Is McDonald's Healthy? The Real Story
McDonald's is well-known for serving up fast, convenient, and affordable meals to millions of people all over the world every year. However, the question remains: is McDonald's healthy?
How does McDonald's stack up against other fast food giants like Burger King and Wendy's? How does a meal from the Golden Arches compare to a home cooked meal? Are McDonald's healthy menu options actually good for you... or are they just healthy in comparison to other items on the menu?
This article will show you how healthy food from McDonald's really is and arm you with information on how to choose healthy menu items from any fast food restaurant.
What's in McDonald's Food?
After the recent publicity of ammonia-based beef trimming added to McDonald's meat products, the chain has announced that they will stop using the so-called pink slime.
That said, McDonald's food is still a far cry from "all-natural." For example, the company touts "100% white meat chicken breast" and this is true, to an extent. Of the tiny amount of meat that's in a chicken nugget, it is 100% white meat chicken breast, but there's a lot more than meat packed into a McDonald's nugget.
So what's in a nugget? According to McDonald's1, a chicken nugget contains the following ingredients:
"White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning [autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid], sodium phosphates, natural flavor (botanical source)"
Keep in mind these are the ingredients for the chicken only, not the breading. It's nice to see chicken as the main ingredient, but let's delve deeper to some of the other ingredients:
Water is fine; chemically modified food starch is fine; too much salt is not good for you, but the dangers of salt are well known to the public. Autolyzed yeast extract, is a cheaper version of MSG. Since autolyzed yeast extract is not the same as MSG (even though it has the same health risks), companies that use this in their food can legally say "No MSG" on their packaging. This is a sneaky way to essentially add the addictive substance to their food. Autolyzed yeast extract is tied to cancer, heart disease, and severe allergies.2 Yum!
Also on the list of ingredients are dextrose and sodium phosphates. Dextrose is code for sugar. Why does a chicken nugget need sugar? Sodium phosphate, on the other hand, is great for cleansing your colon before a colonscopy3, but it can cause severe allergic reactions, major kidney damage, and organ calcification (which leads to problems absorbing minerals.)4
What to Avoid
Stay away from anything with the words "double", "fried", "supersized", "crispy." These terms are code for extra calories or extra fat.
32-oz Chocolate Triple Thick Shake:
Double Quarter Pounder w Cheese:
Healthy Menu Options
Before choosing another fast-food chain over the Golden Arches, it's important to note that McDonald's isn't the only culprit when it comes to dumping bad ingredients into food. In fact, McDonald's actually rates as one of the healthiest fast food chains!5 This may seem astounding, but remember, eating healthfully at McDonald's depends on your food choice. It's easy to pack on the calories by eating a double quarter pounder with cheese and supersizing a drink and fries.
In order to eat as healthy as possible, it's a great idea to totally avoid fast food. If you're in a bind, there are a number of menu items that are healthier options.
The Classic Chicken McGrill is a good option as long as you cut out the mayonnaise. The snack wraps (only ~260 calories) are another great choice. They're high in protein and don't pack quite the punch calorie-wise. Order the apple dippers with caramel (low fat) as a tasty replacement for fries. Order water or milk, instead of soda.
Do you enjoy McDonalds?
Weighing in: Is McDonald's Good For You?
McDonald's puts some unhealthy ingredients in their processed food (their "hamburger meat" and "chicken" nuggets), but there are some menu items that are considerably better than others. The fast-food chain isn't as guilty as some of the other fast-food chains, so things could be a lot worse.
McDonald's offers convenient and low-cost meals that could be much better for your health, but it could be worse. Your best bet is to enjoy fast food only in moderation.
Watch Your Fried Potatoes
I think we can all agree that sometimes McDonald's fries are amazing (and nothing else can soothe that craving!) However, keep in mind the calories in French friends.
To put it into perspective, consider potato chips. A study by researchers at Harvard University (of more than 120,000 people) found that participants gained an average of 1.69 pounds over the course of the study. The study found that potato chips cause more weight gain than any other food!6
1. "Chicken McNuggets." mcdonalds.com. McDonalds.
2. "What Is Autolyzed Yeast Extract?" livestrong.com. LIVESTRONG.
3. "Sodium Phosphate" ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. U.S. National Library of Medicine
4. "Hazards of Sodium Phosphate in Your Diet" livestrong.com. LIVESTRONG.
5. "America's Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants" health.com. Health Magazine.
6. "Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men" The New England Journal of Medicine
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Melanie Palen