Upon arriving in DC in 2011, Shake Shack wrapped its crinkle-cut arms around the hearts of Washingtonians, and we hugged right back. We love Shack Shack. We love it on the patio on 14th Street. We love it between innings at Nats Park. We love it after losing our hard-earned paychecks to the slots at MGM National Harbor, and we love it the next day on our lunch breaks.
So naturally, we asked someone to ruin it for us. Emily Newman, a certified health and nutrition coach and personal trainer at Onelife Fitness, took a look at the Shake Shack menu and shared her cold, hard analysis on the good, the bad, and what she—a paragon of fitness—would eat.
Here’s what she found.
The Best Sandwich
The 100% all-natural beef single hamburger gets a gold star from Newman, thanks largely to the fact that it has no hormones or antibiotics. “This is important because you are what you eat,” she says. Nutrient-wise, you’re looking at 385 calories, 21 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 850 milligrams of sodium, and 24 grams of protein, the latter of which is particularly redeeming. “What’s most important about protein is that it’s satiating,” says Newman, adding that when you’re satiated, or satisfied, you don’t have to use as much willpower to turn down things like crinkle fries. Because, protein.
The (Surprisingly) Worst Sandwich
The griddled chick’n club scored lowest with Newman. “What I found interesting is the chicken and the beef have the same amount of fat,” says Newman. Thanks to a dose of bacon, the grilled chicken sandwich matches the single burger with 21 grams of fat. The sandwich is also higher in calories (470) and carbs (31 grams). The real kicker? It packs a whopping 1,340 milligrams of sodium, which is more than half what adults should eat in a day, according to the FDA. Too much sodium is not only bad for blood pressure, but can be a hidden reason for weight gain. So while your daily calorie and fat intake might be on point, says Newman, “There’s sometimes a reason you gain weight, and it’s not always what you think. Too much sodium can make you hold onto water.”
Who goes to Shake Shake for the dogs? Well, if that’s you, your best bets are the hot dog, chicken dog, and sausage link, which all come in at 350 calories or less. Avoid the pork sausage, which is not only the highest-calorie dog (555) but also a total sodium bomb, at 1,188 milligrams.
Newman recommends choosing regular fries, which obviously have fewer calories (420) and fat (19 grams) than the cheese, bacon, and chili options. But more than that, the fancier choices pile nearly double the fat atop the crinkle-cut starch. “Fat and carbs together is quite the trigger for fat gain,” says Newman.
Things That Seem Healthy But Aren’t
Newman advises staying away from the chili. While homemade versions are fiber and protein powerhouses, Shake Shack’s version, while only 120 calories, has a staggering 1,320 milligrams of sodium, a measly six grams of protein, and zero—repeat, zero—grams of fiber.
And then there’s the dubious vegetarian option, the ‘shroom burger. There’s just too much bad stuff to balance out its redeeming qualities (at 490 calories, it’s one of the lower-calorie sandwich options). It’s got 30 grams of fat, a sad amount of protein at 18 grams, and a pesky amount of sodium, 925 milligrams. Most surprising? It has nearly twice as much cholesterol as the single burger (110 milligrams versus 56).
Shakes, Floats, & Ice Cream
Shakes start at 650 calories for the healthiest options, the vanilla and fair flavors. Strawberry comes in at 655, and then it’s a steady climb up, with the chocolate cookies and cream shake hitting 990. Floats are a healthier bet here—all are 510 calories and have 18 grams of fat.
The clear winner of the sweets, according to Newman, is the single vanilla cup, at 220 calories and 12 grams of fat.
Shake Shack’s signature dessert, frozen custard, is designed to be customized with “mix-ins,” chunks of totally unnecessary but entirely delicious accoutrements. Thankfully, Newman found a few nutrient rock star options. Aramena cherries, bananas, and raspberries are all good bets, as are almonds, pecans, and walnuts, but be wary here. “Nuts are obviously healthy, but sometimes people take it too far,” cautions Newman. “Fats add up more quickly than carbs or protein, since fat has nine calories per gram and carbs and protein have four.”
To Newman’s surprise, a few antioxidant powerhouses appear on the mix-in menu. Cocoa nibs—which, according to Newman, have forty times the antioxidants of blueberries—also have three grams of fiber, which keeps you fuller longer. Plus, cocoa nibs contain phenylethylamine, the same chemical your brain creates when you’re falling in love. So pile on.
Also a great frozen custard addition? Matcha powder, a low-calorie stunner (20 cals) that boosts metabolism, enhances a feeling of calmness, and aids in detoxification due to high levels of chlorophyll, according to Newman. And here we thought it was just for tea.
The worst mix-ins, outside of anything “double?” The miso huckleberry hazelnut blondie (270 cals), the maple bacon donut from Astro Donuts (205 cals), and the chocolate cloud cookie (200 cals). “Basically, they’re high in calories, carbs, and sugars, so stay away,” says Newman.
A Note on Alcohol
While beers vary by Shake Shake location, most are of the craft variety, which can often reach 200 calories per pint. If you choose to get your carbs from alcohol over carbs that you can actually chew, Newman suggests the Shack white wine, which has 120 calories and three grams of carbs.
The Perfect Health-Minded Meal
What would Newman eat at Shake Shack? “The single hamburger, because it’s lower in carbs, lowest in sodium, and moderate in cholesterol, with lettuce, tomato, and pickle, plus some mustard. Then I’d consciously choose dessert either using the bite rule or sharing with a friend, and I’d get the one with the best calories and macronutrients, which is the vanilla cup. If I can put some mix-ins on, I’d likely just stick to the fruit, like the cherries and raspberries. I’d skip the nuts, and add some cocoa nibs. Then I’ll have about five to six bites, or tablespoons, and be done and satisfied. Now, if someone is getting fries, I’ll go with four bites of ices cream and three to four fries—gotta eat them slowly.”