Look, you know McDonald’s isn’t exactly the destination for quick, nutritious eats. But whether you’re craving drive-thru food or stuck hangry on the road with few snack options, sometimes ya just gotta do what ya gotta do.
That said, if you’re trying to keep it healthy, certain menu picks are certainly better than others.
Some of the major issues with McDonald’s famous fast eats? Loads of saturated fats and added sugars, which are linked to heart disease and inflammation, respectively, says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It.
In addition to those two undesirable factors, most menu items are also packed with an exorbitant amount of salt. “The sodium in some of these menu items is crazy,” Taub-Dix says.
If consumed in excess (anything more than the American Heart Association‘s recommended 1,500 milligrams a day), sodium can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and a slew of other serious conditions. Considering the average American consumes twice the recommended amount of sodium daily (according to the AHA), ordering McNuggets, fries, and a McFlurry to keep you from getting cranky on your next road trip suddenly doesn’t seem like such a great idea.
Luckily, not all of the McDonald’s menu nutrition is quite as ominous. In fact, McD’s has quite a few lesser evils you can choose from. Here, Taub-Dix shares the 10 best eats to pick from the next time you find yourself at the drive-thru.
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Best Snack: Apple Slices
Full of crunch and natural sweetness, apple slices are probably the cleanest order you can put in at Mickey D’s.
“These apple slices are a perfect snack,” says Taub-Dix. “They’re a no-brainer choice for kids or adults.”
Per serving: 15 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat fat), 0 mg sodium, 4 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 0 g protein
Best Side: Side Salad
Bet you never thought you could get your greens in at McD’s, huh.
With just 15 milligrams of sodium and barely-there calories (which is the better choice if it’s between that or a calorie bomb), it’s one of the best options on the menu, says Taub-Dix. Dress it with the Newman’s Own Low-Fat Balsamic.
Per serving: 15 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat fat), 15 mg sodium, 3 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein
Best Hearty Breakfast: Fruit & Maple Oatmeal
Though this order typically weighs in at 33 grams of sugar, you can cut down on a lot of it by asking for the brown sugar on the side.
“I’m a big oatmeal fan, and this dish is a quick way to fill up on whole grains rich in soluble fiber,” says Taub-Dix. (That’s the type of fiber that can help reduce cholesterol levels.)
Per serving: 310 calories, 4 g fat (1.5 g sat fat), 140 mg sodium, 62 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 33 g sugar, 6 g protein
Best Salad: Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
While this dish clocks in at over 1,000 milligrams of sodium, it does have redeeming qualities, like the high protein count. “Glad to see that this white meat chicken has no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors,” says Taub-Dix.
Since dressings may rack up the sodium count further, use only as much as you need, Taub-Dix suggests. And if you’re watching your carbs, order this one sans tortilla strips.
Per serving: 330 calories, 11 g fat (1.5 g sat fat), 1,010 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 33 g protein
Best Chicken Order: Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Though Taub-Dix says salads are generally better options at fast food restaurants, McD’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich is a decent option if you’re craving something with a bun. Of course, just keep in mind that it’s high in sodium.
Per serving: 430 calories, 15 g fat (3 g sat fat), 1,040 mg sodium, 40 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 34 g protein
Best Quick Breakfast: Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait
“This order provides 150 milligrams of calcium, a bone-building nutrient most kids and adults don’t get enough of,” says Taub-Dix. Though you don’t have to worry about sodium in this lower-calorie order, it does contain a good amount of sugar.
Per serving: 210 calories, 3 g fat (1.5 g sat fat), 75 mg sodium, 40 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 28 g sugar, 6 g protein
Best Burger: Plain Hamburger
Though a classic McD’s hamburger doesn’t exactly contain the highest-quality meat, there’s something to be said about its modest portion size. “The plain burger is only 250 calories,” says Taub-Dix. “Plus, in comparison to other menu items, the sodium here is relatively reasonable.”
Opt for extra lettuce and tomato to get some veggies in, and ask for sauce on the side.
Per serving: 250 calories, 8 g fat (3 g sat fat), 480 mg sodium, 31 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 13 g protein
Best Breakfast Sandwich: Egg McMuffin
When you’re craving a breakfast sandwich, McD’s classic Egg McMuffin isn’t a terrible pick. One major plus: It offers a satisfying 17 grams of protein. If you want to cut down the sodium a bit, Taub-Dix recommends skipping the Canadian bacon.
Per serving (including Canadian bacon): 300 calories, 12 g fat (6 g sat fat), 760 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 17 g protein
Best McCafe Item: Premium Roast Coffee
“Even if you sprinkle a packet of sugar into a McD’s Premium Roast Coffee, you wouldn’t get as many calories from sugar or fat as you wold from some of their other choices,” says Taub-Dix.
Plus, a McD’s coffee will probably cost you less than your usual Starbucks order…just sayin’.
Per serving: 0 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat fat), 20 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 0 g protein
Best Sandwich: Filet-O-Fish
“As a country, we don’t eat as much fish as we should—at least twice a week!—so this could help you meet your seafood quota,” says Taub-Dix. In addition to being a good source of protein, fish also provides heart- and brain-boosting omega-3s.
Though the breading and higher fat content aren’t ideal, the Filet-O-Fish is still an okay every-once-in-a-while order.
Per serving: 390 calories, 19 g fat (4 g sat fat), 560 mg sodium, 38 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 17 g protein
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