It's time to settle an age-old debate: between the Big Mac and the Whopper, which of the burgers is healthier? Loyal customers of either McDonald's or Burger King may be slightly offended at the idea of even comparing each fast food chain's prized menu item in such a fashion, given that they have such devout followers. However, when you're trying to eat healthy but really in the mood for a classic fast food burger, you may be curious about what the healthier option really is. We called on nutrition expert Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE to assess which of the two burgers is the healthier option when no substitute will do.
Which is healthier, the Big Mac or the Whopper?
Surprise: They're actually about the same.
"Put these two iconic fast-food burgers head-to-head, and they come close to being neck-and-neck nutrition-wise, given the fact that the Big Mac has about 1 ounce less meat pre-cooked than the Whopper," says Walsh. "A Big Mac has 3.2-ounces of meat, while the Whopper is a true quarter pounder at 4-ounces."
Here are the stats:
Big Mac: 540 calories, 28 grams fat, 46 grams carbs, 25 grams protein
Whopper: 660 calories, 40 grams fat, 49 grams carbs, 28 grams protein
Even the sodium count is nearly equivalent in both burgers, at 940 milligrams for the Big Mac and 980 milligrams for the Whopper.
"As a dietitian and diabetes educator who usually preaches the importance of controlling carbohydrate intake the most, I'd honestly say choose the one you like better—let's face it, this is like a Coke or Pepsi argument," says Walsh.
If you want to make each burger healthier, Walsh suggests swapping out the bun for lettuce instead. Also, ask to have the condiments removed as well. If you do that for each burger, the calories drop quite dramatically.
Big Mac: 240 calories, 16 grams fat, 5 grams carbs, 18 grams protein
Whopper: 250 calories, 18 grams fat, 3 grams carbs, 20 grams of protein
Is there an even healthier option to order?
"Considering a Garden Chicken salad from BK comes in at 520 calories and at McDonald's a Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad comes in at 320 calories before dressing, (so let's round up to 500), your best bet would be to stick with the Whopper and Big Mac—just tweak a few things," says Walsh.
One such tweak the dietitian likes to make to burgers is to scoop out the excess bread in the bun, too. This way you can still enjoy the burger, sandwich-style, without consuming an excess amount of carbs.
"Even a four-piece chicken McNugget or chicken tenders starts at about 200 calories for four pieces, and that's before you have dipped them in anything," she says.
Walsh affirms that both of these burgers are not the absolute worst fast food options you could order. There was a time when the Big Mac was the most caloric burger on McDonald's menu, but now, there's the Double Bacon Smokehouse Burger that clocks in at 1,130 calories—about twice the calories of the Big Mac.