Thickburgers, thick waistlines -- dieting with Hardee's a more difficult task

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Hardee's franchise has never been synonymous with dieting and low-calorie fare on the menu is nearly impossible to come by. In fact, most fast food diners would associate the fast food chain with their Thickburger line.

The company has unabashedly touted their burger line-up as something designed for real men who prefer their meals to be filling rather than low-carb. Hardee's CEO Andrew Puzder, in an interview of CNBC, said the Monster Thickburger "was not a burger for tree huggers."

"People that offer chicken strips and apple slices for people that really love burgers and fries isn't going to cut it," said Brad Haley, Executive Vice President of Marketing for CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the Hardee's chain.

There are no apple slices or chicken fingers on the Hardee's menu; there are Thickburgers -- a lot of Thickburgers.

[See the nutritional information on the Hardee's menu.]

The Monster Thickburger, incidentally, weighs in at just over 1,400 calories and 2,700 milligrams of sodium -- that's 300 milligrams more than the recommended daily allowance of sodium in a 2,000 calorie diet in one burger. Adding the French fries and soft drink that completes the typical Hardee's meal will overwhelm any normal diet.

Even scaling back on the double-pattied, bacon-packed, cheese-laden burger for a smaller option on the menu sees little improvement. The one-third pound Original Thickburger boasts 770 calories, 1560 milligrams of sodium and 48 grams of fat.

Before Hardee's revamped their menu and their brand, the heavyweight burger was McDonald's Big Mac. The 560-calorie sandwich was the highest calorie burger in the fast food competition and it set the bar for all other franchises.

Now, Hardee's has 10 burgers that tip the scales on the Big Mac.

Even taking out the Black Angus burger altogether and getting a charbroiled chicken sandwich doesn't drop the calorie count below 600.

Tonya Turner, a registered dietician at the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the combination of mayonnaise, cheese and bacon on the Charbroiled Chicken Club make even a skinless, grilled chicken sandwich a lunch-time heavyweight.

Requesting the sandwich without the trifecta of fat and calories "would probably almost cut the calories in half," said Turner.

Yet, billing the chain's offerings as the unhealthiest of the fast food burger world doesn't bother Puzder. "We want Hardee's to be known as the place for big, juicy, decadent burgers," he said in a 2004 CBS News interview.

That, however, was then.

While the franchise has not yet rolled out a dedicated low-calorie menu, it has taken a few steps toward the healthy. For instance, diners can replace the bun with a lettuce wrap. It not only cuts out the calories of the bun, it also gives the sandwich a vegetable boost to help combat the one-third or half-pound weight of the beef patties.

[See Hardee's new, healthy menu options.]

But the heavy weight fast food burger champion isn't stopping with lettuce wraps. Haley said the franchise would be rolling out a new, healthy menu for those that want to keep things closer to healthy without cutting out their burger cravings.

The menu, dubbed Alternative Options by Hardee's, boasts low-carb and gluten-free options. The company is going to offer a side salad that would presumably be offered in place of French fries.

However, the vegetarian selection seems lacking. Diners can order a Thickburger -- without meat. The option may see a return of the popular phrase from the Wendy's ad campaign from the mid-1980s: "Where's the beef?"

Complete nutritional information about the new menu is not yet available on the Hardee's website.

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