that people zone out.

    My suggestion is to skip mikky dees and go to a sushi shop or get a subway $7 footlong (ham one is healthiest). If you absolutely must have takeaway, go to Oportos and get a bondi burger with chilli. They are not too bad, and they are grilled. They taste great when made properly but still whilst they aren't as bad as maccas, kfc etc they still have a fairly high fat content. much tastier though.

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