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Healthy McDonald’s? A 2013 Review of the Menu

In Food, Health on January 16, 2013 at 1:58 am

In the past decade, documentaries Super Size Me (2004) and Fat Head (2009) battled head to head on whether Micky D’s was healthy or deadly. I’ve scoured today’s McDonald’s menu for the best options — no super-sizing or food-disassembly required — to see if ‘healthy McDonald’s’ is possible in 2013.

First, the criteria. Many nutritionists agree that a healthy diet is:

How many calories should you eat? Track how many you’re eating now. To lose weight, eat less. To gain weight, eat more.

Now, to the McDonald’s menu.

McDonald’s Breakfast

The contenders included Fruit & Maple Oatmeal, plain Hotcakes and Sausage Tortilla but the healthiest breakfast options by far are McDonald’s Egg McMuffin & Apple Cinnamon Walnut Oatmeal.

Egg McMuffin

McDonald’s Egg McMuffin

300 cal, 18g protein, 12g fat (5g sat fat), 780mg sodium, 2g fiber, 3g sugars

McDonald’s Apple Cinnamon Walnut Oatmeal

270 cal, 6g protein, 8g fat (2g sat fat), 105mg sodium, 5g fiber, 19g sugars

McDonald’s margarine, tortillas & English muffins have small amounts of trans fat (less than 0.5g). Regardless, the Egg McMuffin makes for a higher protein breakfast than many cold cereals one might eat at home.

McDonald’s Salads & Snack Wraps

The healthiest option here is McDonald’s Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken (with Southwestern or Italian Dressing in place of the Caesar Dressing). The Bacon Ranch Salad and the Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken are close seconds. Honorable mention goes to any snack wrap that doesn’t include the words “crispy,” “ranch,” “angus” or “mac.”

Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken

McDonald’s Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken and Southwest Dressing

290 cal, 28g protein, 11g fat (4g sat fat), 920mg sodium, 4g fiber, 8g sugars

The healthiest salad dressings at McDonald’s are the Italian Dressing (50 cal, 0.5g sat fat, 390mg sodium) and the Southwest Dressing (100 cal, 1g sat fat, 340mg sodium).

Steer clear of the extra saturated fat in Ranch Dressing (170 cal, 2.5g sat fat, 530mg sodium) and Caesar Dressing (190 cal, 3.5g sat fat, 500mg sodium), as well as the extra sodium in the Balsamic Vinaigrette (35 cal, 0g sat fat, 420mg sodium).

McDonald’s Burgers, Sandwiches & McNuggets

Mayonnaise, tartar and ranch sauce are calorie-heavy with extra saturated fat and sodium, so I’ve listed the choices in this section without those condiments.

Runners-up include: the McChicken (310 cal, 14g protein), the Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger (310 cal, 15g protein), the Cheeseburger (300 cal, 15g protein) and the 6-piece Chicken McNuggets (280 cal, 13g protein).

The healthiest low-calorie choices are the Hamburger and the Filet-O-Fish without tartar sauce. For a more filling option, the McDouble and the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich without mayonnaise have more protein.


McDonald’s Hamburger

250 cal, 12g protein, 9g fat (3.5g sat fat), 480mg sodium, 2g fiber, 6g sugars


McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish w/out Tartar sauce

300 cal, 15g protein, 10g fat (2.5g sat fat), 480mg sodium, 1g fiber, 5g sugars


McDonald’s McDouble

390 cal, 23g protein, 19g fat (8g sat fat), 850mg sodium, 2g fiber, 7g sugars

Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich

McDonald’s Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich w/out mayonnaise

300 cal, 27g protein, 3.5g fat (1g sat fat), 730mg sodium, 3g fiber, 8g sugars

McDonald’s Drinks

Here’s the list of zero calorie drinks at McDonald’s: Water, plain Premium Roast Coffee, Iced Tea (not Sweet Tea), Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper. Americans tend to drink too many sugary calories, so if you do order a drink with calories, it’s best to order a Small.

McDonald’s Extras

In place of fries, McDonald’s Apple Slices and a Side Salad with Italian Dressing (85 cal, 2g protein) is a great low-calorie choice. Another option is McDonald’s Fruit & Walnuts.

Fruit & Walnuts

McDonald’s Fruit & Walnuts

 210 cal, 4g protein, 8g fat (1.5g sat fat), 60mg sodium, 2g fiber, 25g sugars

Two healthy desserts are the Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait (150 cal, 4g protein, 1g sat fat, 70mg sodium, 1g fiber, 23g sugars) and the Vanilla Ice Cream Cone.

Vanilla Cone

McDonald’s Vanilla Cone

170 cal, 5g protein, 4.5g fat (3g sat fat), 70mg sodium, 20g sugars

In Conclusion

Did you know McDonald’s had Fruit & Walnuts before this? I didn’t. They don’t advertise it like they do their McCafé Chocolate Chip Frappé (a Small is over 500 calories!). It turns out most of McDonald’s menu runs very high in sodium, saturated fat and sugar. Trace amounts of trans fat also exist in the menu. However, by sticking to the healthy food options listed above, it is possible to achieve more protein, less saturated fat and some fiber in a quick meal at McDonald’s. And it’s OK to get yourself a Cone!



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