Though fast food restaurants like to make us think they're getting healthier, their menu's nutrition hasn't changed all that much in 18 years, found a pair of new studies published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
Researchers from Tufts University analyzed almost two decades' worth of data from top fast-food restaurants in the U.S. Specifically, they looked at the nutritional profiles of French fries, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and sugar-sweetened cola.
There's not much good news, but there is a shred: portion sizes have stopped ballooning, and calories in 56% of the items dropped over the years. Trans fat went down in French fries, too, since many chains have shifted away from frying them in partially hydrogenated fat.
But French fries seemed to be the only product reformulated during this time, the researchers said, and sodium and saturated fat remain too high in all products. Roughly 44% of foods actually had more calories over the years, and 33% had more sodium. As recently as 2013, a cheeseburger, French fries and cola accounted for 80% of a person’s daily calories and 139% of their recommended sodium.
Notably, the foods from the restaurants—which the study didn't name—varied significantly among one another in calories, sodium and saturated fat. "It is unlikely that consumers are aware of the differences among chain restaurants," the study authors write. "However, the implications of these data are striking."
If you must indulge a fast food craving, be sure to check out the nutrition facts first. Even in our foodie-focused climate, they likely haven't improved since your first drive-thru cheeseburger.