Is McDonald’s Healthy? + How Often Should You Eat Fast Food?

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If the majority of people were surveyed and asked what type of food is the most unhealthy option, there’s a good chance that a majority of people would say fast food.

However, “fast food” is a broad term, and many fast food establishments are trying to offer healthier options on the menu alongside traditional fast food favorites.

But, how often should you eat fast food? Is it OK to eat fast food once a week? Is McDonald’s breakfast healthy? Is McDonald’s healthy in general? What is the healthiest thing to get at McDonald’s?

In this guide, we will answer your question, “Is McDonald’s healthy”, discuss how often you should eat fast food and what the healthiest possible McDonald’s orders are so that you can eat McDonald’s or other fast food when you need to without derailing your weight loss and health goals.

We will look at: 

  • Is McDonald’s Healthy?
  • How to Eat Healthy At McDonald‘s
  • Is McDonald’s Breakfast Healthy?

Let’s get started!

A variety of food from McDonalds.

Is McDonald’s Healthy?

According to a survey commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018, about 37% of adults in the United States consume fast food on a given day.

This is over one-third of the adult population, which means that eating McDonald’s or other fast food is certainly not uncommon.

Therefore, it is important to make the healthiest fast food menu choices and take a keen eye to the McDonald’s menu nutrition facts or wherever you are ordering your fast food if you are hoping to stay within your health and weight loss goals.

This becomes increasingly important if you are frequently eating fast food in your diet or eating McDonald’s every day.

The main nutritional issue with McDonald’s menu items and fast food in general is the high sodium, fat, and calories in most of the menu options.

A person eating french fries from Mcdonalds.

Sodium increases the risk of hypertension, which is high blood pressure, and the industrial oils used for frying burgers, french fries, Chicken McNuggets, and other popular McDonald’s menu items increase inflammation and are packed with calories, which can cause weight gain over time.

McDonald’s milkshakes and fancy sugary coffee drinks from fast food establishments are packed with sugar and calories, and many people get large fountain sodas with their McDonald’s burgers, McChicken sandwiches, and other menu choices.

Shakes like the M&M McFlurry have 96 grams of carbs (83 grams of sugar!) and 640 calories.

These sugar-sweetened beverages further increase the number of calories in a McDonald’s meal and the adverse health effects of eating McDonald’s every day.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating fast food frequently can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive issues, weight gain, insulin resistance, and even depression.

This is due to the lack of fiber and nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and the excessive amount of sodium, sugar, processed oils, refined carbs, and excessive calories in fast food.

A hamburger and fries from McDonalds.

How to Eat Healthy At McDonald‘s

When deciding what constitutes the “healthiest McDonald’s orders,“ you have to consider your dietary goals and not just the calories in McDonald’s items.

In other words, if you look at the McDonald’s menu, one of the lowest-calorie McDonald’s breakfast items is the McDonald’s home fries order, which has only 150 calories.

However, while the calories in McDonald’s home fries make this McDonald’s breakfast item one of the lowest calorie McDonald’s breakfasts, there’s also very little nutritional value in the home fries.

All you are getting is carbs, fat, and sodium, with very little protein, vitamins, or minerals.

Therefore, if your goal is simply eating McDonald’s for weight loss, choosing based on the calories in McDonald’s items alone makes intuitive sense—picking the lowest-calorie McDonald’s breakfasts or lowest-calorie McDonald’s burgers, etc.

However, when considering eating fast food for weight loss or following any diet for weight loss, the nutrient density and specific macros also matter.

A person eating a hamburger from Mcdonalds.

Protein, fiber, and healthy fats have all been shown to increase satiety so that you will feel fuller after eating. This can help prevent you from needing to snack in between meals or eat larger portions at subsequent meals.

Thus, when considering the “healthiest McDonald’s foods,“ it is also often important to pay attention to the protein, fiber, and ingredients in whatever fast food menu option you are looking at.

Additionally, if you are following a specific diet, like the keto diet, you will want to make modifications to your McDonald’s orders so that you eliminate carbs. For example, you may order a quarter pounder with cheese but skip the bun altogether.

Here are some of the healthiest McDonald’s menu options:

  • Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
  • The 4 piece Chicken Nuggets: It is a decent option for a low-carb McDonald’s dollar menu or a quick bite. One order has 170 calories, 10 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of protein. This makes it a pretty balanced fast food order, but there’s also quite a bit of sodium, so we aren’t saying this is necessarily a healthy order.
  • One of the best low-fat McDonald’s burgers is just that basic hamburger. There are only 250 calories in the single McDonald’s hamburger, with 9 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbs, and 12 grams of protein. This isn’t necessarily a low-fat meal, but in terms of burgers at McDonald’s, it’s not bad. Load up with tomato, onion, and lettuce to add a little bit of fiber and micronutrients, but skip the ketchup and mayo if you are trying to eat fast food while losing weight.
A person eating fries.

It may seem strange for an adult to order a McDonald’s Happy Meal, but ordering off the children’s menu is a great way to cut calories because the portion sizes are smaller and more in line with the number of calories you should be consuming at a meal.

Some of the McDonald’s Happy Meal choices also come with healthier sides, like apple slices instead of french fries. This will reduce your McDonald’s meal calories, increase fiber, and be a healthier fast food option.

If you are on a low-carb diet, choosing one of the salads is a good idea, but be careful: some are packed with fat and calories.

Here are the healthiest McDonald‘s salads:

  • Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken (NOT buttermilk crispy chicken)
  • McDonald’s Grilled Chicken Salad With Balsamic Vinaigrette
A variety of foods from Mcdonalds.

Is McDonald’s Breakfast Healthy?

When you are short on time and rushing to get to work, you may be inclined to swing by the McDonald’s drive-thru for McDonald’s breakfast foods.

While it is certainly preferable to eat fresh foods at home for breakfast, such as Greek yogurt, a veggie omelet with lean protein, a smoothie packed with vegetables and superfoods, or overnight oats, fast food breakfast choices are sometimes the only option.

Grabbing McDonald’s breakfast every day may not be as bad as you may think if you make the healthiest McDonald’s breakfast order.

So, what are the best McDonald’s breakfasts nutritionally? What is the healthiest McDonald’s breakfast? What is the best McDonald’s breakfast for weight loss?

#1: Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait

If you are looking for a low-calorie McDonald’s breakfast, the creamy Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait is one of the best options.

It has only 150 calories, but keep in mind that they use low-fat vanilla yogurt rather than Greek yogurt, so there is a bunch of sugar and not very much protein.

In fact, there’s only 4 g of protein in this little parfait and 30 g of carbs, much of which is sugar from the sweetened granola and yogurt.

It’s also a pretty tiny serving, so unless you need a quick little breakfast, you might want to choose another low-calorie McDonald’s breakfast item that has slightly more calories but also more protein and nutritional value.

An egg McMuffin.

#2: Egg White Delight McMuffin

With just 260 calories and 16 grams of protein thanks to the grilled egg whites, the Egg White Delight McMuffin is probably the best McDonald’s breakfast for weight loss.

It is low in cholesterol, and you could even skip the cheese if you really want to cut calories.

#3: Egg McMuffin

The McDonald’s Egg McMuffin is one of the healthiest McDonald’s breakfasts. It has 310 calories, 13 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, and 17 grams of protein. 

You can ask to skip the American cheese, and you will save 50 calories.

#4: Sausage Burrito

We don’t tend to think of sausage as diet-friendly, but the McDonald’s Sausage Burrito has only 290 calories and 26 grams of carbs, yet it provides 13 g of protein. 

It’s not a bad McDonald’s breakfast option if you like something with a little spice, and it feels a little more filling.

A cup of coffee from Mcdonalds.

#5: Fruit & Maple Oatmeal without Brown Sugar

Opt for the option without brown sugar.

For McDonald’s drinks, stick with black coffee or add a splash of milk. 

Skip sodas, milkshakes, and sugary coffee drinks like lattes, macchiatos, and cappuccinos, as these drinks are loaded with added sugars.

Overall, it is best to limit your fast food consumption and try to make your food at home. However, occasionally enjoying your favorite fast food meals can be part of a balanced approach to eating. 

More regularly eating fast food is OK as long as you are making the healthiest fast food orders and then trying to have the rest of your meals in the day be as nutritionally sound and unprocessed as possible.

You can use the McDonald’s Nutrition Calculator to determine the nutrition facts for McDonald‘s meals.

Nutrition facts on the side of a french fry package to help decide, is mcdonald's healthy
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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