The Best and Worst McCafe Drinks at McDonald's
McDonald's is a great place to pick up some coffee when you're on-the-run, as the restaurant's McCafe menu allows you to indulge in some tasty beverages for a really good price. However, while lattes, frappes, and cappuccinos may give you a big caffeine jolt in the morning, it's worth mentioning that some of these delicious beverages can pack on a lot of sugar, fat, and calories, making it important to order with caution if you are trying to look out for your waistline.
To help you order the right McDonald's items next time you're on a time crunch, we spoke to registered dietitian Summer Yule, MS, RD, about all the best and worst beverage options available on the McCafe menu. From coffee, lattes, and hot chocolate, here are some drink orders she says are worth trying and avoiding next time you hurry over to the drive-through.
The Worst McCafe Drinks At McDonald's
"At 510 calories for a medium drink, the mocha frappe contains more calories than two McDonald's Hamburgers," Yule explains. It also contains 13 grams of saturated fat and 66 grams of sugar, which is one of the highest amounts of sugar on the entire McCafe menu. Even a McDonald's Cookie has less sugar, as it contains 15 grams, meaning if you eat three cookies, you still won't reach the amount that is in this drink.
RELATED: The science-backed way to curb your sweet tooth in 14 days.
Yule suggests that this frappe is also worth passing on, as it is similar nutritionally to the Mocha Frappe with 510 calories, 13 grams of saturated fat, and 67 grams of sugar.
"I recommend that people trying to lose weight limit their consumption of sugary drinks, because the calories add up very quickly," Yule explains. Because hot chocolate is a favorite of little ones and those looking for a caffeine-free beverage on McCafe's menu, it's important to order your hot chocolate in a small size. This one swap will save you 80 calories and 10 grams of sugar, making this sip slightly more reasonable—although still a once-in-a-while treat.
"If you want a sugary drink at McDonald's, it's best to stick with drinks that have fewer calories than a 250-calorie hamburger," Yule suggests. At 380 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat, and 49 grams of sugar, the caramel mocha does not fit the bill, she explains. However, if you can't part with that sweet caramel taste, you'll love to know that some caramel-flavored drinks make our best list below!
Surprisingly, removing the "Caramel" from the "Caramel Mocha" to make this Mocha drink actually results in an additional 3 grams of sugar and 1 less gram of protein. Similar to the caramel mocha, Yule says you'll want to steer clear of this medium-sized drink.
"It may be wise to think of some of these drinks like a dessert rather than part of a meal," Yule advises. Putting your mocha on ice does not improve the nutritional profile, she says, as it is still loaded with calories, saturated fat, and sugar.
French Vanilla Latte
"You are definitely getting a lot of sugar with the French Vanilla Latte, as it contains a whopping 45 grams," Yule says. And at 320 calories, she suggests that this is just another drink choice that is better suited as a dessert, and, in fact, you'd be consuming a similar nutritional profile if you ordered McDonald's Hot Fudge Sundae, which is 380 calories and 47 grams of sugar.
"The caramel latte fares no better in the nutrition department than the French Vanilla Latte," Yule suggests. It also has 320 calories and 45 grams of sugar, she says, but the saturated fat is just a tiny bit lower at five grams.
Even though a latte only contains espresso, whole milk, and water while a macchiato contains whole milk, caramel syrup, water, caramel drizzle, and espresso, this multiple-ingredient macchiato is just as bad as the more simple latte. "This beverage is very similar to the Caramel Latte as far as nutrition is concerned," Yule explains. "I would expect no less from a drink that is mixed with sweet caramel syrup, and topped with ribbons of buttery caramel," she adds.
Iced Caramel Latte
"The Iced Caramel Latte is a slightly lighter version than the hot version of drink, likely because the addition of ice leaves less room for added sugar in the drink," Yule suggests. And at 270 calories, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 36 grams of sugar, she explains that while this beverage may not be the worst of the worst, it certainly isn't healthy either.
The addition of caramel syrup to the plain cappuccino moves this drink from the best to the worst list, Yule explains, as a regular McCafe Cappuccino contains only 9 calories. That's a 31-gram difference thanks to the addition of this sweet syrup, she notes. And while the fat content of a McCafe Cappuccino and a Caramel Cappuccino is the same, Yule says these two beverages also differ in calories, as a McCafe Cappuccino contains 120 calories while a Caramel Cappuccino contains 210 calories in contrast.
Iced Caramel Macchiato
"The medium size version of this drink has 250 calories, equivalent to a McDonald's hamburger," Yule explains. "If someone is looking to lose weight, I'd ask them to think about whether the burger or this drink would leave them feeling more full," she says. Yule notes that it's always best to avoid drinking your calories if you are looking to lose weight, as a study published in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association revealed that participants given apple juice in a study missed out on the filling fiber that participants eating a whole apple (or applesauce) were getting. Likewise, when you choose certain sugar-sweetened McCafe beverages, you end up getting calories without the protein (and or fiber) that can help keep you full, Yule explains. If you're trying to maintain a healthy weight, she says that regularly choosing sugar-sweetened beverages may sabotage your efforts in the long run.
The Best McCafe Drinks At McDonald's
"If you are trying to lose weight, keeping things simple by sticking with black coffee gives you a zero-calorie drink," Yule says. In addition, she notes that is one of the few McCafe options with no added sugar, making it something to order if you are looking to cut down on consuming too many sweetened drinks.
McCafe Americano Coffee
"An Americano coffee drink is diluted espresso, which gives it a similar strength to coffee, but it has a slightly different flavor. "This drink (made with Rainforest Alliance Certified espresso), is another calorie-free way to get your caffeine fix," Yule explains. And since it contains zero calories, she adds that it also means it also contains no added sugars either.
McCafe Iced Latte
"If black coffee is not your thing, this unsweetened iced latte clocks in at only 120 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, and nine grams of milk sugar," Yule suggests. You also get your 20 percent of your daily recommended amount of calcium in choosing this beverage, she says. And given that the Office of Dietary Supplements says women need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day, this beverage (which contains 160 milligrams of calcium and added vitamin D3) is a nice way to meet your daily requirements. Calcium and Vitamin D work together to promote bone health.
"If you need a hot drink, this unsweetened latte contains 190 calories, six grams of saturated fat, and 15 grams of [sugar only from the added whole milk]," Yule says. Skip the option to add additional flavors if you don't want added sugars in your drink, she advises, as added sugar contains nothing but empty calories. In contrast, she notes that the sugar in milk (lactose) is packaged with a number of nutrients that can benefit the body such as calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, as well as protein. Additionally, she mentions that milk contains macronutrients other than carbohydrates that help lessen the blood sugar spike that you get compared to plain table sugar.
"One cup of plain, unsweetened milk gives you 12 grams of milk sugar and about 30 percent of your daily recommended amount of calcium, which is exactly what you get with the medium unsweetened cappuccino," Yule suggests. Most of the drinks containing milk offer the option of skim or whole milk, she says, so be sure to pick skim to cut back on calories and saturated fat even further.
McCafe Iced Caramel Mocha
"If you are looking for a sweetened drink that doesn't completely break the calorie bank, consider choosing this iced caramel mocha, as it's the caramel drink that is the lowest in calories" Yule advises. It contains 160 calories and 23 grams of sugar, but only four percent of your daily recommended amount of calcium, meaning you don't get as much milk as you do in the latte or cappuccino, she adds. And if you are wondering what the importance of not getting much milk as the latte or cappuccino, Yule says that it is recommended in the Dietary Guidelines that adults aim for three servings of dairy/calcium-fortified dairy alternatives daily, so choosing a drink with milk helps you toward that goal.
McCafe Iced French Vanilla Coffee
"The Iced French Vanilla Coffee has 170 calories, 23 grams of sugar, and 4.5 grams of saturated fat," Yule says. You also get a little calcium in this drink too, she adds.
McCafe French Vanilla Cappuccino
"At 230 calories, the French Vanilla Cappuccino is not one of the lightest options on the best list, but it does give you 20 percent of your daily recommended amount of calcium and seven grams of protein," Yule explains. It also contains fewer calories than a McDonald's Hamburger, she notes, and contains less than half of the calories of the frappe drinks on the menu.
Iced French Vanilla Latte
If you want a latte that has been sweetened, she says that this is definitely one of the better beverage options to try, as Yule acknowledges that it contains 220 milligrams of calcium and six percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential in maintaining normal vision and the immune system, according to the National Institutes of Health, and given the daily recommended range of vitamin A ranges from 700 to 1,300 micrograms a day, this latte can help give your levels a much-needed boost.
"If plain black coffee just won't do, this iced coffee order adds a little sugar and light cream for sweetness, while staying under 200 calories," Yule notes.
Iced Caramel Coffee
"A medium iced caramel coffee adds caramel syrup and light cream, while keeping things under 200 calories," Yule says. And as an added benefit, she explains that you will get 10 percent of your daily recommended amount of calcium. If you're trying to stay away from dairy, you can also get your calcium from these calcium-rich vegetarian food sources.