Have you ever suffered from Gut Rot? You know the sensation you get when it feels like your stomach is having a heart attack! I can specifically remember the times that I’ve suffered the most and it always followed a last resort feeding at the golden arches. As I would lay there moaning, I told myself “NEVER AGAIN!!” Needless to say, I haven’t been there in about 10 years and don’t plan on going back anytime soon. McDonald’s was made famous for offering unhealthy amounts of calories, fat, sodium, and sugar disguised as food. So when they came out with salads, I was pleasantly surprised. It looked like this mega-fast-food chain actually had some healthy options on the menu. Amazing! Most of us know that a ‘salad’ is synonymous with ‘health’, however, leave it to McDonald’s to make even their salads unhealthy. Some of them should probably be served with a side order of digestive enzymes and a recommendation for a good cardiologist.

It’s time to undress these salads to see what they are really made of.

The McDonald’s salad de-robed: 
I chose the healthiest sounding salad and dressing on their menu and assessed its nutritional value. Here are the results:
Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken and Renee’s Ravin’ Raspberry Vinegrette
400 Calories
15.5g Fat
1000mg Sodium
13g of sugar

Here is one of their more unhealthy sounding salads:
Mighty Caesar Entrée with Warm Crispy Chicken and Renee’s Mighty Caesar Dressing
700 Calories
54g Fat
1620mg sodium
2g sugar

Now for comparison, here is the nutritional value of a BigMac
The BigMac
540 Calories
29g Fat
1020mg sodium
9g sugar

I do want to note that when people order a BigMac they often get fries with it – so to be fair, here are the values for a BigMac plus a medium order of fries.
The BigMac with Medium Fries
900 Calories
46g Fat
1290mg sodium
9g sugar

Click here to see the Nutrition Facts of other McDonald’s products.

When we are comparing the products based on these 4 measuring sticks, it is easy to see that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the Caesar option and the BigMac with fries. The Southwast salad definitely appears to be healthier from a fat and calories perspective but is the worst from a sugar perspective. Eating too much sugar can lead to a whole host of problems like high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, etc.

One important thing to realize is that there are only 3 macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein). If something is low in fat… it has to be high in one of the other 2 (and usually that is sugar). Have a look at some of the products in your grocery store that are fat free. Sugar is used in place of the fat and a whole bunch of other things are added to create the flavour and texture of fat since it has been removed.

If you read my article on “The Quick and Dirty Guide to Reading Food Labels” you will notice that I don’t spend much time looking at the nutrition facts like calories, fat, sodium, and sugar when I am assessing products. I am more concerned about the ingredients themselves and try to aim for whole foods eating. That means eating foods that are straight from the source and don’t contain a whole host of added crap.  Here is a pdf document that contains all of the ingredients for the McDonald’s products. You may find some of the salad ingredients especially interesting. For example, did you know that their croutons contain hydrogenated cottonseed oil? Or that the grilled chicken on the Southwest Salad contains 25 ingredients!?! Even the sunflower seeds contain hydrolyzed corn protein. Yuk!

No Time to Eat healthy? I have a solution

The problem is that most people don’t know what the McDonald’s salads are really made of and at first glance they may appear to be really healthy. However, this is partly an illusion. McDonalds tries very hard to blur the lines and make things seem a lot healthier than they really are. I decided to check out the McDonald’s website to see what they were telling people about their salads. Here is what I found:

“McDonalds recognizes the importance of offering nutritional choices to Canadians. That’s why we have created entrée and side salad choices for customers. The salads are made with romaine and iceberg lettuces, sliced tomatoes and red onions. Prepared fresh daily with these lettuces, McDonald’s entrée salads contain about three servings of vegetables according to Canada’s Food Guide.”

It is shocking that listing a few salad ingredients causes McDonalds to claim that they are offering nutritional choices. I see this a lot in Marketing. Companies will only list some of their ingredients and then make claims that make the entire product seem healthy. However, they conveniently leave out all the unhealthy bits. For example, let’s say someone was advertising a healthy broccoli snack and talked all about the benefits of broccoli and why you should eat it, but the actual product was a deep fried piece of broccoli with artificial cheese sauce. It doesn’t matter what benefits the broccoli has at that point. The product is unhealthy. I feel like this type of messaging is what McDonald’s is doing with their salads and the word needs to get out. People should know what is really in the salads and then make an informed decision as to whether they still want to put it in their mouth and have the cells of their body be made of those hard to pronounce artificial ingredients.

In conclusion, the McDonald’s salads do contain more whole foods than the BigMac and fries option. Therefore, if you are choosing between the two, go with a salad because their will be more nutrients. Also, I would recommend choosing either the raspberry or balsamic salad dressing. It is important to note that these are the healthiest on the menu but I still do not consider them to be ‘healthy’ dressings. Alternatively you can skip the salad dressing altogether or even better, bring your own homemade option. In addition, I hate to rain on the parade, but after reading the ingredients in the animal products and other toppings like nuts, seeds, croutons, etc, I would personally stay away from those. Therefore, unless you feel like just eating a plain vegetable salad with nothing on it, or bringing your own dressing, I would recommend going elsewhere.

In Canada alone in the last few years McDonalds has sold 7 Million salads! I often wonder what percentage of those people actually know what they just ate. I hope this information provides some interesting food for thought. Maybe it will even entice McDonald’s to change some of their ingredients to a more whole foods approach. Fingers crossed.

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