Is McDonald's Healthy? The Real Story

Updated on September 12, 2018
melbel profile image

Melanie has a BS in Physical Science from Purdue Northwest and has an interest in computational research in protein folding.

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)"

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:
1,160 calories

Double Quarter Pounder w Cheese:
740 calories

Large Fries:
500 calories

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.

Quick Poll

Do you enjoy McDonalds?

See results

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

References

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

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

  • Are McDonald's wraps healthy?

    The wraps are possibly one of the healthier things on the menu, but few things (if anything at all) on the McDonald's menu are good for you. I wouldn't consider wraps to be good for you.

© 2012 Melanie Palen

Comments

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    • profile image

      Zoey 

      7 months ago

      Wow I’m a kid and I’m in the backseat of my car eating my McDonald’s

    • CrescentSkies profile image

      Michael Ward 

      9 months ago from Texas

      I thought McDonalds was universally known mostly for being consistent. The chances of you getting sick while travelling are much smaller if you eat there than at a random local restaurant. At least that's what I've used it for.

    • profile image

      jayden kinder 

      22 months ago

      i love mcdonalds but this is kinda gross

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I used to hang out with friends at McDonald's back in the '70s, often eating Big Macs. I stopped going there a long time ago since as an adult I turned to a more healthy diet. I found your hub interesting. You did very good research to make this review informative and complete.

    • ketage profile image

      ketage 

      5 years ago from Croatia

      LOL , Brenda Durham, you took the words right out of my mouth. Off I go to look for a McDonald's right now :)

    • profile image

      Brenda Durham 

      5 years ago

      I am so hungry right now for a McDonalds' sandwich and fries!

    • profile image

      mark anthony 

      6 years ago

      I asked my sis to buy me macdonalds then she did. Sis came back with the food I asked to eat. I decided to search about macdonalds while eating macdonals. Then i found this article. I was like tasty snack wrap. then when i was in the middle of article i started to gross out! I took out the snack wrap and decided to make give my food to the homless dog outside. It will be soo cool if dogs can talk =] I can imagine a dog going to in the drive threw and ordering a meal hahah lol

    • Danareva profile image

      Dana De Greff 

      6 years ago from Miami

      This is def a hot topic hub! As a kid I loved fast food, mcdonalds included. Now when I eat fast food I either get sleepy or sick. I think they take advantage of a "cradle to the grave" idea in advertising and marketing and kids should not be putting junk and chemicals into their bodies. Not to mention obesity on the rise... if anything it should be considered a junky treat, which almost everyone indulges in from time to time!

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Great hub, I would like to know if or how much the ingredients have changed over the years. I practically grew up on this stuff as a teenager but I can't remember the last time I ate it today! Voted up and interesting!

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I can't say I'm a fan, I've actually never eaten one of their burgers. The fries yes but not a burger. Fast food isn't something I enjoy from any outlet, McDonalds or otherwise but at least their trying to make it better with their healthy menu stuff. Great hub Melbel, voted up.

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S Jain 

      6 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      I am a regular to McDonalds and KFC, cannot resist them even if they are bad. Good Hub, voted up and tweeted.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I do not eat there except for once every 6 months maybe??

      It is really bad for us I think and even in moderation. I'm actually kind of afraid to eat there...just because of the handlers at some locations. I mean - I don't think the insides of all this places are very clean either. I took Syd to a Playland there - but I decided to go in first - check it out - so glad I did - OMG people - don't let your kids play in those!! It was so rank....they are germ fests! It smelled strongly of urine and was nice and hot - terrific breeding ground for bacteria!

      Up and awesome!

    • Eliminate Cancer profile image

      Eliminate Cancer 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      I can't eat any of that any more. It's not food. It is calories, fat, chemicals and fillers made to resemble food.

      If you treat it as a treat, like a piece of candy that you wouldn't make a meal out of, then it won't kill you to eat it sometimes, but don't ever make the mistake that it is a nourishing meal.

      That mis-information is the source of our country's health problems.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Years ago I used to eat at McDonald's once a week. Now about once every three months. I went on a diet once and didn't have McDonald's for about six months. The first time I ate a couple of fries after dieting all I could taste was grease on the top of my mouth. I think all fast food is pretty much bad for us.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Melbel, I am afraid to eat at McDonalds too much. I do love their fries, but everything else holds no appeal to me because, as you pointed out, we do not know what goes into their food. Votes and shares!! :-)

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Exactly what I tell my kids. 'Have a McDonald's if you really fancy it, just don't make it you main source of nutrition.' Moderation is definitely the key.

      Voted up useful and interesting.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I just read au fait's hub on pink slime and was revolted, I will never eat this muck again. Whole food for me!

      Bob

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 

      6 years ago

      No, fast food is not healthy. But then again, I am a health nut. I do not even consider the bread (as in hamburger bun) healthy.

      A good documentary to watch is "SuperSize Me" where the film-maker ate McDonald's food for a whole month to see how it affected the body.

    • Edgar Arkham profile image

      Edgar Arkham 

      6 years ago from San Jose, CA

      I don't eat fast food much. But, I REALLY don't care for McDonalds. The quality, in my opinion, is quite poor. (which can be said for most fast food places). I prefer to make food at home. On occasion, I like those "6 dollar" Jalapeno burgers from Carl's Jr.s'. But, recently, the whole "Pink Slime" thing makes me glad I eat so much homemade stuff, at least I know what's in my food. Good hub. Voted up!

    • profile image

      Brenda Durham 

      6 years ago

      I love McDonalds' breakfast once in a while, and their chicken sandwiches. I don't eat hamburger or sausage usually, not because of fillers, etc., but just because I don't like hamburger or sausage much.

      Love their fries and their hash browns.

      I see nothing wrong with eating at McDonald's. I think they're the object of attacks from the competition, really. I've noticed that people who will eat bloody steak and raw fish at home or at a restaurant will sometimes denounce McDonalds' menu; there's something wrong with that picture.

    • eatforcheaper profile image

      eatforcheaper 

      6 years ago from London

      This is a good article. I also like the food in McDonalds, and KFC and Burger King but you know what I can take it or leave it. I usually go to those places once every few months compared to twice a week as a teenager haha! I can walk right past it and not be tempted - so much better to eat as a treat :)

    • profile image

      lovingleaves 

      6 years ago

      I think more than "food", Macdonalds would be classified as "edible food-like substance" ? :) (The salad would pass, as would the sesame seeds. Not sure about much else...Your best bet would be to stay away from it, but obviously like you say- if not that, once in a while. Very interesting. I never knew what autolysed yeast extract was, sounds like something you might find in a lab! Voted up and interesting

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      The pictures make my mouth water, why do all good things have to be bad for you? I could never give up the fries for apples, sorry! I have committed though to go there only once a month; it's my unhealthy-eating-day just for the pleasure of it.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 

      6 years ago from USA

      I haven't eaten at McDonalds in years. I have an auto-immune problem and I get sick if I eat their food.

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 

      6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Great hub, melbel! I love how you showed that McDonalds isn't the only "culprit" in making food out of unhealthy ingredients. Good luck in the contest!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Hey, melbel, I can't help it. I like McDonald's! But I don't indulge much. Heck, I make my own Big Mac versions at home; haven't you seen my hub? Your title caught my attention, as I love Big Macs, and I worked at McD's for 6 years. I like fast food, but I don't think any of us need to eat it very often. Well put together hub. Voted up among others!

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