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Penny-Wise And Health Foolish Fast Foods

With people watching what they spend in this tough economy, fast food chains have apparently been benefiting.

On Monday, for instance, McDonald's announced a worldwide seven-point-seven percent jump in sales last month over the same period a year ago at locations open all that time.

But a nonprofit group is out with a report raising caution flags.

The Cancer Project named what it says are the "unhealthiest" choices on the value menus of five leading fast food chains.

As the project put it, "Many of these cheap foods carry a hidden cost."

On The Early Show Tuesday, contributor and registered dietician Keri Glassman observed that such foods are "very tempting, especially right now. It is tempting. All of these value menus have options for a dollar, even less. So, it's very tempting to go to these restaurants and order some of these choices.

"The problem is that all of these worst options (spotlighted by the Cancer Project) are high in sodium, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. They all lead to, we know research has shown that the combination of eating foods high in these nutrients may cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease. (These are) foods we absolutely need to be staying away from."

The Cancer Project noted that, "Many items also contain processed meats and grilled meats, which are linked to increased cancer risk."

"But there are healthier options," Glassman said. "Even though you may save a few pennies now it is absolutely going to cost you a lot more in the long run if you go for these items."

Glassman pointed to "healthier" items on the menus of those same companies, many of which don't cost much more than the unhealthy value menu ones.

Comments on the Cancer Project report given to CBS News by all five chains focused on the variety of choices on their overall menus, and healthier choices they offer.

Below are the selections panned as the worst by the Cancer Project, followed by Glassman's "healthier" options:

Jack in the Box
WORST VALUE MENU ITEM: Junior Bacon Cheeseburger
(400 cals; 23 g fat; 8 g sat fat; 55 mg chol)
BETTER CHOICE: Value Menu Hamburger
(280 cals; 12 g fat; 4.5 g sat fat; 30 mg chol)

Taco Bell
WORST VALUE MENU ITEM: Cheesy Double Beef Burrito
(460 cals; 20 g fat; 7 g sat fat; 40 mg chol)
BETTER CHOICE: Crunchy Beef Taco
(170 cals; 10 g fat; 3.5 sat fat; 25 mg chol)

Burger King
WORST VALUE MENU ITEM: Breakfast Sausage Biscuit
(420 cals; 27 g fat; 15 g sat fat; 35 mg chol)
BETTER CHOICE: Ham Omelet Sandwich
(290 cals; 12 g fat; 4.5 sat fat; 85 mg chol)

(390 cals; 19 g fat; 8 g sat fat; 65 mg chol)
(250 cals; 9 g fat; 3.5 g sat fat; 25 mg chol)

WORST VALUE MENU ITEM: Junior Bacon Cheeseburger
(310 cals; 16 g fat; 6 g sat fat; 670 mg chol)
(260 cals; 11 g fat; 3.5 g sat fat; 45 mg chol)

Responses given to CBS News:

Jack in the Box: "We offer a lot of variety on our value menu: hamburgers, a chicken sandwich, tacos, even a side salad. Beyond that variety, our guests can also customize their order so, if you're dining on a budget, you have a lot of choices at Jack in the Box. The Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, featuring a beef patty, strips of bacon, cheese and sauce, is a great value for our guests who are looking for a filling, flavorful meal. In addition to items on our value menu, we also offer entrée salads, real fruit smoothies, and a fruit cup on our full menu for guests with lighter appetites."

Taco Bell says it offers a "nutrition guide available in our restaurants and on the nutrition section of our Web site that includes serving information on calories, fat, fiber and more. We also offer a nutrition calculator on our Web site ( that allows users to enter their order and find total nutritional values. Your viewers may be interested in our Fresco Menu, which offers 9 items with 9 grams of fat or less including our Fresco Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco, which has 4 grams of fat and 170 calories."

Burger King: "We are proud of our long-standing 'Have it your way' brand promise, which provides our customers with the opportunity to customize menu choices and select portion sizes to best meet individual tastes, preferences and lifestyles."

McDonalds: "McDonald's has always been committed to providing a variety of wholesome, balanced menu options for all our customers. Based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, our wide variety of menu choices can be made into meal combinations that provide less than one-third of the of the government's daily recommendation for total fat, sodium, and calories. McDonald's is committed to providing our customers with comprehensive nutrition information on our menu. In fact, McDonald's has provided this information for more than three decades. Nutrition information is currently available on our Web site, via a toll-free telephone number, on select product packaging, in-restaurant nutrition brochures and on the back of tray-liners in nearly 14,000 McDonald's restaurants throughout the United States."

Wendy's:: "We try to do is offer choice from our value menu, like the side salad, baked potato -- pretty nutritious for a vegetable -- the small chili, which is 290 calories. There are items there besides the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger. We provide variety. We aim to provide enough variety that you could not spend a lot of money and get a nutritious meal."
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