If I said you could eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonald’s for six months straight and lose a ton of weight, no doubt you’d laugh me out of the room.
But that’s exactly what John Cisna did back in 2014. The science teacher challenged his students at Iowa’s Colo-Nesco High School to think about everything they eat. He showed them that with smart choices and daily exercise, you could turn any establishment into a healthy one while meeting all your nutritional needs. After the McDonald’s Diet, Cisna lost 56 pounds of belly fat in six months. Color us impressed.
In the McDonald’s world of clowns and happy meals, much has changed in the time since Cisna’s little experiment: Breakfast is now served all day, McNuggets are no longer made with artificial preservatives or flavors, all of McDonald’s chicken is free from antibiotics, and there are now three—yes three—different Big Macs. (Sounds like Cisna could lose even more weight now!)
So, in the spirit of the recent Mickey D makeover, Eat This, Not That! embarked on the ambitious journey of ranking every single McDonald’s menu item based on nutritional content and ingredients.
It wasn’t easy. In a normal world, you can pretty much tell which foods are good for you—fish, chicken, and salads—and which aren’t. But in McDonaldLand, a chicken sandwich can pack twice as many calories as a double hamburger, and a salad can deliver more sodium than a Big Mac. To ensure your waistline isn’t becoming supersized, see if your fast food favorite is a Not That! and replace it with one of our Eat This-approved orders. And to lose weight fast, don’t listen to Ronald—instead, read these 50 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast!
First, The Worst…
Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddles
This Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddle features more than half a day’s allotted sodium and a third of a day’s worth of saturated fat—that’s as much saturated fat as 104 Funyuns!
Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit
It doesn’t matter if it’s wrapped between a pancake (see above) or a biscuit (see here), the ooey, gooey goodness of a bacon, egg and cheese isn’t the best bet for your belly. (You can thank belly-bloating sodium for that.) The benefit of choosing biscuit over McGriddle, however, is that you save yourself from eating an extra 12 grams of sugar—the ingredient lurking in everyday food that’s making your fat.
Sausage Biscuit with Egg
Like every breakfast offering below, this sandwich has way too much sodium and almost three-quarters of your daily allowance of saturated fat.
Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddles
Did you know that “fluffy folded egg” you find in many Mickey D sandwiches isn’t made of just egg? In fact, it’s a blend of eggs, milk modified food starch, citric acid, and soy lecithin. If that doesn’t creep you out, maybe the fact that this sandwich has half your day’s worth of fat, saturated fat, and sodium and a third of your recommended intake of added sugars. It only gets worse from here.
Imagine putting five Jimmy Dean Fully Cooked Original Pork Sausage Links between a big ol’ slab of greasy bread, and holding the whole shebang. That is no way to lose belly fat. At least the McMuffin has 10 more grams of protein.
Bacon, Egg & Cheese Bagel
We’re not sure “bagel” would be the right way to describe this vessel for egg and cheese. Its ingredients read more like a science experiment: propylene glycol, modified food starch, sodium alginate, and monocalcium phosphate. It gets weirder: McDonald’s also adds an ingredient called “Breakfast Sauce,” which is a 40-calorie conglomerate of soybean oil, eggs, vinegar, sugar, artificial flavors, cheese, buttermilk powder, MSG derivatives, and preservatives.
Steak, Egg & Cheese Biscuit
Like most of the sandwiches here, the Steak, Egg & Cheese Biscuit has more than half a day’s fat, but it ties for the highest amount of sodium of any main menu item (second only to one salad—which are often diet bombs in disguise).
Hotcakes and Sausage
Sugary bread and salty meat? With as many carbs as nearly seven slices of white bread, you probably thought this would be the #1 worst, but there are worse meals coming up next.
What’s worse than sugary cake and salty meat? Just the sugary cakes. Because without the extra protein, your body has no buffer against the impending sugar crash you’re about to have.
If you want a sausage, biscuit and egg, get it in sandwich form (and without hash browns) and you’ll save 220 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 300 milligrams of sodium.
And The #1 Worst McDonald’s Breakfast Is… Big Breakfast with Hotcakes
One meal wipes out your entire day’s worth of fat, more than a day’s worth of saturated fat, and just shy of entire day’s worth of sodium and sugars. And it’s not even 9am yet. This is a solid pass.
And Now, The Best
McGriddles cakes have no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. We were happy to hear it. And if you’re looking for a little sweet-and-savory, this Sausage McGriddle is your best bet.
Fruit ’N Yogurt Parfait
“Not really a full meal as much as a grab-and-go starter, this relatively new addition to McDonald’s menu does what it’s meant to do: offer a light and lively choice on a menu otherwise devoted to bacon and eggs. “With 4 grams of protein, it’s a good snack,” says Gina Consalvo, MA, RD, LDN, emphasis on snack. Especially since it’s fairly high in sugar and won’t be enough to tide you over until lunch. If you’re looking to make your own at home, turbocharge your fat burn with one of the Eat This!-approved options from our exclusive report: Every Yogurt Brand—Ranked!
Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
With Brown Sugar
Without Brown Sugar
“If you feel that you’re low on energy and McDonald’s is your only bet, try getting the fruit and maple oatmeal—just skip the calorie-laden brown sugar, cream, raisins and Craisins,” advises Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. “This will most likely curb your appetite until your next meal because the carbohydrates will take longer to digest than your typical high-sugar donut or pastry.” We agree.
It sounds boring, but ordering this pick means you start your day with 14 grams of muscle-building, metabolism-churning protein.
Sausage McMuffin with Egg
Nearly as good as the traditional McMuffin, but it gets docked for extra fat and sodium.
Unlike the Mexican mierda you’ll find at Taco Bell—home of the “Biscuit Taco”—McDonald’s spin on the breakfast burrito won’t have you running for the border (or the bathroom). Theirs is made with peppers, onions, eggs, sausage and cheese all wrapped in a soft tortilla, and it contains 15 percent of your day’s calcium, which is about what you’ll find in a Greek yogurt (albeit with far more sodium).
Egg White Delight McMuffin
Made with grilled egg whites, white cheddar and extra-lean Canadian bacon on a muffin made with eight grams of whole grain, this is McDonald’s living up to its own marketing hype. It’s healthy, tastes fresh and only misses out on #1 because of a technicality, which we explain below.
And The #1 Best McDonald’s Breakfast Is… Egg McMuffin
Yup, the classic. “Not only do I eat guilt-free at McDonald’s,” says Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND, a Chicago area registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant, “I think they get a bad rap all too often.” She recommends a staple Eat This, Not That! has approved for years—more so now that they’re made with real butter: “The sandwich only has 300 calories and it offers 17 grams of satiety-providing protein.” And it beats the Egg White Delight because….? “I stick with the whole egg sandwich because the yolk contains carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals,” says Palumbo. Eggs also boast choline, a potent flab-fryer, which is why eggs are one of our 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days!
First, The Worst…
Go simple. With that in mind, the McChicken is the best of the worst because it’s a breaded boneless chicken blend topped with lettuce and mayo—and that’s all. The carb count’s high, but for a crispy thrill without fatty fireworks, it’s not a McBad option.
Nutritionally, this fish patty, topped with tartar sauce and cheese, is decent enough. We’ve just never met someone who’s actually eaten one. (Have you?) Also: bizarre fun fact. Did you know this sandwich is made with a half a slice of cheese? (We don’t know why.) Instead of this sandwich, pick up fish to cook at home. We tell you which is best in our exclusive report: Every Popular Fish—Ranked for Nutritional Benefits!
In comparison, a Whopper has 630 calories and 3 fewer grams of protein and a Five Guys Cheeseburger has 840 calories and 8 g more fat, so a Big Mac isn’t your worst supersized meal. But that being said, it shouldn’t be your go-to.
Quarter Pounder with Cheese
The best burgers are loaded with vitamin-packed, belly-filling veggies, but this “classic” has none, save for some pickle slices and slivered onions.
Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
At most fast food chains, “crispy” is code for “breaded with sugar and fried in fat.” This sandwich is proof: With more fat than three slices of Domino’s cheese pizza—and as many carbs as five slices of Wonder Bread—it plays chicken with your heart.
Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
This sandwich takes a perfectly fine burger and multiplies it by two. There’s no reason to eat a half-pound of beef for lunch, unless it’s 2004 and you’re making a documentary about getting fat. By the way, sometimes, fat isn’t bad: click here to discover the essential list of the 20 Healthy Fats To Make You Thin!
And The #1 Worst McDonald’s Main Is… Grand Mac
Just when we thought the days of “supersizing” were over, McDonald’s brings back a heinous offering chock-ful of calories, fat, sodium, and carbs. If you’re looking for a double patty burger, there are much better options.
And Now, The Best
With Tangy BBQ Sauce
With Honey Mustard
Enjoyed plain, these little guys aren’t terrible for you (in fact, they rank as one of our best fast food chicken nuggets), although we wish that fat count were lower. (We also wish McDonald’s offered unbreaded chicken strips.) But things can get McNasty when you’re asked: “Which sauce?” Go with either the BBQ or Honey Mustard; The absolute worst is Creamy Ranch, with 110 calories and 12 g fat—double all the other sauces, and with more fat than a Hamburger!
The cheeseburger is a fine option for the kids (if you take them to McDonald’s only occasionally)—but the cheeseburger’s tiny, and as an adult, you’ll probably want two. Do that, and suddenly you’ve downed 66 grams of carbs, more than most of the burgers on this list, with none of the veggies for fiber.
“Every so often, when I have a long drive and can’t pack food or snacks, McDonald’s is where I go,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD. She stands behind the original burger. “l order a kid’s meal comprised of a hamburger, small order of fries, a bottle of water and a Cuties clementine. Then you have a meal with a decent 390 calories and 13 grams of fat.”
Most chefs would look at a bare cheeseburger and add tomato, lettuce or special sauce—maybe even an onion ring or sriracha. Instead, McDonald’s doubles up on both the meat and cheese and leaves off the veggies. The result is a meal high in protein, but a little heavy on the sodium count. (So be sure to gulp down a glass or two of water.)
We used to be big fans of the Big Mac—but that was before McDonald’s came out with this beaut: the Mac Jr. You get the iconic taste of a Mickey D’s classic but for 80 fewer calories, 120 fewer milligrams of sodium, 10 fewer carbs, and you only sacrifice 4 grams of protein. That’s a value meal if we’ve ever heard of one.
Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
To get 37 grams of protein for only 380 calories is quite a bargain, but it would be even better if this grilled chicken sandwich didn’t have more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. At least McDonald’s did their customers a solid and stopped serving the sandwich with mayo: it’s now dressed with an herb vinaigrette made with lemon juice, honey, a medley of spices, and apple cider vinegar—one of our 40 Best-Ever Fat-Burning Foods.
And The #1 Best McDonald’s Main Is… McDouble
The McDouble is a steal at a whopping 23 grams of protein for only 380 calories and 18 grams of fat. (You can thank McDonald’s for only adding a single slice of cheese for the low fat content.) This tidy little protein bomb doesn’t have as much fiber as we’d like (no toppings, save for some pickles and onions), but it’s got 50 fewer calories than a Double Cheeseburger and 290 fewer calories than a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese—two menu items it most closely resembles.
Ranked From Worst… To Best
The Worst McDonald’s Salad Is… Bacon Ranch Salad & Buttermilk Crispy Chicken
How does a salad rack up more sodium than 7 small orders of fries? To our surprise, the applewood smoked bacon wasn’t the culprit. No, the sodium saboteurs were the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Filet (620 mg sodium) and Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing (530 mg sodium). Forgetting to keep an eye on your sodium intake is one of our 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Fat.
Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad
McDonald’s will proudly tell you their crispy chicken breast filet is made with real buttermilk and no artificial colors—but they never tout that it has 150 calories more than their grilled chicken breast. Worse, when you include Newman’s Own Ranch dressing, this salad contains over half a day’s worth of sodium and the same number of calories as a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a kiddie size of fries!
Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad
When in doubt, always opt for grilled over “crispy.” You save 170 calories right off the bat and you don’t have to gulf down a piece of chicken that contains inflammatory oils like canola, corn, soybean, palm, and hydrogenated soybean oil. For more examples of how grilled beats out fried, check out our exclusive report: 28 Fast-Food Chicken Sandwiches—Ranked!.
And The #1 Best McDonald’s Salad Is… Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
We’re lovin’ the ingredients here: romaine lettuce, baby spinach, red leaf lettuce, and kale topped with veggies like black beans, corn, oven-roasted tomatoes and poblano peppers, plus cheddar and jack cheeses. To make it healthier, substitute the corn-syrup-solid-sour-cream-powder-based Southwest Dressing the salad comes with for a lighter option: Newman’s Own Low-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette. Doing so saves you 85 calories and 6.5 grams of fat.
Desserts & Shakes
First, The Worst…
If you’re going to have a bowl of corn syrup at McDonald’s, at least make it this one, which has 60 fewer calories than the caramel sundae and real strawberries!
Hot Fudge Sundae
We have a problem with McDonald’s ice cream base, which starts off nutritious (milk, sugar, cream) and ends in a chemistry lab (mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, guar gum, and carrageenan). The fudge is no better, which, beyond sugar and milk, is made mostly of saturated-fat-laden hydrogenated palm kernel oil. Although this might be a pass, you don’t have to give up chocolate when you’re on a diet. See our guide to The 17 Best and Worst Dark Chocolates.
Hot Caramel Sundae
This sundae pours caramel-flavored corn syrup over corn-syrupy ice cream. Worse, the hot caramel topping is one of the few remaining items on McDonald’s menu that contains preservatives (potassium sorbate) and artificial flavors.
McCafé Vanilla Shake
Don’t let nostalgia for these childhood favorites blind you from the cold, smooth facts: McDonald’s shakes are blended from reduced-fat vanilla ice cream (made with corn syrup and lots of sugar), shake syrup (main ingredient: corn syrup), and topped with whipped cream and a Maraschino cherry (made with two kids of corn syrup each!). Shake it off!
McFlurry with Oreo Cookies
Eat This, Not That! named Oreos as one of the 50 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet, because, in one study, rats found them as addictive as cocaine. Crumble some into some soft serve ice cream—made from corn syrup—and no wonder your kids are fighting on the car ride home.
McCafé Strawberry Shake
This is another big cup of corn syrup, except with 20 more calories than Vanilla, and the artificial color Red 40, which has been implicated in inducing hyperactivity among children.
McCafé Chocolate Shake
The is the worst shake at McDonald’s, with the most calories and carbs. In comparison, a small chocolate Frosty at Wendy’s has just 340 calories.
And The #1 Worst Dessert at McDonald’s Is… McFlurry with M&M’s
Whipped together, this mix-in dessert will whip you into a sugar-fueled frenzy, with nearly as much sweet stuff as seven McDonald’s Apple Pies!
And Now, The Best…
Strawberry & Crème Pie
Although the kid in us misses the tongue-scorching Cherry Pie, this replacement is even better, because it’s stuffed with real cream cheese, adding a couple extra grams of digestion-slowing protein to blunt that sugar spike.
Don’t be fooled by its simple appearance: this traditional dessert isn’t just cream and sugar. McDonald’s also adds corn syrup, mono and diglycerides (trans fats derivatives), and a duo of gums. That said, it still beats out the other high-calorie, high-sugar offerings from the fast food joint.
Soft Baked Chocolate Chip Cookie
Soft Baked Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Simple pleasures, simple math: The chocolate chip cookie and the oatmeal raisin cookie are each under 170 calories and under 15 grams of sugar. In fact, they’re even better than these 30 Worst Supermarket Cookies in America.
And The #1 Best Dessert at McDonald’s Is… Baked Apple Pie!
With a low sugar count, we champion this classic dessert, topped with an all-natural sugar and cinnamon blend. Just blow on it first!
And Finally… The Fries
For a side dish, our Eat This, Not That! panel of nutritionists of course recommend the apple slices or mandarin oranges—but if you want a side of fries, go for it once in a while, as long as you pair them with our Best Burgers and Sandwiches (see above) for protein. Just don’t add salt!