The Best and Worst McDonald's Drinks, According to an RD
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 and lattes to hot chocolate, here are some drink orders she says are worth avoiding next time you visit the drive-thu.
And for more, don't miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
The Worst McCafe Drinks At McDonald's
A medium mocha frappe contains the same number of calories as two McDonald's hamburgers. Yikes! 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—if you eat three cookies, you still won't reach the amount that is in this drink.
Yule says 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 says. 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 says. With 380 calories, eight grams of saturated fat, and 49 grams of sugar, the caramel mocha does not fit the bill. 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 of McCafe drinks—keep reading!
Surprisingly, removing the "Caramel" from the "Caramel Mocha" to make this Mocha drink results in an additional three grams of sugar and one 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 says. 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," Yule says. And at 290 calories, this is just another drink choice that is better suited as a dessert. You'd be consuming a similar nutritional profile if you ordered McDonald's Hot Fudge Sundae, which is 330 calories and 44 grams of sugar.
"The caramel latte fares no better in the nutrition department than the French vanilla latte," Yule says. The two drinks have similar amounts of sugar and calories.
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 simpler latte. "This beverage is very similar to the caramel latte as far as nutrition is concerned," Yule says. "I would expect no less from a drink that is mixed with sweet caramel syrup and topped with ribbons of buttery caramel."
Iced Caramel Latte
"The iced caramel latte is a slightly lighter version of the hot version of the drink, likely because the addition of ice leaves less room for added sugar in the drink," Yule says. And at 270 calories, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 36 grams of sugar, this beverage may not be the worst of the worst, but it 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 160 calories and 12 grams of sugar.
Iced Caramel Macchiato
"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," Yule says, noting the high calorie count of this drink. She 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
McCafe Premium Roast Coffee
"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 says. And because it contains zero calories, that also means it contains no added sugars, another plus.
"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% of your daily recommended amount of calcium, which is exactly what you get with the medium unsweetened cappuccino," Yule says. 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," Yule says. It contains 38 grams of sugar, but only 4% 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're wondering what the importance is 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.
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% of your daily recommended amount of calcium and seven grams of protein," Yule says. It also contains fewer calories than a McDonald's Hamburger, she notes, and it 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 6% 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 says.
Iced Caramel Coffee
"A medium iced caramel coffee adds caramel syrup and light cream while keeping things under 200 calories," Yule says. You'll also get 10% of your daily recommended amount of calcium with this drink. If you're trying to stay away from dairy, you can also get your calcium from these calcium-rich vegetarian food sources.