The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics takes an “all foods can fit” approach to healthful eating, and so do I.
The AND emphasizes that the total diet, or overall pattern of food eaten, is what matters – not any one food or meal. “If consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity,” they say, “all foods can fit into a healthful diet.” It’s true. The value of a food should be determined within the context of the total diet, because labeling items as “good” or “bad” may encourage unhealthy eating behaviors. Here’s another snippet of wisdom from the AND – “Nutrition confusion can be reduced by emphasizing moderation, appropriate portion size, balance and adequacy of the total diet over time, the importance of obtaining nutrients from foods, and physical activity.”
These guys know what they’re talking about. Balance is key to a healthy life. So, we conclude, every choice does not have to be perfect in order for us to eat a total diet we can be proud of. I say, we can make a McDonalds trip every so often fit into our healthy lifestyles, without remorse. Here’s some tips to help you feel proud, not ashamed, when you pull out of the parking lot.
(aka, the thing that’s really great here & is served all day)
I went for brunch with some friends on Saturday, and got the Egg White Delight McMuffin, a Fruit ‘n’ Yogurt Parfait, and a hot coffee. These are my favorites, and I’ll discuss a couple of other nice options as well!
Egg White Delight McMuffin – DELICIOUS. One of my very favorite fast food breakfasts, though I don’t do it as often as I used to. This sandwich rings in at 250 kcal, 8g fat, and boasts 17g protein, 10% DV iron… and 740mg sodium (30% DV). Really, the sodium is the drawback here, because too much sodium is not great for the heart (and can make you feel/ look bloated). Remove either the Canadian bacon or the cheese, and you can take the sodium down to 510mg (21% DV). Other cons are the white flour in the english muffin (too bad they don’t buy whole wheat!) and use of preservatives. You can make an epic version of this at home that’s got an even better nutritional profile, but for McDonalds, and being on the road, this is a nice light choice. Swap the cheese for american if you’d rather, because they are basically the same thing in different colors!
Egg McMuffin. Let’s compare this classic to its trendier egg white cousin. It’s another nice choice. 290 kcal, 12g fat, 17g protein, 15% DV iron, 710 sodium. Very similar to the Egg white, but a whole egg (therefore slightly higher in fat) and a different color cheese. That’s literally the difference. You can lower sodium to 510 mg by removing either the cheese or Canadian bacon; lower fat by 4g and sandwich by 50 kcal by removing the cheese, or swap for white cheddar for no change in nutrient value.
Fruit & Maple Oatmeal. I’d either choose to leave out the brown sugar (you can ask for this, they will make it with or without) or the dried fruit. With 33g sugar, the standard with all the toppings is a little overwhelming for breakfast. By making one of these modifications, you can take it down to 18g. Our modified oatmeal supplies you with 260 Calories, and all the benefits of the stuff you make at home – it supplies 10% of your daily iron needs, 22% of your fiber needs, and is fairly low in sodium (115mg).
Biscuits. Nothing wrong with one every once in a while. One McD’s biscuit has 270 kcal, 12g fat, 5g protein, and 770mg sodium. The toppings – that’s where things get crazy. I recommend one-topping style, with some great choices being egg (it’s a scrambled, folded egg), bacon, or a packet of strawberry jelly or honey. That’s how I would eat a biscuit at home, so I don’t pile on a lot of layers at restaurants, either – simple can be nice!
Hot cakes. You can actually get an order of plain hot cakes for 330 kcal, 9g protein, 8g fat, and 12g sugar. You can lightly coat them with butter, maybe give them a drizzle of syrup, and it’s still really not crazy. They just get a bad rap! Keep in mind it’s refined flour, but this isn’t a perfect world. You could even get a 1% milk on the side to up your meal’s protein content by 8g for 100 kcal.
Fruit and yogurt parfait. 150 kcal, 4g protein, 3g fat, 80mg sodium, and 23g sugar. No live/active cultures, but still yummy and provides calcium (10% daily needs, 110mg). Sugar is a little high, but it’s no milkshake. Together with Egg white delight (I did that combo for brunch) you come to 400 kcal, and it’s a really nice meal. I wouldn’t pair the parfait with something else sweet – oatmeal or sweetened coffee – but it is a nice touch to a more savory meal.
Hash browns are probably the more typical side choice for breakfast. Each patty has 150 kcal, just like the parfait. You aren’t getting any fruit, but then, you aren’t getting added sugar, either. If you’re a sucker for these, go with just one, or even split it with a friend!
Coffee. Here we go.
- I actually think McDonald’s brews a great house blend. A hot small cup with 2 or 3 creams is my favorite. I just love it! I couldn’t finish my whole cup at our brunch, so I took it home and drank the rest chilled the next morning. Yum!
- Iced Coffee – You can get a small vanilla for 100, hazelnut for 110, or caramel for 120 kcal. 15, 17, and 20g of sugar, respectively. I can drink to that – it’s even less of a splurge than Chick-fil-a’s, and we think it might be better. (If you opt for artificial sweetener, the sugar free vanilla is 70 kcal and 1g sugar for a small, but I usually go with the standard vanilla).
And these are all my tips. Note – you can make YUMMIER and healthier versions of most of these things at home, but sometimes it’s just fun to go out with the girls!
Freeland-Graves, J., & Nitzke, S. (2002). Position of the American Dietetic Association: total diet approach to communicating food and nutrition information. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(1), 100-108.