Don't Fall for These Fast-Food Tricks

Above Image | Sam Kaplan A corn tortilla has 50 calories. This taco wrapper? We figure 250.

Weight Loss

Normal, innocent-looking taco, right? Check it out again. The shell is made of deep-fried chicken. Horrified? Taco Bell and other junk joints are okay with that, as long as you’re paying attention to them. Decode their deceptions.


By Julie Stewart
The Trick

Sexy Names

The Con Artist

Taco Bell
Naked Chicken Chalupa

What it Is

You’re looking at a taco sans meat filling—the “shell” is a folded slab of breaded, fried chicken. Calories: 410. (The chicken soft taco has 160.)

How it Works

Chains create novel foods with wacky names and offbeat ingredient combos in their effort to stoke social-media fervor, says William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., an obesity expert at George Washington University. Moral of the story? Tweets push eats.

Your Move

Wait it out. Items like these are usually available for only a month or a season. This sold in a test market.

The Trick

Insane Hybrids

The Con Artist

Checkers and Rally’s
Steakzilla!

What it Is

It’s a burger crossbred with a cheesesteak. The only vegetables on this 810-calorie behemoth are a few deep-fried onion strings.

How it Works

“It’s ‘I dare you to eat this’ food,” says Dr. Dietz. Here’s the thing: These items are meant to boost overall food sales. The thinking is that even if you don’t order the item, you might consider something from the chain you haven’t had in a while.

Your Move

Dodge the dare: Order a Checkerburger—with lettuce, tomato, and onion—for a sane 320 calories.

The Trick

Spicy Flavors

The Con Artist

Wendy’s
Ghost Pepper Fries

What it Is

For 520 calories, you get fries topped with diced jalapeños, cheese, and sauce made from some of the hottest peppers on the planet.

How it Works

Heat ignites intrigue. Penn State research shows that adventurous people tend to like spicy foods. If you’re drawn to new experiences, you’re probably a fan of the hot stuff. And rollercoasters. Except that roller coasters have no calories.

Your Move

Pack heat—a wee fillable 1-ounce sriracha bottle on a key ring ($5, sriracha2go.com). Use it on healthy stuff.

The Trick

Hedonic Overload

The Con Artist

Pizza Hut
Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza

What it Is

This cheese pizza comes topped with buttery toasted bread crumbs; the crust is crammed with mozzarella and cheddar. Oof.

How it Works

Comfort foods like these are engineered to be irresistibly tasty. The American palate is accustomed to salty foods, while fat provides a pleasing mouthfeel, Dr. Dietz says. Pizza Hut hadn’t provided nutrition information at press time.

Your Move

Add your own toppings to plain pizza, such as sliced red onion, fresh spinach, or precooked grilled chicken.


Food styling: Jamie Kimm (chalupa); salad photographs by Mitch Mandel, Styling: Adam Heidebrink-Bruno