How to navigate the menu and find healthier choices.
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McDonald's probably isn't the first place you think of to grab a healthy meal, but sometimes it's the most convenient. Luckily, the fast-food joint has made a big push toward helping customers make better choices, like adding calorie counts to their menu, making Happy Meals healthier by 2022, and eliminating trans fats.
You don't need to stick to salads either. "Craving a burger? Go for it!" says Sharon Zarabi, R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T., the program director of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "The 3.5-ounce serving of meat in the classic burger contains a healthy dose of 12 grams of protein and is lowest in calories of all meat patties, at 240 calories and 8 grams of fat," she says. You can add cheese for an additional 50 calories and 4 grams of fat.
Not all burgers on the menu are created equal, though. Zarabi says to skip the bigger burgers, which can sometimes triple your portion size. Your best bet? "Skip the bun, and throw that burger on a side salad with a light dressing," she says.
Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
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Grilled Ranch Snack Wrap
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The keyword here is "grilled," Zarabi says. Generally, items on the McDonald's menu that include the word "grilled" are safer picks. "Anything on the menu that contains 'crispy' will be fried, leaving you with more fat than you bargained for," she says. This snack wrap has 21 grams of protein and clocks in at 300 calories. Hold the ranch dressing.
Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad
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"While this salad is high in sodium, it is low in carbohydrates and has fewer calories than other menu options," says Amanda Barnes, R.D.N., a registered dietitian. "You can put the dressing on yourself so just remember you don't need to use the whole packet. A lot of the calories and fat come from the ranch dressing." Better yet, ask for the low-fat balsamic dressing instead, which is much lower in fat and calories.
Egg White Delight
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The nutrition of this breakfast sandwich is on point: 260 calories, 8 grams of fat, 16 grams of protein, 29 grams of carbs. "There's no better way than to start the day with a healthy dose of protein," Zarabi says. "If you're trying to reduce any bloat, you can even skimp out on the processed cheese which will reduce calorie count by 50 and significantly reduce the sodium content. By starting your day with protein instead of a sugar-loaded bowl of cereal, you keep your blood sugars stable and avoid any midmorning crashes."
Pico Guacamole Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
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This chicken sandwich is a winner. "The guacamole will add healthy fat, and the pico adds at least some vegetables to your meal," Barnes says. "Ask for no ranch dressing; you won't miss it with all the guacamole and it will save calories and sodium."
Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait
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"With only 150 calories and 4 grams of protein, the Fruit 'N Yogurt parfait is one of the healthier items you can get at McDonald's," says Katrina Trisko, R.D., a registered dietitian based in NYC. Need a full meal? "This would pair well with a Premium Grilled Chicken Salad to create a satisfying and healthy meal option," she says.
1% Low Fat Milk Jug
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"With a menu full of sugary sodas and drinks, choosing a beverage can be really difficult," Trisko says. "If you're not avoiding dairy, opt for a 1% Low Fat Milk Jug. Appropriately sized, this serving of milk has 8 grams of protein and a significant amount of calcium and vitamin D." (BTW, looks like the benefits of milk outweigh the potential downsides of dairy.)
Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
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"The Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken is your best bet," Zarabi says. "It's loaded with fiber not only from leafy greens but beans too. With only 290 calories, it has 8 grams of fat and 27 grams of protein." As with all the salads on the menu, though, there's one important caveat to consider: "Be careful with dressing," Zarabi advises. "Try to use half the packet or lightly dip your fork into dressing before taking a bite."
4 Chicken McNuggets and a Side Salad
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"The chicken nuggets will give you some protein and you will get your greens with your side salad," Barnes says. "Ask for the balsamic vinegar dressing, which is lower in calories and fat than other dressing options. If this doesn't sound like enough food, add some apple slices for an extra side."