Research conducted by academics has shown that consumers are poor at judging the nutritional value of the food they eat – a significant problem as many people lead busy lives and turn to the convenience of fast food.
Faced with time constraints from work and childcare, fast food is a popular option for many given its convenience, great taste, the ease at which it can be obtained (especially with delivery apps), and it is mostly seen as inexpensive.
According to Wits health researcher Siphiwe Dlamini, the nutritional labelling of fast foods in other countries has proven to be an effective way of helping consumers make healthier choices.
Several countries – including the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates – have made it mandatory for fast-food outlets to provide nutritional information to customers.
The UK is the latest country to join the list, with its government, as recently as April, implementing a law that requires all businesses to place calorie information on menus.
However, South Africa lags far behind the trend, Dlamini said.
“No laws or regulations requiring fast-food restaurants to provide any form of nutritional information to their consumers…We looked at the websites of 31 fast-food restaurants in the country. Our findings showed that only about 58% of the biggest South African fast-food restaurants provided nutritional information.
“This was mostly made accessible through the restaurants’ websites, but a few restaurants made it available only on request,” he said.
South Africa’s fast food outlets offer a wide variety of meals – from burgers, chicken and pizza to healthier options like Thai food and even juice and smoothie bars.
Despite fast food chains making healthy choices available, the industry is synonymous with cheap, highly processed meals which contain large amounts of carbohydrates, added sugar, and unhealthy fats and sodium.
Dlamini’s research showed that, on the nutritional content, almost all meal combinations on SA fast food menus exceeded the total recommended energy, carbohydrates, sugar and salt content, and most also exceeded the recommended fat content.
The researchers in the study recommend that consumers limit their fast-food intake and avoid eating meal combinations – adding that the government should consider regulations that mandate nutritional labelling of fast foods to assist consumers in making informed dietary choices.
BusinessTech looked at some of the meals offered by popular fast-food franchises that carry the highest kilojoule counts.
With the kilojoule counting below, we considered meals, which in many cases include fries. Further, we’ve only counted meals meant for individuals and have precluded family combos and similar specials.
Because even large pizzas are usually eaten by a single person, we consider the total for the whole pizza fair game but have included per-slice energy values.
While the carbs vs fat debate rages on, nothing here should be considered nutritional advice or taking a side on the matter – we’re simply looking at the meals that pack the biggest kilojoule punch in South Africa.
Sodium, fat and carbohydrate content are included for added information. All nutritional values have been converted to kilojoules where applicable.
In line with Dlamini’s own findings, we found that not all fast food outlets make nutritional information openly available. We contacted the following franchises through their customer service channels and asked for nutritional information on their menus:
- Chicken Licken
- Zebro’s Chicken
- Pizza Hut
- Pizza Perfect
Queries through customer care lines and other official channels did not draw any response by the time of publishing.
As has been the case in previous years, the Debonairs Cram-Decker pizza ranks supreme in the calorie department, packing almost 20,000 kilojoules into its Meaty Cram Decker 8-slice pizza.
A single slice of this pizza is about one-quarter of the total kilojoules you should consume in a day, and eating the entire meal by yourself would push you past more than double your daily recommended intake.
Burger King and Steers also offer super-size burger meals that deliver more salt to your system than any other combo.
KFC – Double Crunch Meal
KFC sells its chicken by the piece, so technically the most kilojoule-filled meal you could eat at the fast-food outlet would depend on how many chicken pieces you order. At 830 kilojoules a piece, you would have to stop at ten pieces to avoid the daily recommended limit.
If you’re looking for the heaviest single meal, you can pass the Fully Loaded and Streetwise meals and get a sizeable Double Crunch Burger meal. With a total of 5,640 kilojoules (including large chips and buddy Coke), it’s the most calories you can ingest at the fried chicken franchise, short of polishing off a 21-piece bucket on your own.
|Double Crunch Meal (large)|
|Total kilojoules||5 641 kJ|
|Fat (g)||68.4 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||142.6 g|
|Sodium (mg)||2 569 mg|
|% of RDA||65%|
Wimpy (Fast Food) – Fully Loaded Dagwood
Wimpy offers casual dining and fast food dining. We skipped the grills and sit-down meals for this list and looked solely at what you might order from the take-out desk.
Here, the Fully Loaded Dagwood came out with a higher kilojoule count than the double bacon and cheeseburger, previously the heaviest. At 6,045 kilojoules, the double-patty and egg offering is one of the lighter offers on the list but still eats up 60% of your daily recommended intake.
|Fully Loaded Dagwood (incl. chips)|
|Total kilojoules||6 045 kJ|
|Fat (g)||68.3 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||80.4 g|
|Sodium (mg)||3 074 mg|
|% of RDA||69%|
Fishaways – Seafood Platter for One
Making its debut on the list is Fishaways, which now publishes nutritional information for its menu.
The largest menu item we could find was the Platter for One, which combines all your seafood favourites with rice, chips and coleslaw. This meal accounts for 6,046kj, making it one of the lighter items featured here.
This meal still makes up more than two-thirds of the recommended daily intake. No sodium content was provided.
|Seafood Platter for One|
|Total kilojoules||6 046 kJ|
|Fat (g)||100.6 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||97.2 g|
|% of RDA||69%|
Nando’s – Double chicken burger and Casa pap (plus relish)
In previous years, Nando’s has offered the ‘lightest’ fast food options, with its half a chicken and potato wedges being the most energy-filled option at 4,735kJ.
However, there are now more stacked options with new food items and sides on the menu. The double chicken burger has a 4,500kJ count, and with casa pap and relish as a side, this is bumped up to 6,697kJ.
|Double chicken burger and Casa pap (plus relish)|
|Total kilojoules||6 697 kJ|
|Fat (g)||44.8 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||128 g|
|Sodium (mg)||3 888 mg|
|% of RDA||77%|
Burger King – Texan BBQ Bacon 3.0 and fries
Four years ago, Burger King launched the Triple Whopper, which took the crown as the franchise’s biggest, beefiest burger, accounting for 4,600 kilojoules.
In 2022, the group has gone even bigger and now offers the Texan BBQ Bacon Burger 3.0 – which is just as loaded as it sounds.
The burger alone is over 6,600kj, and with regular fries and a drink, the combo is pushed to 7,337 kilojoules.
If you’re looking to cut down your salt content, this meal has more salt than the heaviest food item we found across all fast food outlets.
|Texan BBQ Bacon Burger 3.0|
|Total kilojoules||8 036 kJ|
|Fat (g)||91.7 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||179.1 g|
|Sodium (mg)||6 600 mg|
|% of RDA||92%|
Simply Asia – Honey Duck
Local Thai food outlet Simply Asia offers several meals in the 2,000 to 2,500 kilojoule range, but there has been a marked increase in meals beyond the 4,000 kilojoule mark.
The heaviest of these is the Honey Duck, which covers almost 8,000kJ, heading towards 100% of the daily recommended intake.
|Total kilojoules||7 989 kJ|
|Fat (g)||68.3 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||245.1 g|
|Sodium (mg)||958.3 mg|
|% of RDA||92%|
McDonald’s – Large McFeast Meal
McDonald’s keeps pace with Burger King with its McFeast burger. The franchise has offered heavier burgers in the past (like the Big Tasty Burger), but the McFeast packs the most calories in the group’s 2022 menu.
Including large fries and a drink, the McFeast meal comes just under BK at 8,540kJ.
|McFeast Meal (Large)|
|Total kilojoules||8 540 kJ|
|Fat (g)||88.5 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||183.8 g|
|Sodium (mg)||1 420 mg|
|% of RDA||98%|
Roman’s Pizza – Chicken Mayo and Feta Pizza
Roman’s pizza is a popular pizza take-out franchise, thanks mainly to its double-pizza prices. The chain sells its pizzas in pairs, with both thin and thick base options.
The Chicken Mayo and Feta pizza is the most calorific item on the menu, at 9,815kj. A single slice accounts for 1,227kJ.
We assume that the average consumer will only eat one pizza – so we have not doubled the value.
|Chicken Mayo and Feta (thick base, large)|
|Total kilojoules||9 815 kJ|
|Per slice||1 227 kJ|
|Fat (g)||109 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||214 g|
|Sodium (mg)||5 060 mg|
|% of RDA||113%|
Steers – Mighty King Steer Burger (and regular chips)
Steers has grown its menu over the years to include some of South Africa’s favourite grills. The single highest-kilojoule item on the menu is a whole grilled chicken at over 10,000kJ – but we classify this as a family or shared menu item.
The biggest meal for individuals in 2022 is the Mighty King Steer burger, which, when combined with large chips and buddy coke, amounts to 10,841kJ – 125% of the recommended daily intake.
|Mighty King Steer Burger|
|Total kilojoules||10 841 kJ|
|Fat (g)||169.5 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||186.8 g|
|Sodium (mg)||6 502 mg|
|% of RDA||125%|
Debonairs – Meaty Cram Decker
Debonairs offers the most kilojoule-heavy offering of all pizza chains. Triple stacked and stuffed with a cheese griller sausages, eating an entire large pizza on your own will fill you with 19,880 kilojoules – more than double the daily recommended intake.
Even a single slice covers more than a quarter of your daily recommended intake, at 2,485 kilojoules.
|Meaty Cram Decker (large)|
|Total kilojoules||19 880 kJ|
|Per slice||2 485 kJ|
|Fat (g)||183 g|
|Carbohydrates (g)||540 g|
|Sodium (mg)||6 134 mg|
|% of RDA||229%|
Bonus – Cinnabon – Classic Pecan
While not strictly ‘fast food’, Cinnabon does fill that sweet spot for many. The heftiest thing you can get from this confectionery brand is the Classic Pecan Cinnabon, which will wipe out half of your daily recommended intake at 4,769 kilojoules.
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