When you think of McDonald’s, “health food” probably doesn’t spring to mind. The home of the Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets doesn’t have the best track record. After all, this is the fast food restaurant that, up until a few years ago, used pink slime chemicals in its burgers and was caught using contaminated meat and expired meat products in Asia.
But on August 1, McDonald’s USA announced a few major changes to its menu:
- removing artificial preservatives from certain items, including Chicken McNuggets, pork sausage patties and omelet-style eggs served on breakfast sandwiches and the scrambled eggs included in breakfast platters;
- removing the high-fructose corn syrup in its sandwich buns with sugar; and
- completing a transition to only serve chicken that hasn’t been treated with antibiotics important to human medicine.
Together, these McDonald’s changes affect nearly half of the food on the restaurants’ menu. So does that mean it’s okay to start eating at the Golden Arches now? Not so fast.
For starters, it is a step in the right direction that McDonald’s is modifying its menu. Similar to Chipotle and Panera phasing out GMO ingredients in their food, consumer demand for less processed foods is growing.
To be sure, however, these changes also reflect a financial reality for the fast food behemoth. Recently released figures for January–March 2016 show that sales increased by only 1.8 percent during those months, far lower than the 3.2 percent increase Wall Street had expected.
3 Changes McDonald’s Is Making That’s Meh …
Let’s break down each of the changes:
1. Kicking artificial preservatives to the curb
While this sounds impressive, McDonald’s hasn’t actually released what specific preservatives are being phased out. Many of the “natural” ingredients aren’t so good for you, either.
Take the Chicken McNuggets, for example. They’re fried in a variety of vegetable oils, including canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil and hydrogenated soybean oil. All of these oils are made from GMOs and go through a massive amount of processing before reaching the point where they’re suitable for cooking. These are not oils you want to cook with at home, and they’re not oils you want your food cooked in when eating out.
Additionally, getting rid of artificial preservatives doesn’t make the food any healthier. Most McDonald’s items are still high in calories, saturated fat and sodium. A Sausage McMuffin with Egg, for example, one of the items affected by the new ingredient changes, is still 470 calories and 30 grams of fat. Add in an order of hash browns that come as part of a breakfast meal and ring in at 150 calories, and this seemingly small breakfast tops out at 620 calories and 39 grams of fat. Yowza.
2. Replacing high-fructose corn syrup in sandwich buns with sugar
Whether it’s that the syrup isn’t “natural” or that it causes weight gain, HFCS has received a lot of bad press over the last several years. When it comes down to it, however, high-fructose corn syrup isn’t the real problem – it’s our addiction to sugar and sweeteners in general.
Today, added sugars make up about 10 percent of the average Americans’ diet – and when you’re consuming that much sugar, it doesn’t matter if it’s refined or HFCS. It’s not good for you. Too much added sugar has been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity. (1) (2) (3)
Additionally, for many people, eating buns isn’t a great option anyway. Grains, which make up these sandwich buns, are full of antinutrients, which interfere with your body’s ability to absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients. When grains are necessary, I opt for the sprouted grain bread variety, not a McDonald’s bun.
3. Eliminating chicken treated with certain antibiotics
With the rise of superbugs and antibiotic resistance, reducing the use of antibiotics in chickens raised for McDonald’s is a good thing. Because bacteria in both animals and humans develop resistance to drugs the more they’re exposed to them, minimizing the antibiotics used helps keep those pathogens in check.
Interestingly enough, however, this isn’t a new move by McDonald’s, even though it was covered in this recent announcement. The company announced its antibiotic policy way back in March 2015. (4) And while it reduces the types of antibiotics used, the birds can still be treated with antibiotics not used on humans, or ionophores, which are given to chickens to help them combat intestinal illnesses they contract in the coop. Other fast food restaurants, like Chik-fil-A, have given the boot to all antibiotics in chicken.
And of course, this all matters only if you order chicken. If you’re craving a Quarter Pounder, you’re out of luck, as the beef is still treated with antibiotics and are usually factory farmed. After all, there’s a reason you can buy a burger for as little as a dollar!
So is eating McDonald’s healthier now than it was in the past? While eating at the restaurant when you’re on a family road trip won’t kill you, it’s still best to indulge in fast food on very rare occasions. These changes are a lot more cosmetic and healthy-sounding than actually providing any real nutritional change for the average visitor.
My advice? Pack your own healthy snacks or stop at a local, high-quality casual dining restaurant instead. Your stomach and health will be better for it.
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