Nutritionist Picks Apart Burger King's Unhealthiest Menu Item

Nutritionist and chef Serena Poon, who founded the wellness website Serena Loves and also markets a line of supplements called Just Add Water, is no fan of fast food – no surprise, considering the line of business she's in. Had Mashed asked her to pick out the best meal you could eat at Burger King, a chain not known for its healthy options, she might have struggled to come up with anything more exciting than a plain side salad, no dressing. Instead, we asked her to pinpoint the worst thing you could order there, and she had no trouble whatsoever in pointing the finger at the Bacon King Combo Meal.

Even without the combo add-ons, Poon says the Bacon King alone "contributes a lot of calories, fat, sodium and processed ingredients [that] can have deleterious effects on your health." When you add on the fries and drink, that really pushes things over the top, turning the meal into something she calls "an extreme, and unnecessary overconsumption of both macronutrients and processed foods."

The Bacon King Combo Meal by the numbers

The sandwich alone, according to Burger King, has a hefty 1,313 calories, which all by itself may be more than half the day's calories, assuming you're going off the standard 2,000 calories/day (your own individual requirements may be higher, but they may also be lower). The sandwich also has 92.5 grams of fat, 39.1 grams of saturated fat, and 2.7 grams of the dreaded trans fat, something Poon says is "considered so dangerous for heart health that it is essentially banned by the FDA." However the FDA regulations do not cover all types of foods such as some kinds of vegetable oil (via Healthline), so Burger King and other fast food chains (and non-fast food restaurants serving deep-fried foods) aren't breaking the law. 

All of the different fat levels, however, are well over what the American Heart Association would like to see you eating on a daily basis – they advise no more than 13 grams of saturated fat, while Poon adds that you should eat no more than 78 grams of total fat per day. The sandwich also has 284.3 mg of cholesterol and 2,865.9 mg of sodium (numbers Poon says also "blow by" the recommended daily limits) as well as 51.5 grams of carbs, although you will meet your daily protein requirement with its 69.7 grams. If you add on a large fries and a large Coke, this tacks an additional 940 calories, 19 grams of fat, 187 carbs, and 765 mg of sodium, bueno.

What makes the Bacon King Combo a risky meal choice

While Poon points out that unwanted weight gain is an obvious side effect of eating such a meal, she also notes that there are quite a few other problems you're likely to face should you eat this way on a regular basis. "A diet that is high in saturated fat," she warns, "can raise LDL cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke," while "a diet that is high in sodium can lead to bloating, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.

Plus, despite what low-carb advocates might have you believe, it seems there may be such a thing as too much protein. Poon, who favors a plant-forward diet, cites an article published by Harvard Medical School that claims eating an excessive amount of protein might lead to kidney troubles. The article, however, says a 140-pound person should safely be able to consume up to 125 grams of protein per day, so you'd have to eat two of these meals to be in the danger zone with this nutrient.

The Bacon King Combo could lead to serious complications

No-one would ever claim that consuming a BK combo meal counts as "clean eating" by any stretch of the imagination, but Poon thinks the Bacon King Combo is over the top even by fast food standards. She wants everyone to realize that such a meal contains all five of the foods the Cleveland Clinic says are likely to lead to inflammation: added sugars, trans fats, red meat, omega-6 fatty acids (good in small doses, but not in excess), and those naughty, naughty refined carbs (white bread, white potatoes, stuff like that). 

Okay, so what's so bad about inflammation? Does this just mean we're going to be a bit puffy around the waistline until the effects of such a meal wear off? Poon says it's far more dangerous than that, citing inflammation as a contributing factor to issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and depression.

Okay, so what does Poon recommend as a meal alternative? Ideally, she says, you should be "making your own high-quality grass-fed burger at home and adding fresh vegetables as toppings and roasted potatoes on the side." Assuming you have neither the time nor the inclination, however, she allows "if...[you] eat fast so in moderation and choose options that include vegetables and contain fat and sodium levels on the lower side of the spectrum."