If your way of curbing calorie guilt at a fast food restaurant is to go for the vegetarian option, you might be in for a shock.
Characterised by illusions of virtue, it turns out that the veggie dishes are no less healthy than their meaty counterparts, with experts claiming that they are often higher in calories and sodium.
From Subway to Shake Shack, dieticians reveal that while fast food outlets are attending to the rising popularity of vegetarianism, the majority of them don’t have the financial resources to ensure that the nutritional value is any better than their meat dishes.
Registered dietician Paul Salter told Mail Onlinethat fast food outlets will often add high-fat foods to otherwise healthy vegetarian ingredients - such as tofu or beans - in a bid to enrich the flavour and compromise for the lack of meat.
“Tofu is a healthy option,” he said. “It's a great source of protein, but when you add things to it like cheese to bring up the flavour... the calories add up."At Chipotle, the vegetarian burrito bowl with rice contains 360 calories. Once guacamole and sour cream are added, however, the calorie content jumps up to 620 calories.
At Shake Shack, the vegetarian option is a Shroom Burger, which replaces the humble beef patty with a fried portobello mushroom smothered in cheese. At 490 contains, it contains almost 100 more calories than a single hamburger with nearly three times as much sodium.
Meanwhile at Subway, at 379 calories, the veggie patty is higher in calories than the steak and cheese sub, which contains 353 calories.
The soy-based sub - which is made from carrots, corn, red peppers and soy - is also higher in fat and carbohydrates but lower in protein than the steak option.
Clinical nutritionist and author Dr David Friedman claims that vegetarian dishes at fast food restaurants can also contain obesogens, chemicals which studies have linked to obesity.
“Plant-based meals aren't the get-out-of-jail free card,” he told Mail Online.
“I know a lot of vegans who are overweight and that's because they consume a lot of the chemicals placed in fast food.”
However, don’t lose hope just yet. At McDonald’s for example, the Vegetable Deluxe Burger - which swaps a meat patty for a spiced chickpea alternative - contains just 400 calories compared to the Big Mac’s 508.
It’s also far lower in saturated fat, with just 1.6 grams in comparison to the Big Mac’s 9.5 grams.
So, whether you’re a dedicated meat-eater or a chickpea-loving veggie, next time you find yourself in a fast food restaurant, remember that it's a fast food restaurant and wellness is seldom on the menu.
Eating fast food is hardly going to make you a beacon of health, but indulging in it once in a while probably isn't going to do you much harm.