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September 13, 2012 | 4 minute read

Beyond Calories: AICR’s Best Picks from McDonald’s Menu

With McDonald’s announcement that they’re posting calories on menu boards starting next week, you can walk right in (or drive through) and see how many calories you’re about to eat – no need to ask for literature or check the website ahead of time.

Soon other national chains may follow suit and that’s a good thing. Even though most Americans may not count calories, or even know how many they need, this is an important step to help us become aware of what we’re eating. Most Americans are overweight or obese and that extra body fatness means higher risk for many cancers and other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Calorie posting doesn’t suddenly make fast food any more healthful, but when you’re able to compare calories you can at least make a more informed choice when trying to lose or maintain weight. It’s a good start, although what you won’t know from the menu board is how much nutritional value you’re getting – for example, are there any vitamins, or fiber? Or is there too much sodium?

In some cases, it’s common sense – the plain apples are a good choice. But I know from years of helping clients navigate menu choices, that often foods that seem like they are healthy can pack a lot of calories, fat and sodium.

So, I’ve taken a look at their menu and full nutrition info to select my top picks with the following criteria: fewer than 400 calories, sodium under 600 mg and good source (10% of the daily value) of at least one nutrient, indicated in parantheses. Keep in mind that these are the best choices at McDonald’s, but the best choice overall is to eat fast food rarely – a few times a month at most.

Best Sandwich

  • Hamburger (less than 2 oz. meat): 250 calories, 12 g protein, 490 sodium (iron, calcium) Note: AICR recommends limiting red meat to less than 18 oz. cooked per week for preventing colorectal cancer.

Best Salads

  • Premium Caesar Salad: 90 cal, 7 g protein, 180 mg sodium, 4 g fiber (fiber, vit A, C and calcium)
  • Premium Caesar Salad with grilled chicken: 190 cal, 27 g protein, 580 mg sodium, 4 g fiber (fiber, vitamins A, C and calcium)
  • Side salad: 20 cal, 0 g fat, 10 mg sodium (vit A, C)

Note: dressings add about 100 more calories and up the sodium by several hundred milligrams, so go light on those.

Best Breakfast

  • Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal: 290 cal, 6 g protein, 180 sodium, 5 g fiber (fiber, vit C, iron)
  • Fruit & Maple Oatmeal no brown sugar: 260 cal, 5 g protein, 115 mg sodium, 5 g fiber (w/brown sugar:  290 cal, 160 mg sodium) (fiber, vit C, iron, calcium)

Best snacks & desserts

  • Apple Slices: 15 cal, 0 g protein, 0 sodium (vit C)
  • Fruit and walnuts: 210 cal, 4 g protein, 60 mg sodium (vit C)
  • Fruit ‘n yogurt parfait: 150 calories, 4 g protein, 70 mg sodium (vit C, calcium)
  • Kiddie cone: 45 cal, 1 g pro, 20 mg sodium (no significant nutrients, but very low calories for a dessert, with some calcium)
  • Smoothies – 210-220 cal, 2 g protein, 35 mg sodium (vit C)

Best Beverage Choices (criteria – no calories or no added sugar)

  • Coffee: 0 cal
  • Iced tea (not sweetened): 0 cal
  • 1% Lowfat Milk Jug: 100 calories, 8 g protein, 125 mg sodium (vit A, calcium)
  • Small orange juice: 150 calories, 2 g protein, 0 g sodium (vit C)
  • Apple juice box: 100 calories, 0 g protein, 15 g sodium (vit C, calcium)
  • Water (yes, plain delicious water)

How do you put together the best choices for a fast food meal?

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