Let’s face it, no one goes to McDonald’s expecting to eat a healthy and nutritious meal. We all know that the food from the Golden Arches is full of fat and laced with sugar. We all remember watching Morgan Spurlock completely transform his body for Super Size Me. By eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days, he gained 25 pounds and added serious amounts of fat to his liver and bloodstream. But, like any restaurant, some options are better than others. If you’re in the mood to indulge (or in the middle of a crazy with absolutely no other options) there are some foods that won’t break the calorie bank. There are also some that will completely wreck your diet from a mile away — and they might not all be the menu items you would expect. Here are some of the biggest offenders, as well as some of the friendlier options.
Southwest buttermilk crispy chicken salad
Think you’re being sensible by skipping the double quarter pounder and going for a salad with chicken? It’s pretty amazing how many calories McDonald’s (and a lot of other restaurants) can cram into an innocent salad. This salad packs 520 calories and 25 grams of fat. It also has 46 grams of carbs! You might think you’re going low-carb by skipping everything served on a bun, but this salad and dressing are loaded with hidden carbs (also known as sugar). To cut some of that fat, opt for grilled chicken instead of crispy. The southwest grilled chicken salad has about 350 calories, 11 grams of fat, and only 27 grams of carbs.
Skip the soda
It truly doesn’t matter if you’re at McDonald’s, a fancy restaurant, or the grocery store. It’s time to start skipping the soda. It is just straight calories and sugar. A small Coke on the McDonald’s menu has 150 calories and a whopping 42 grams of carbs. Add this to a typical McDonald’s meal, and you are well over the recommended daily amount of carbs (which is about 225-325 grams per day). The sweet tea is a little better at 90 calories and 21 grams of carbs. Opt for a cold water or unsweetened iced tea instead if you want to avoid major damage.
I’ll admit that the shamrock shake is downright irresistible every March. However, this winter I think I’ll be able to avoid it after doing this research. One 16-ounce shake contains 550 calories and 13 grams of fat. And if there’s one thing the shamrock shake has in abundance, it’s sugar. It’s loaded with 82 grams of sugar, which Mary Hartley, a registered dietitian, told Shape is "like eating around six slices of bread all at once." The American Heart Association recommends men limit their sugar intake to 36 grams per day and women no more than 24 grams per day.
It probably isn’t fair to single out the shamrock shake. Really, no milkshake on the McDonald’s menu is safe. The regular menu shakes range in calories from 490 in the small vanilla shake all the way to 530 in the small chocolate shake. And if you’re watching your carbs, stay away from these — they all have around 80 carbs per shake (and that’s just for a small!). They’re all pretty high in sugar too: Vanilla can technically be considered the "low sugar" option since it comes it at only 59 grams (still about twice your daily limit), compared to chocolate’s 74.
The McCafe drinks are McDonald’s version of coffee house favorites like pumpkin spice lattes and caramel mochas. Pretty much all of these drinks are loaded with calories and sugar, but the frappes (frozen coffee drinks) take it to a new level. One medium caramel McCafe frappe has 510 calories, 21 grams of fat, and 72 grams of carbs. Those are some big numbers for your morning coffee.
Hotcakes and sausage
An order of hotcakes and sausage contains 790 calories, 35 grams of fat, and 103 grams of carbs. This epically disastrous McDonald’s favorite meal of hotcakes and sausage is the health-conscious person’s worst nightmare. It doesn’t take much to realize that combining sugar-laden bread with sodium-heavy meat does zero favors for your waistline, not to mention your poor heart. Those numbers factor in the whipped margarine and syrup, but keep in mind that the numbers just climb higher for every extra packet you add.
If you really feel like having something sweet in the morning, try ordering the fruit and yogurt parfait instead. With 150 calories and 2 grams of fat, it is subtly sweet, rich, and nourishing all at once. While it is a decidedly on-the-run kind of breakfast, this menu item gives you a chance at starting the day right.
Buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich
Chicken sandwiches are hard to turn down. We get it. McDonald’s buttermilk version has a whopping 620 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 63 grams of carbs. Yes, chicken that’s been breaded and fried tastes good, but you probably know it’s not good for you to consume so much grease. Combined with fatty mayo and oversized buns, this meal is high in calories and saturated fat.
Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddles
While McDonald’s McGriddle sandwiches may be tempting, try not to succumb to their fatty allure. Sure, in a perfect world we ought to be able to consume greasy bacon, eggs, cheese, and plenty of butter served on cakes with zero repercussions. In the real world, the combination of these high cholesterol, sodium-laden, fat heavy processed ingredients are sure to kill any diet. Moreover, the effects on your heart aren’t too great either. With 52 percent of the daily value of sodium, 195 milligrams of cholesterol, and eggs that contain five ingredients additional to, um, just eggs, you’re better off saying no. Your heart and your waistline will thank you.
Sausage breakfast sandwiches
If you’re hungry for a breakfast sandwich, save yourself some trouble and skip all of the ones made with sausage. One sausage biscuit with egg has 530 calories, 34 grams of fat, and 38 grams of carbs. This sandwich might sit a little heavy in your stomach for first thing in the morning. Here, the equivalent of four sausage links are sandwiched between greasy, processed bread. High in saturated fat, this is one meal you want to avoid the next time you’re hitting up your local McDonald’s. Trust me. The aftermath ain’t pretty.
The sausage McMuffin with egg might sound like a healthier option, but it’s not actually much better. Clocking at 480 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 30 grams of carbs, it’s still a breakfast that’ll start your day off on the wrong foot.
For a lighter and healthier alternative to the compact heart attack of the sausage biscuit with egg, opt for the Egg White Delight McMuffin. You get to enjoy the feeling of eating a breakfast sandwich at less than half the calories and fat. With 250 calories and 10 grams of fat, this satisfying meal fills you up but doesn’t weigh you down.
A medium-sized portion of McDonald’s beloved fries boasts 340 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 44 grams of carbs. While it may seem like a sin not to place an order of fries to go along with your burger, try to resist the societal pressure. For vegetarians who think this go-to side dish is safe for consumption, think again. The fries contain natural beef flavor. As if that weren’t disturbing enough, dextrose (sugar) is the third ingredient listed on the company’s website.
While they are indeed less glamorous than the world-famous fries, order a side of apple slices and you’ll feel great about your life choices — at least the ones you make at McDonald’s. With 15 calories and zero fat, this crispy, naturally sweet fruit really is good for you.
So where does all this leave you?
The truth is grim. Most of the items on McDonald’s menu are terrible for anyone concerned with general healthfulness. That said, you might find yourself at times with no other choice than to duck into a McDonald’s for sustenance. While that is a sad occurrence, the good news is that there are some McDonald’s foods you can order that won’t make you feel disgusting afterward.