Nothing pairs with a side of fries quite like a soda. Or a milkshake. Or even a smoothie, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. A large, paper cup sloshing with liquid is an essential part of any fast-food order. But that’s not to say it’s a nutritious one.
While there are plenty of options for drinks when it comes to fast food, not every option is built equally. As with any category of an order, there is a range of healthiness to choose from. While it’s great to indulge if you’re looking for that, we were more concerned about how to handle the drink order when you’re not.
We consulted Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, and a member of our medical expert board to get her take on the five least nutritious fast-food drinks currently on the market. She ranked the top five medium-sized drink offerings, and also shared health tips on how to make a more informed choice about what to sip.
Then, for more fast-food ordering tips, here are the 8 Worst Fast-Food Burgers to Stay Away From Right Now.
620 calories, 16 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 300 mg sodium, 81 g sugar
Anything larger than a small chocolate shake, it seems, could cause a setback with your health goals. As Goodson explains, the plain flavor can be misleading—without any add-ons or mix-ins, how bad can it really be? Take a look at the nutrition info, and you’ll see.
“While a plain chocolate shake may seem like a decent option, the size of this shake contributes to the high sugar and calorie content,” says Goodson. “If you really want chocolate, maybe try drinking chocolate milk instead.”
According to Goodson, even a vanilla ice cream cone at Mickey D’s is a healthier choice than this shake.
850 calories, 31 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 360 mg sodium, 128 g sugar
We know, we know: the novelty here almost makes the unhealthiness worth it. An Irish cream swirl! This drink has to be among the most fun ways to start your morning. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most unhealthy.
Goodson explains that many of the calories in this drink come from the cream. She points specifically to the saturated fat in the cream and notes that The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from saturated fats to less than 10% of your total caloric intake of the day—both from food and drinks. With 17 grams in this drink alone, you could run into problems.
The sugar content, she adds, is also alarming.
“It’s providing you with about 32 teaspoons,” she says. “Needless to say, that’s more than you need!”
But never fear! For Irish Crème lovers, Goodson recommends the Medium Irish Crème Swirl Iced Cappuccino with Skim Milk as a much healthier option (although skipping the cream and milk altogether is even better).
890 calories, 32 g fat, 16 g saturated fat, 390 mg sodium, 91 g sugar
“Smoothie” can be a bit of a misleading word. It conjures up images of fresh fruit and veggies, painting the picture of a healthy snack more than a dessert.
“This smoothie has some nutrient-rich ingredients including strawberries and bananas, but the addition of butter pecan ice cream and turbinado sugar (a hidden ingredient that most people don’t catch) contributes to more sugar than recommended you consume in a day,” Goodson says
Of course, she adds, ice cream definitely increases the calories and fat content. Even the “Hulk Blend,” which is a protein and carb combo, can’t qualify this order as healthy. Instead, she says, go for the 20-ounce Slim-N-Trim Strawberry, which has Strawberries, Gladiator® Protein Vanilla, Lean1™ Vanilla Protein, Protein Blend, Stevia Plant-Based Sweetener, and Fiber Blend Enhancer.
For better smoothie orders, here’s The #1 Best Fast-Food Smoothie for Abdominal Fat Loss, Says Dietitian
845 calories, 42 g fat, 25 g saturated fat, 534 mg sodium, 105 g sugar
An order like this will ring you in at what Goodson calls a “whopping” 845 calories and 105 grams of sugar.
“What’s scary is that you can keep adding toppings…and calories!”
Looking for a healthy drink to go with your bag of Five Guys fries? Unfortunately, you’ll have to veer out of milkshake territory altogether. According to Goodson, there’s simply nothing nutritious on that section of the menu.
1130 calories, 67 g fat, 33 g saturated fat, 740 mg sodium, 75 g sugar
This milkshake tops the list of the most unhealthy drinks you can order at a fast-food joint. The ice cream in it is the first red flag and contributes to a lot of the fat content. However, factor in the peanut butter on top of that (a healthy fat), and suddenly you’re racking up the fat content to 67 grams. As Goodson points out, a higher fat content means a higher calorie content as well.
“This shake is loaded with Oreos,” she says, “and there are 53 calories in just one oreo!”
If you’re at Sonic and in a must-have milkshake mood, opt instead for the mini caramel or fresh banana shake. They contain almost a third of the calories and way less than half the amount of fat.
READ MORE: 9 Worst Fast Food Drinks You Should Never Order