We consider fast food to be unhealthy, but it can be a necessary convenience at times, and occasional cheat meals shouldn’t cause harm in the context of a healthy diet.
Individuals are often curious about whether it's possible to get a healthy meal at McDonald's, so we plan to analyze the ingredients in some of their most popular meals, and share our thoughts on the most best nutrition available at McDonald's.
In this article we’ll review the McDonald’s menu and highlight some of the most nutritious options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.
The ingredients and menu options shown in this article were found on the McDonald’s website at the time of writing, and your local McDonald's may have different options.
McDonald’s Breakfast Menu
The majority of McDonald’s breakfast menu items contain processed meat. We know from medical research that processed meat from conventionally-raised animals is associated with negative health outcomes like cardiovascular disease, so we don’t recommend any of their most popular breakfast items like the McMuffin.
Healthiest Breakfast - Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with Black Coffee
McDonald’s sells Fruit & Maple Oatmeal for breakfast, which we consider to be their healthiest breakfast option by far. The main ingredient is whole grain rolled oats, and the meal also includes fresh apples and dried cranberries and raisins.
In our opinion, it's healthier to make oatmeal at home, as this product contains a number of questionable additives: added sugar, natural flavoring agents, artificial food coloring and preservatives.
That being said, it’s still a decently nutritious option, providing a notable amount of iron, potassium and phytonutrients from the fruit.
Pairing McDonald’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with a black Premium Roast Coffee would be a pretty healthy meal, especially compared with the alternatives. A medical review published in The BMJ concluded that black coffee consumption is associated with a range of health benefits including lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
McDonald’s Lunch Menu
McDonald’s has mostly the same items available for lunch and dinner. The main courses are typically sandwiches involving meat, but there are some healthier lunch options.
Healthiest Lunch - Filet-O-Fish with Side of Apple Slices and Unsweetened Iced Tea
Surprisingly, McDonald’s sources from wild-caught fish, which medical studies show is safer than farmed fish due to lower levels of toxic pollutants.
Filet-O-Fish is made with pollock, which is high in healthy fish oils like EPA and DHA. This meal does contain added sugar, natural flavoring agents, preservatives, artificial colors and hydrogenated oils, but these questionable additive ingredients are pretty much unavoidable in a McDonald’s meal.
The apple slices provide some helpful antioxidants, and unsweetened tea, like unsweetened coffee, is associated with health benefits in medical research.
Overall we don’t think this meal is as healthy as the breakfast option, but it provides decent nutrition.
We Tried the "Healthy" McDonald's Order – Our Take
As one of the authors of this article (Calloway), I wanted to try the healthy McDonald's lunch order recommended in this article myself to give my thoughts on whether or not it's worth the money.
First, let's discuss the taste.
I have never before in my life purchase a Filet-O-Fish, but I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. The fish tasted fresh and had a perfectly crispy exterior and juicy interior.
I will say that the fish sandwich was a lot smaller than I expected. Took me maybe seven bites total to finish it.
There were four tiny apple slices for 15 calories total, which seems like a ripoff.
The iced tea tasted watered down; I could only taste a faint hint of actual black tea.
Overall, this made for a somewhat healthy meal on the road, but it does not at all feel like a good value for the money in my opinion. I spent $9.29 on this meal, and for the same price I could have purchased a homemade sandwich and salad at a local shop.
McDonald’s Dinner Menu
Because we don’t recommend any McDonald’s meals containing meat (we recommend avoiding conventionally-raised meat for health reasons), we have to get creative to recommend a dinner option.
Healthiest Dinner - Large Mango Pineapple Smoothie with Hash Browns
McDonald’s does use real fruit in their smoothies which make them a much healthier option than some other fast food restaurants like Sonic. The smoothie does contain added sugar, fructose, and natural and artificial flavors which make it less healthy than a smoothie made at home.
The Mango Pinapple smoothie contains pineapple, mango, orange and apple juice concentrates which provide a decent amount of vitamins and minerals.
The large smoothie does contain 72 grams (g) of sugar so it would be best after exercise to minimize insulin response, and it may be unadvisable for diabetics or pre-diabetics, even though most of the sugar is from the fruits.
We don't consider McDonald's hashbrowns to be very healthy, but do think they're healthier options than burgers or chicken sandwiches. They are made with real potatoes, but contain hydrogenated oils.
The only snack we recommend from McDonald’s is their 1% low fat milk jug. Even though we typically only recommend animal products sourced from grass-fed animals for nutritional reasons, we feel this is the only snack option available that's somewhat nutritious.
Even conventional milk is high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, and this snack provides 8 g of protein in only 100 calories.