Lunch Break: What Are Healthier Options at Five Guys?

We ask a nutritionist to guide us through the minefield of fast-food eateries

Five Guys’s bacon cheeseburger alone is 1,020 calories. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Lodigs

So far, the Lunch Break series has featured some fairly health-conscious eateries. Not this week. We’re examining the decadent Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and we tapped registered dietician Betsy Anderson Steeves to take on the task. Currently, she’s in Baltimore earning her PhD in nutrition from Johns Hopkins and conducting obesity research. She also holds a master’s in public health nutrition, and has spent the last four years studying behavioral weight control.

“It would be great if we cooked all of our meals from scratch with vegetables from our own gardens, but that’s not reality,” she says. In the real world, ordering meals is a part of life. Eating well while eating out—especially with a time constraint at lunch—can be difficult.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” Steeves says, “but if you go online and find the nutritional information and plan ahead before you’re in the burger line, you can do it.”

But can it be done at a place like Five Guys, a chain that has earned accolades across the country for its piled-high burgers, and paper bag-soaking boardwalk fries?

Before turning over the menu for her analysis we had to ask: Does Steeves know the satisfaction of a Five Guys lunch?

“The fries are good,” she confesses. “But the portions are incredible.”

Steeves doesn’t eat red meat but she does enjoy Five Guys’s veggie sandwich. However, the last time she had one last fall, she had just completed the Outer Banks Marathon. With her fitness routine Steeves can afford to indulge—in addition to two marathons a year she runs at least six miles, six days a week. So what does a Five Guys lunch do to the average Washington worker bee? We asked her to break it to us gently.

See Also:

Lunch Break: Cosi

One in Six Customers Pays Attention to Calories on Menus

Lunch Break: Potbelly

Do Order . . .

• The Veggie Sandwich: Not to be confused with a veggie burger, the veggie sandwich is your choice of Five Guys’s vegetable toppings (mushrooms, peppers, jalapeños, etc.) grilled and served on the standard bun. At 440 calories, it’s your best bet to have a reasonable lunch—as long as you pass on the cheese, bacon, and mayonnaise. But, as Steeves points out, “No one goes to Five Guys for the veggies, so if you must have a burger, go for. . .”

• The Little Hamburger: Again, skip the cheese, bacon, mayo, and barbecue sauce. “Those toppings alone add between 50 and 100 calories. Plus,” she adds, “this one comes with only one patty, so that saves you 200 to 300 calories.” Instead go for the ketchup, mustard, even A1 sauce, and flavorful vegetables. Wash it down with water or a diet soda.

Don’t Order . . .

• The Bacon Cheeseburger (with mayonnaise): A bacon cheeseburger, regular fries, and a large soda is a whopping 1,940 calories (and 103 grams of fat)—an entire day’s worth of calories for the average person. And that’s not counting free refills or additional toppings. Alone, the sandwich is 1,020 calories, “more than that of a Whopper or Big Mac,” Steeves explains. To put that in perspective, you’d have to walk or run ten miles to burn it off, according to Steeves.

• The Fries: Sad but true; the regular fries (the smallest size available) is twice the proper serving size. Surprisingly, the peanut oil makes little difference. “From a nutritionist’s perspective, frying is frying,” Steeves says. “There may be some added benefit [in peanut oil] but there’s just as much fat in these fries as anything else. Basically the claim becomes, ‘it could be worse.’ ” If you can’t resist, share the fries with friends.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.