What to Eat at McDonald’s, According to a Dietitian

by Jay Greene
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What to Eat at McDonald’s, According to a Dietitian

With a McDonald’s seemingly on every corner, you’re very likely to encounter one at some point. Maybe on a road trip, maybe after soccer when the kids are being “extra special” – maybe just because it sounds good.

The good news is that a trip to the Golden Arches doesn’t have to hinder your daily calorie or nutrition goals. We talked with Daisy Mercer, a registered dietitian working with MyFitnessPal, for tips to help you make healthier choices the next time you visit McDonald’s.

Does McDonald’s have healthy options?

Well, what people define as “healthy” can vary from person to person. “Usually, it depends on a person’s own personal dietary philosophy and overall priorities – for example calories, macros, a special diet, or something else,” says Mercer.

That said, McDonald’s prides itself on the sourcing and quality of its ingredients, and offers choices featuring fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grain and high-protein options.

Need help deciding? The dietary info for Mickey D’s menu items is just a couple of taps away in the MyFitnessPal app!

What are the healthiest food items at McDonald’s?

“The healthiest options in my view tend to include more ‘whole’ ingredients, with options for reduced serving sizes (4-piece instead of 10) as well as a lower calorie count (400ish and below),” says Mercer.

These options are also prime for customization. Hold the cheese to save about 3.5g of fat and 60 calories. Looking to go lower-carb or lower-calorie? Ditch the bun and double down on the lettuce and tomato (for an added veggie boost, to boot!).

“Also keep an eye out for often-overlooked calories from things like dipping sauces,” she cautions.

Mercer’s choices for some of the healthiest options at McDonald’s include:

  1. Fruit and Maple Oatmeal: 320 calories, 4.5g total fat, 64g total carbs, 6g protein, 31g sugar, 4g fiber
  2. Egg McMuffin: 310 calories, 13g total fat, 30g total carbs, 17g protein, 3g sugar, 2g fiber
  3. 10 Piece Chicken McNuggets: 410 calories,24g total fat, 26g total carbs, 23g protein, 0g sugar, 1g fiber
  4. McChicken Sandwich: 400 calories, 21g total fat, 39g total carbs, 14g protein, 5g sugar, 1g fiber
  5. Filet-O-Fish Sandwich: 390 calories, 19g total fat, 39g total carbs, 16g protein, 5g sugar, 2g fiber
  6. Small Fries: 230 calories, 11g total fat, 31g total carb, 3g protein, 0 sugar, 3g fiber
  7. Classic Hamburger: 250 calories, 9g total fat, 31g total carbs, 12g total protein, 6g sugar, 1g fiber
  8. Cheeseburger: 300 calories, 13g total fat, 32g total carbs, 15g protein, 7g sugar, 2g fiber
  9. McCrispy Chicken Sandwich: 470 calories, 20g total fat, 46g total carbs, 26g protein, 9g sugar, 1g fiber

What are some low-calorie options at McDonald’s?

What to Eat at McDonald's, According to a Dietitian

Mercer also gave us a few options that could be smart choices (most of which also happen to be on the “healthiest options” list above).

“Overall calorie awareness is so important to reaching or maintaining your weight and nutrition goals,” she points out. “Knowing both the quality and quantity of the calories on your plate (or in your bag) can keep you on target and help you to feel satiated instead of just…full.”

And remember, even just swapping the bun for extra lettuce saves you 150 calories and 28g of carbs.

Some low-calorie options suggested by Mercer include:

  1. Hash Brown: 140 calories, 8g total fat, 18g total carbs, 2g total protein, 0g sugar, 2g fiber
  2. 4 Piece Chicken McNuggets: 170 calories, 10g total fat, 10g total carb, 9g protein, 0 sugar, 0g fiber
  3. Small Fries: 230 calories, 11g total fat, 31g total carb, 3g protein, 0 sugar, 3g fiber
  4. Classic Hamburger: 250 calories, 9g total fat, 31g total carbs, 12g total protein, 6g sugar, 1g fiber
  5. 6 Piece Chicken McNuggets: 250 calories, 15g total fat, 15g total carbs, 14g total protein, 0g sugar, 1g fiber
  6. Cheeseburger: 300 calories, 13g total fat, 32g total carbs, 15g protein, 7g sugar, 2g fiber
  7. Egg McMuffin: 310 calories, 13g total fat, 30g total carbs, 17g protein, 3g sugar, 2g fiber
  8. Sausage Burrito: 310 calories, 17g total fat, 25g total carbs, 13g protein, 2g sugar, 1g fiber
  9. Fruit and Maple Oatmeal: 320 calories, 4.5g total fat, 64g total carbs, 6g protein, 31g sugar, 4g fiber

How about high-protein options?

This one’s both straightforward and fairly tricky.

On the surface, you’d just pick items that have the highest protein. You can even add an extra egg or another beef, sausage, or chicken patty to pack in more protein. Done deal, right? Well yes, but that may also come with more calories and increased fat – including saturated fat, which the American Heart Association links with increased LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol and risk for heart disease and stroke.

Consider the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, which offers an astounding 48g of muscle-building protein (yay!), but also has 42g of fat, 20 of which is saturated, and is 740 calories.

A good rule of thumb, says Mercer: “The chicken options generally contain a lower ratio of saturated fat than the options that go heavy on the beef and cheese.”

More fast-casual dining tips from a MyFitnessPal dietitian

No matter what drive-thru or order line you find yourself in, there are a few things you can keep in mind to help with smart decision-making when ordering out:

  • Plan your meal ahead of time. By logging ahead of time, the MyFitnessPal app can help you avoid impulse choices and stay on track.
  • Be mindful of portion size. Fast casual dazzles us with deals (Buy one/get one; 2 for $X; Any size for $1). It’s easy to lead with your wallet instead of your head.
  • Swap sides. Go for apples or salads (if available) instead of things like fries.
  • Beware of beverage choices. Soft drinks are loaded with sugar. Fill up instead with a low- or no-calorie option like unsweetened iced tea and lemon, diet soda, or good ol’-fashioned H2O on the rocks.

The Bottom Line: Mindfulness and Moderation

So there you have it: tips from a registered dietitian for how to make informed decisions at McDonald’s (and beyond). Remember, a healthy relationship with food should include some room for fun and flexibility, so it’s totally possible to make a choice aligned with your own diet and health goals wherever you eat!

That being said, moderation is your friend, and yes, there are definitely options that are better than others anywhere you eat. “But for the ultimate in wholesome ingredients, predictability, and mindful preparation,” Mercer says, “there’s simply no place like home.”

Ready to customize your next McDonald’s meal to your health goals? Download the MyFitnessPal app today.

About the Author

Jay Greene

Jay Greene is Lead Marketing Copywriter at MyFitnessPal. He loves making a mess in the kitchen with his kids, thinks a lot about the Roman Empire (way before it was a meme), and tries his best in Thursday night bowling league.

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