What’s The Healthiest Thing At McDonalds?
Do you like McDonalds?
I know, I know, this is a health and fitness website – but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t like McDonalds.
Their perfectly engineered junk food is hard to resist, especially when they hook you in when you’re just a kid.
Of course, it isn’t very good for you – everyone knows that.
And despite Morgan Spurlock’s demonstration that you can survive (barely) by only dining at the Golden Arches for an entire month, it certainly isn’t advisable to do so.
In fact, it is a smart decision – for both how you look AND your overall health – to limit your McDonalds intake to a once every so often.
That being said, McDonalds certainly has its place.
Sometimes it is just out of convenience; other times, you may just really, really crave McDonalds.
Which begs the question: when you do go to McDonalds, what is the healthiest thing that you can choose to eat?
To be honest, I had often wondered this myself – so I decided that for both my benefit and yours, it was high-time that we found out.
The One Thing That Most McDonalds Food Has In Common…
There are quite a few things that you can order at McDonalds, even if most of them are variations on burgers and french fries.
Big Macs, quarter pounders, chicken sandwiches, nuggets, fish fillets.
But you know what all of these items I mentioned have in common?
They lack a sufficient quantity of protein.
Yes, protein is the smallest nutritional component of these items, compared to the quantity of fat and carbohydrates in each one.
This makes it surprisingly difficult to get a decent amount of protein at McDonalds, even if you order items that you think would have a lot of it.
Take the much-loved Big Mac for instance.
Right, so from the list of ingredients, you would think you should be getting at least a decent protein punch.
But you would be wrong.
The Big Mac actually only has a modest 25 grams of protein – and while in absolute terms this may not mean much, it is more startling when you consider that it has a whooping 25 grams of fat and 46 grams of carbs in each sandwich.
This means that it is only 18% protein, while being comprised of 34% carbs and 48% fat.
Yes, 48% fat…
I’ll spare you from a nutritional breakdown of other favorite McDonalds items, but suffice to say that they have similar nutritional profiles.
That is, they are comprised primarily of fat, followed by carbs, and have 20% or less protein.
And, considering that most people order a pre-set meal, which comes with fries and a drink, you end up having only about 10% of the calories in your entire meal come from protein, whereas 45% will come from fat and 45% come from carbs.
So what does this mean?
Well, quite simply, protein is a pretty scarce resource at McDonalds…
It is very, very difficult to get adequate quantities of protein, without also taking in 1000s of calories from all of the excess fat and carbs.
And, as you likely already know, protein is extremely important for both muscle gain and fat loss.
In fact, it is the macronutrient that should make up the bulk of your caloric intake in many cases; not a minuscule 10% of it.
So, when you’re trying to make your McDonalds experience as healthy as possible, there are 2 things that you should be focusing on:
1) Limiting the total number of calories that you take in, while still feeling satisfied.
2) Trying to maximize the amount of protein as a percentage of the total calories you consume.
What is the healthiest thing you can order at McDonalds?
Now the answer to this one may surprise you…
If you are really, really intent on doing so, eating healthy at McDonalds is actually very easy.
You just march up to the counter, and abstemiously order yourself a bottle of water and a premium bacon ranch salad with grilled chicken.
This comes in at only 230 calories, giving you 30 grams of protein, 6 grams of net carbs, 4 grams of fiber, and only 9 grams of fat.
Then you take your meal, if you can call it that, over to a table by yourself (since sitting with other people will make them sad), and cry silently into your lettuce as delicious aromas taunt you with every bite.
Doesn’t sound very fun, right?
However, if you are truly looking for the lowest calorie item that also has a good balance of macronutrients, this is the single best thing that you can order for yourself.
Hell, it is so low in calories, that you can even go all out and order yourself 2 of them if you’re feeling particularly daring…
But what if you want to actually enjoy your McDonalds experience, without making it an all out cheat meal?
Is there any way to leave feeling satisfied without wrecking your diet?
Yes, indeed there is – and here is how to do it.
How To Have A Healthy(ish) Meal At McDonalds
OK, so now that we’ve established the healthiest single item that you can order at McDonalds, it’s time to be realistic and consider a meal as a whole.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to define a meal as one main item, one side item, and a drink.
So, with the same considerations at before – limiting both total calories and establishing a good macronutrient balance – let’s take a look at what you should and shouldn’t do.
Order A Diet Soda
This one is hopefully a no-brainer, but it still deserves a mention since many people don’t do this…
So I’ll say it loud and clear: for the love of god, get a diet, calorie-free soda instead of the sugar-laden variety.
Simply by doing this, you are cutting anywhere from 140-280 excess calories from your meal (depending on which size drink you order).
And literally all of these calories are carbohydrates – with many of them coming from sugar – so there is literally no downside to this decision.
What’s that you say? You like the sugary kick from non-diet sodas?
Well, get over it, and learn to enjoy diet soda instead.
I repeat, there is no value, at all, to ordering a regular soda with your meal – so, please, break this habit and stop gulping down these diabetes-inducing nutritional black holes!
The Healthiest Main Item (That Isn’t a Salad)
Ok, now that we’ve gotten the drink part taken care of, let’s get to the most important part: the core of your meal.
Now, this is arguably the toughest part of creating a healthy McDonalds experience.
There really isn’t too much to choose from on the menu that isn’t lacking in protein and loaded with fat – but there is one solitary item that stands out from the pack.
In fact, this sandwich actually has a good nutritional profile, fulfilling all of the criteria that we’re concerned with.
And that item is the Premium Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich.
It weighs in at a respectable 510 calories, but what is most notable is the macronutrient quantities and percentages.
This thing contains a hefty 40 grams of protein, 41 grams of net carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 20 grams of fat.
This comes out to having a roughly even caloric split between protein, fats and carbs, which is practically unheard of with any other McDonalds item.
Yes, it’s not the most exciting thing you can order, but it is the healthiest main item on the McDonalds menu that isn’t a salad.
Do you want fries with that?
Well, of course I want fries – I always want fries – so perhaps a more appropriate question is ‘should you have fries with that’?
Well, if you’ve been good and ordered a diet soda and a grilled chicken club sandwich, then you can consider adding fries to your meal.
After all, you are at McDonalds…
If you do, however, make it a small fries, since the calorie jump from small to medium is significant.
However, as of 2013, there are now other sides available in addition to french fries.
You can now opt for either a side salad or apple slices instead of fries in 85% of McDonald’s locations around the world.
These add very few calories to your meal: the side salad is only 20 calories, and the apple slices are only 15.
Putting It All Together
So now that we’ve constructed 3 potential meal options to choose from, let’s go through and see how each one stacks up.
Meal Option 1 (grilled chicken club sandwich, with small fries and a diet soda)
Total calories: 740
Total fat: 31 grams
Total net carbs: 69 grams
Total fiber: 5 grams
Total protein: 42 grams
Meal Option 2 (grilled chicken club sandwich, with side salad and a diet soda)
Total calories: 530
Total fat: 20 grams
Total net carbs: 44 grams
Total fiber: 4 grams
Total protein: 41 grams
Meal Option 3 (grilled chicken club sandwich, with apple slices and a diet soda)
Total calories: 525
Total fat: 20 grams
Total net carbs: 45 grams
Total fiber: 3 grams
Total protein: 40 grams
Wow, as you can see, all of these are actually pretty good, all things considered.
They all achieve our goal of keeping the protein content high, while not heaping on a ton of extra calories in the process.
Obviously the option with fries is the higher-calorie pick – but at 740 calories for the entire meal, it is still hardly a gut-buster.
So, next time you go to McDonalds, but want to keep the experience relatively healthy, opt for one of these 3 meal choices.
That is, unless you are going there for a cheat meal, in which case I’ll leave you to your gluttony…