By now it’s common knowledge that the majority of the foods served at fast food restaurants are, for lack of a better term, really bad for you. Even though a single McDonald's cheeseburger is relatively low in fat and calories, it’s also very low in actual nutrients. And while we tend to think in terms of fat and calorie content when we’re discussing the health benefits (or lack thereof) of fast food, there’s another major culprit to be on the lookout for: cholesterol.
Cholesterol is an essential structural component of cell membranes and is also necessary for the formation of steroid hormones and vitamin D. In high concentrations, however, cholesterol (especially “bad” cholesterol, or LDL — low-density lipoprotein) can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition in which artery walls thicken as the result of an invasion and buildup of white blood cells (also known as hardening of the arteries). This can result in a heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
More foods are high in cholesterol than you may think. Dairy products, buttery baked goods, fried foods, eggs, red meat, and fatty meats like bacon, sausages, and ribs are fairly well-known to be high in cholesterol, but it’s also abundant in plenty of seafood, like shrimp and certain types of fish. By and large, the more trans fats and saturated fat a food product contains, the higher in cholesterol it will be.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams — 200 milligrams if you already have heart disease. If you’re looking to watch your cholesterol intake, we recommend staying away from the breakfast menu at your local fast food joint, because on the whole it’s the breakfast items that have the most shockingly high amount of cholesterol. For example, a Sausage McMuffin with Egg at McDonald’s contains a whopping 285 milligrams of cholesterol, and a McDonald’s Big Breakfast with hotcakes and a large biscuit, which is one of the unhealthiest fast food items anywhere, contains an insane 575 milligrams of cholesterol (along with 1,150 calories and 60 grams of fat).
While the highest-cholesterol fast food menu items are invariably a part of the breakfast menu, for today’s purposes we’re taking a look at the highest-cholesterol items on the regular menus at the 12 biggest fast food chains. If you’re watching your cholesterol, some fast food items are OK to eat. Just stay away from the breakfast menu, and stay away from these items.