The Most Unhealthy Things You Can Order At Fast Food Chicken Chains

Most of us can agree that fast food should not be eaten every day. Quintessential fast food items like burgers and fries are largely thought of as unhealthy, but what about the chicken? Opting for a grilled chicken sandwich at a fast food chain is generally lower in calories and fat than a cheeseburger. The fact of the matter is, most fast food chicken chains specialize in fried chicken — and the temptation to order it is all too real.

Fried chicken has more calories and fat than the grilled version, but the trouble with fast food chicken isn't just the calorie count or how many grams of fat it contains. Chicken from most fast food joints, be it fried or grilled, is extremely high in sodium. According to the American Heart Association, "Nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium. The average American eats more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day." Health professionals recommend a maximum daily sodium intake of 2,300 mg to avoid high blood pressure. Consuming foods high in sodium, calories, and fat may leave you feeling bloated and puffy (not fun), which can lead to weight gain over time.

If you find yourself staring at the menu board of your local chicken chain wondering what not to order, read this list of the most unhealthy things you can order at fast food chicken chains. Fair warning: some of them are not what you think.

Popeyes 4 PC Signature Chicken Combo Classic

It's okay to eat fast food chicken occasionally — we're only human, after all — but if you're trying to be more health-conscious, it's best to treat these outings like special occasions rather than regular occurrences. That includes trips to America's beloved fast food chicken chain Popeyes.

New Orleans-style chicken is a national favorite, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the nutrition facts can get concerning. If you order the 4Pc Signature Chicken Combo Classic, you won't only be ingesting 1,777 calories if you eat it with a biscuit fries and a soda, but you'll also have to reserve 91 grams of fat and 89 grams of carbs for the food (without the soda). Those watching their blood pressure may want to reconsider chowing down on 3,970 mg of sodium. These numbers far exceed what is medically recommended for a daily intake.

Vegetarian Popeyes menu items may be a better bet for diners looking to lower their overall calorie count at Popeyes. Side dishes like cole slaw, mashed potatoes, and rice make for a decent meal and seems preferable to a huge portion of salt-packed chicken. Sodium counts are notoriously high in the fast food industry, but if you want to steer clear of the blatantly unhealthy stuff, avoid ordering this chicken combo.

KFC's Spicy Chicken Sandwich + Nuggets Big Box Meal

KFC (that's Kentucky Fried Chicken for the purists out there) has toyed with boxed meals over its long history as a fast food chicken heavyweight, and the big box is one such manifestation. In recent years, KFC fans have had the option to go all out by purchasing what is known as a big box. These days, you don't have to deliberate between a spicy chicken sandwich or nuggets and fries. You can have it all in one ... big box. This is great for ravenous patrons who are deadset on really treating themselves to KFC, but the Spicy Chicken Sandwich + Nuggets Big Box Meal takes the top spot as the unhealthiest thing you can order off the menu.

The Spicy Chicken Sandwich + Nuggets Big Box Meal is customizable, but the range is still between 940 and 1,560 calories. In addition to the 620-calorie spicy chicken sandwich, you'll also get five chicken nuggets, one side, and a fountain drink. If you go the classic route and choose a side of secret recipe fries, that will add 320 calories to the meal. Soda brings another 250 or more calories, depending on your choice, but even the demure option of lemonade packs 140 calories. KFC's spicy chicken sandwich also carries 33 grams of fat, 85 mg of cholesterol, and 2,140 mg of sodium. 

The Meatloaf Mac & Cheese Bowl at Boston Market

Yes, we are focusing on chicken here, but fans of homestyle fast food chicken chains probably enjoy the occasional rotisserie chicken from Boston Market. This is one chicken chain where ordering chicken is recommended to avoid the unhealthy beef options on the menu.

There's something to be said for a fast food meal that has been replicated into a frozen T.V. dinner, such as Boston Market's meatloaf and mashed potatoes, but If you want to avoid one of the unhealthiest things on the Boston Market menu, skip the Meatloaf Mac & Cheese Market Bowl. Fitness-focused websites like Verywell Fit advise that "with lettuce and a three-cheese blend, it provides 760 calories, 39g fat, 19 g saturated fat, 62g carbohydrates, 38g protein, and 2,280mg sodium." Keep in mind that you have the option to add sauces and choose a side that will also contribute to these unhealthy ingredients. 

Boston Market's official website devotes a section to customers who want healthier options, noting, "Nutrition is top of mind for us, because we know it's important to you, too." This section includes recipe suggestions as well as meal options that are 550 calories or less. In case you were wondering, those meals do not include meatloaf.

The Caniac Combo at Raising Cane's

If fast food chicken is what you desire, Raising Cane's has it. The menu here is refreshingly simplified: chicken fingers, crinkle-cut fries, coleslaw, Texas toast, and a chicken sandwich. Special sauce, lemonade, sweet tea, and fountain drinks punctuate the menu, but we admire that Raising Cane's stays true to what it does best.

The Caniac Combo is the most unhealthy thing you can order at Raising Cane's because it is the largest menu item. Having such a streamlined menu means most of what you can order is slight variations of the same things. The 3 Finger Combo, Box Combo, and Caniac Combo are identical ingredient-wise. The Canianac Combo is simply the largest portion in every way. You'll get six chicken fingers, a helping of crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast, coleslaw, two sauces, and a large fountain drink — all of which tips the caloric count upwards of 2,040 calories. If you eat the entire portion of the Caniac Combo, you consume nearly a full day's worth of calories in one meal crispy-fried basket of food.

We applaud Raising Cane's consistency in serving unprocessed chicken in a fast food chain across approximately 570 locations, including several on military base food courts. Raising Cane's claim to fame is its chicken fingers, and if you love them, you should eat them! Just don't order the biggest portion if you're leaning toward something healthier.

Chick-Fil-A Cobb Salad

Restaurant salads are known to be deceptively unhealthy, but surprisingly, a Cobb Salad is the unhealthiest thing you can order from Chick-Fil-A. Surprising, but true. The nutrition facts of this Cobb Salad (with breaded chicken) are gasp-inducing. While 850 calories for a salad is troubling, the 61 grams of fat and 2,220 mg of sodium are almost unbelievable. If you're deadset on ordering this, opt for grilled chicken and less of the standard ingredients and ask for dressing on the side.

The Hash Brown Scramble Burrito has 0.5 grams of trans-fat, 700 calories, and 1,770 mg of sodium, but even with trans-fat among the ingredients, this unhealthy breakfast item still seems slightly more appealing than the gut punch that is Chick-Fil-A's Cobb Salad. A great deal of the fat is sourced by the buttermilk ranch dressing, which has around 30 grams of fat per serving, depending on the variation you order. There's also the bacon to consider. From a calorie standpoint, the Cobb Salad is in a discouraging category of its own, but some Chick-Fil-A locations sell combo meals with caloric totals that are in the thousands. An example of a combo meal would be the Spicy Deluxe (a fried chicken sandwich with a slice of pepper jack cheese), which with customizations, could top out at 1,100 calories. A typical Chick-fil-A Combo meal includes waffle potato fries and a fountain drink.

The Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito at El Pollo Loco

One chicken chain that makes a concerted effort to shake off the notoriously unhealthy fast food image is El Pollo Loco. The Mexican-style eatery, which was established in 1975 and is known for its fire-grilled chicken, tries to be mindful of calories — and does a better job of it than many of its contemporaries — but the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito is hardly diet food.

The Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito contains grilled chicken rather than fried, but it still has 940 calories, 1 gram of trans fat, 84 grams of carbs, and a whopping 2,240 mg of sodium. As delicious as burritos are, it's hard to justify one that comes with nutrition stats like these. The Grande Avocado Chicken Bowl may appear like a lower-carb alternative to the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito. With 90 grams of carbohydrates per serving, it turns out that the opposite is true — although the calorie count of the bowl is a little more palatable at 790 calories. If you have your heart set on eating the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito from El Pollo Loco but want to keep your order under 1,000 calories, you'll need to forgo extras like side sauces, chips and guacamole, or churros for dessert.

Wingstop's Louisiana Voodoo Fries

No fast food chicken chain is truly complete without french fries. Wingstop, a Texas-based chain that has amassed numerous locations since opening in 1994, takes fries pretty seriously. Seasoned Fries, Buffalo Ranch Fries, and Cheese Fries are some savory sides sold at Wingstop but the Louisianna Voodoo Fries are the most decadent — and by decadent, we also mean unhealthy. A large order of these bad boys is a staggering 1,180 calories. There are also 133 grams of carbs, 1,870 mg of sodium, and 64 grams of fat.

Louisianna Voodoo Fries are listed on the menu as a side but ordering a large is a heavy portion, weighing in at 18 ounces (or 483 grams). By comparison, a large order of french fries at McDonald's weighs 154 grams, contains 497 calories, 66 grams of carbs, 291 mg of sodium, and 24 grams of fat. So what makes Wingstop's Louisianna Voodoo Fries so unhealthy? The Cajun Seasoned Fries, which are pretty salty, to begin with, are drenched in cheese sauce and ranch dressing. Between the big portion and two creamy sauces, the Louisianna Voodoo Fries eat more like a meal than a side dish to chicken wings.

The 2 PC Chickenjoy with Jolly Spaghetti at Jollibee

Jollibee might be a lesser-known name in fast food chicken, but it started in Quezon City, Philippines, back in 1978. Now, there are roughly 100 Jollibees in Canada and the United States and about 1,300 throughout the world. The Filipino chain introduced the idea of fried chicken and spaghetti to the American public, but anyone trying to eat healthily should give this quirky combo a hard pass.

What could be so bad about a fried chicken drumstick and thigh paired with some spaghetti, sauce, and cheese? Well, to start, this combo tops out at the 1,400 calorie mark, though Jollibee's itemized nutrition info puts that number at 1,240 calories. Also, the spaghetti sauce at Jollibee isn't your average marinara. Jolly Spaghetti sauce includes "chunky slices of savory ham, ground meat, and hotdog." (via Jollibee). Stirring a plethora of meat into sauce may be jolly tasting, but it brings the reasonably-sized portion of spaghetti up to 610 calories. On its own, Jolly Spaghetti has 1,340 mg of sodium and 18 grams of sugar, but as part of the 2 Pc Chickenjoy meal, the sodium spikes to 2,390 mg. There's also a side of gravy in this meal. A small serving of Jollibee Gravy has 25 calories — which isn't bad, seeing as most people don't view gravy as a health food — but it adds 380 mg of sodium to an already salt-laden dish.

The 3 Piece Mixed Combo at Church's Texas Chicken

As a general rule, avoid unwittingly ordering the most unhealthy thing at a fast food chicken chain by forgoing the combo meal. One place where this rings true is Church's Texas Chicken — formerly called Church's Chicken. George Church started the eatery in San Antonio, Texas, in 1952, spawning a huge fast food chain with restaurants in almost all 50 states and nearly two dozen countries. We can't fault you for wanting to sink your teeth into a crispy piece of Church's Texas Chicken, but if you're trying to choose one of the more nutritious menu items, pass up the 3 Piece Mixed Combo.

Church's official website shows that the 3 Piece Mixed Combo's total calorie count is between 870-1,990 — that's quite a range. The company is a little sneaky with how it lists nutrition information. Instead of providing calories, fat, etc., for each meal, Church's discloses nutrition facts for everything individually. If you order an original fried chicken wing, thigh, and leg, the calories for just the poultry total 800. The 3 Piece Mixed Combo also comes with a 230-calorie honey-butter biscuit, a drink, and a side of your choice. Depending on what you choose, the less-than-great ingredients can add up quickly. If you're trying to be mindful of fat and calories but still want to enjoy a meal from Church's Texas Chicken, try gravitating toward a smaller portion, like the 2 Piece Mixed Combo.

The Chicken Club Sandwich Meal at Slim Chickens

Slim Chickens is expanding so quickly that there's probably a location opening up right as you read this. The fast-casual chicken chain originated in Arkansas in 2002 as an entrepreneurial venture for high school pals Greg Smart and Tom Gordon. — but calling this place healthy would be a stretch.

Like Church's Texas Chicken, Slim Chickens lists its nutrition facts by the item rather than by the meal, but just looking at what's inside the chicken club sandwich is enough to know that the meal will be very unhealthy. The Chicken Club Sandwich packs 747 calories, 409 of which are calories from fat, 42 grams of fat, nine of which are saturated fat, and 1,044 milligrams of sodium. A fried chicken sandwich practically begs for a side of fries, but consuming regular-sized fries as part of the Chicken Club Sandwich Meal will add 470 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 1,180 milligrams of sodium. When eating a fast food chicken meal, you can shave off a few hundred calories by opting for a diet soda rather than a full-sugar one — or, better yet, drinking water.

Zaxby's Wings & Things Meal

Do you see a pattern here? Combo meals at fast food chicken chains have consistently ranked as the unhealthiest things on the menu. At Zaxby's, the situation is no different. This chicken chain has proved its staying power since debuting in 1990 in Statesboro, Georgia, but the American-style portions on its combo menu are the antithesis of healthy.

The Wings & Things Meal is a huge portion of salty, fatty, saucy food items. Although it might taste good, eating an entire Wings & Things plate could potentially expend your recommended daily calories in just one meal. With five chicken wings, three chicken fingerz, crinkle fries, Texas Toast, and a small drink, we're willing to bet that after eating the Wings & Things Meal, you might not have room for any more food anyway. Zaxby's website reveals a caloric total for this meal of 1,480 to 2,050 calories and around 96 grams of fat, which is a bit much for anyone looking to consume three meals per day.

The Falafel Platter from The Halal Guys Gyro and Chicken

After studying the menu at The Halal Guys Gyro and Chicken, we slowly realized that its falafel is basically junk food. The Halal Guys Gyro and Chicken was developed in 1992 out of a desire to offer the night owls of New York City (many of whom are cab drivers of Middle Eastern or Egyptian descent) a nourishing, halal-friendly platter of meat, rice, lettuce and tomato, pita, and signature white and hot sauces. Halal permits meat, but the Halal Guys Gyro and Chicken appeased many vegetarians by incorporating falafel into the menu — a little meatball made of ground chickpeas.

The Falafel Platter at The Halal Guys Gyro and Chicken ranks as the highest-calorie item on the chain's menu (1,049 calories), and it's a bit surprising. However, it's the Beef Gyro Platter that outdoes the others in terms of sodium levels, with an unpalatable 2,700 mg. The fast food chain offers a Combo Platter of beef and falafel that creates an imperfect storm of high calories and excessive sodium served up in one circular aluminum tin. While we appreciate The Halal Guys' dedication to bringing something more nuanced into the fast food chicken stratosphere, it fails to rise above the stereotypically unhealthy nature of the cuisine.

Bojangles' 3 PC Leg & Two Thighs

Southern fast food chicken chains have been specializing in fried chicken for generations. Bojangles, out of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a good example. Since 1977, its cajun fried chicken has been a claim to fame and helped the business expand into over 800 locations. The 3Pc Leg & Two Thighs dinner meal is the unhealthiest thing you can order from this classic chain. Like other chains that primarily focus on chicken, this meal is unhealthy because of the large portions and large doses of sodium and calories.

Bojangles' website puts the 3Pc Leg & Two Thighs dinner meal at 1,020 to 1,690 calories — not exactly a light lunch. The fried chicken breast is 260 calories per order, and the wing is 90 calories per piece. A biscuit, drink, and two sides are included. Bojangles has a popular scratch-made biscuit with 310 calories and 780 mg of sodium. You may want to mix and match menu items rather than order this large meal to keep the portion more customized.