The Best & Worst Menu Items at McDonald's, According to RDs
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 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 experiment. McNuggets are no longer made with artificial preservatives or flavors, and salads are no longer on the menu. But certain McDonald's choices are still better than others. With that in mind, we're ranking McDonald's menu items 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. 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 for more, don't miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
The Worst Breakfast Menu Items at McDonald's
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 (like the McGriddles) or a biscuit. The ooey, gooey goodness of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich isn't the best bet for your belly. (You can thank belly-bloating sodium for that.) The benefit of choosing the biscuit over the McGriddle, however, is that you save yourself from eating an extra 12 grams of sugar—the ingredient lurking in everyday food that's making you fat.
Sausage Biscuit with Egg
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 "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, salt, and citric acid. 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 will.
Imagine putting 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 sausage McMuffin has more protein than this fat-laden monstrosity.
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 worst breakfast at McDonald's, but there are even 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 230 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 390 milligrams of sodium.
The #1 Worst McDonald's Breakfast Is… the 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 the entire day's worth of sodium and sugars, all before lunchtime. This is a solid pass.
The Best Breakfast Menu Items at McDonald's
McGriddles cakes have no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. We were happy to hear it. If you're looking for a little sweet-and-savory combo, this Sausage McGriddle is your best bet.
Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
"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," says 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."
It sounds boring, but ordering this pick means you start your day with 14 grams of muscle-building, metabolism-churning protein.
"If you are a meat lover, the Sausage McMuffin is for you," Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, previously told Eat This, Not That. "With 400 calories and 14 grams of protein, this can be a filling breakfast—plus it provides 15% of your iron needs."
Sausage McMuffin with Egg
This order is nearly as good as the traditional McMuffin, but it gets docked for the extra fat and sodium.
"A little high in calories at 480, this is served on an English muffin and can still be a good choice for those who need a hearty breakfast," Goodson said to Eat This, Not That. "The Sausage McMuffin boasts of 30 grams of protein. It's a little higher in fat, so be sure to balance your day accordingly."
The McDonald's breakfast burrito is made with peppers, onions, eggs, sausage, and cheese, all wrapped in a soft tortilla. It contains 15% of your day's calcium, which is about what you'll find in Greek yogurt (albeit with far more sodium).
"Breakfast taco lovers will be excited that the sausage burrito is a top pick on the McDonald's breakfast menu," Goodson said to Eat This, Not That. "It's calorie-conscious with 310 calories; it has 13 grams of protein and veggies. Paired with apples, this breakfast gets a little of a lot of food groups."
And the #1 Best McDonald's Breakfast Is… the 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, "[but] 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 the sandwich is made with real butter. "It offers 17 grams of satiety-providing protein," Palumbo says of the Egg McMuffin. "I stick with the whole-egg sandwich because the yolk contains carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals."
Eggs also have choline, a potent flab-fryer, which is why eating eggs is one of our 14 ways to lose your belly in 14 days.
The Worst Main Menu Items at McDonald's
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?)
Did you know this sandwich is made with a half slice of cheese? (We don't know why.) Instead of this sandwich, pick up fish to cook at home.
In comparison, a Whopper has 660 calories, while a Five Guys Cheeseburger has 980 calories. So a Big Mac isn't the worst fast-food burger out there. 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 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.
The #1 Worst McDonald's Main Is… the 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 eating McDonald's.
The Best Main Menu Items at McDonald's
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 grams of fat. That's more fat than a hamburger from the chain!
"If you are looking for an on-the-go snack with a pop of protein, the four-piece Chicken McNuggets provide you nine grams of protein for only 170 calories," Goodson said to Eat This, Not That. "They contain no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Adding apple slices makes [this order] the perfect snack."
A 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 64 grams of carbs, 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."
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 heavy on the sodium count, so be sure to gulp down a glass or two of water.
The #1 Best McDonald's Main Menu Item Is… the McDouble
The McDouble is a steal at a whopping 22 grams of protein for only 400 calories and 20 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 fewer calories than the Double Cheeseburger and Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, the two menu items it most closely resembles.
The Worst Desserts & Shakes at McDonald's
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 as long as you stick to the best dark chocolate bars.
Hot Caramel Sundae
This sundae pours caramel-flavored corn syrup over corn-syrupy ice cream. No, thanks.
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. Shake it off!
McFlurry with Oreo Cookies
Eat This, Not That! named Oreos as one of the unhealthiest foods on the planet, because in one Connecticut College study, rats found the treat as addictive as cocaine. Crumble Oreos some into some soft-serve ice cream—made with corn syrup—and it's no wonder your kids are fighting on the car ride home.
McCafé Strawberry Shake
This is another big cup of corn syrup, except with more calories than the vanilla option.
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 350 calories.
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.
The Best Desserts & Shakes on the McDonald's Menu
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.
Chocolate Chip Cookie
Simple pleasures, simple math: The chocolate chip cookie only has 170 calories and 15 grams of sugar. In fact, McDonald's cookies are better than these worst supermarket cookies in America.
And the #1 Best Dessert at McDonald's Is… the Baked Apple Pie
With a low sugar count, this classic dessert is the best McDonald's pick, especially because it's topped with an all-natural sugar and cinnamon blend. Just blow on it first!
And finally… the fries
For a side dish, we recommend the apple slices—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 for protein. Just don't add salt!
And when you're eating at home instead of at the Golden Arches, don't miss these 52 Life-Changing Kitchen Hacks That'll Make You Enjoy Cooking Again.