People often turn to fast food because it's quick, convenient and readily available; however, according to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, frequent fast-food consumption can contribute to weight gain. While McDonald's offers some healthy options at breakfast, most of the morning menu is high in calories, fat and sodium. But if McDonald's is your only option for breakfast, knowing the healthy choices before you go in can save you calories and help you better manage your weight.
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The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group, considers the Fruit n' Yogurt Parfait from McDonald's one of the healthier food choices among all the top chain fast-food restaurants. One serving of the yogurt and fruit mix contains 150 calories, 2 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 70 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber and 4 grams of protein. The Fruit and Maple Oatmeal also makes a healthy breakfast option, with 290 calories, 4 grams of total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 160 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving.
Making Healthier Choices
You can lighten up any of the breakfast meals or sandwiches at McDonald's with egg whites. They also offer a healthier version of the popular Egg McMuffin called the Egg White Delight, which includes egg whites and extra lean Canadian bacon on a whole-grain English muffin. One serving of the Egg White Delight contains 250 calories, 7 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 770 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber and 18 grams of protein. By comparison, the regular Egg McMuffin contains 290 calories, 12 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 740 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein. It is important to note, however, that the Egg White Delight is still high in sodium, which can increase your risk of high blood pressure. You should limit your intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, or less than 1,500 milligrams if you already have high blood pressure or are older than age 51, according to the USDA.
Deconstructing the Menu
In an article on the CookingLight website, dietitian Karen Ensel suggests you create your own healthy breakfast at McDonald's by ordering individual items. For example, order one whole-grain English muffin dry with a regular size order of scrambled eggs for 300 calories, 12 grams of total fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 400 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber and 20 grams of protein. This deconstructed breakfast has about half the amount of sodium as both the Egg McMuffin and Egg White Delight. Plus, you can save even more calories -- and fat -- if you replace the regular eggs with scrambled egg whites.
Among the few healthy breakfast options at McDonalds, there are a number of not-so-healthy choices. For example, all the Big Breakfast meals at McDonald's have more than 700 calories, and the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes and a large biscuit is high in calories, fat and sodium with 1,150 calories, 60 grams of total fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 2,260 milligrams of sodium, 116 grams of carbs, 7 grams of fiber and 36 grams of protein. Additionally, if you're looking to eat a healthier breakfast at McDonald's, you'll want to avoid any sandwiches or meals that include meats such as sausage or bacon, which are high in calories and saturated fat. High intakes of saturated fat can increase your cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests you limit your intake to less than 10 percent of calories, or no more than 22 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Adults: United States, 2007–2010
- McDonald's: Nutrition Facts
- Centers for Science in the Public Interest: The Best & Worst Fast Food
- Cooking Light: The Healthiest Fast Breakfasts
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Mission Statement
- McDonald's: Egg White Delight McMuffin
- McDonald's: Big Breakfast: Nutrition
- U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- McDonald's: Egg McMuffin: Nutrition