The mouthwatering original with cheese.
Or so goes the sales claim by McDonald’s for its famous $1.29 cheeseburger.
A juicy 100% beef patty simply seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper, melty American cheese, tangy pickles, minced onions, ketchup and mustard.
As popular and delicious as it may be, surely all of this awesomeness comes with a health cost. Right?
While McDonald’s isn’t marketed as healthy as Subway, is McDonald’s food actually healthy?
How Junk Food Can End Obesity
David Freedman published a piece in The Atlantic arguing how junk food can end obesity.
Freedman’s story starts innocently by looking for a wholesome beverage. He visits several different trendy food joints, trying the delicate concoctions. Some selling as organic, others adding in a hint of voodoo magic.
Finally, he settles for, in his opinion, the most healthful blueberry-pomegranate smoothie. Where does he find this deliciously affordable drink?
At McDonald’s, of course.
Coming in at just 220 calories, McDonald’s Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie seems more healthful than other wholesome alternatives.
Because less calories means better. At least according to Freedman.
50g Sugar in One Gulp
Let’s break down the nutrition facts for McDonald’s blueberry smoothie:
- 220 calories
- 2g protein
- 0.5g fat
- 50g carbs
- 3g fiber
Surprisingly, this smoothie is ultra low in fat. This is due to the use of low-fat smoothie yogurt. The fat is removed and replaced with sugar instead.
So we know what this smoothie has. But what is it lacking?
- Complex carbs
Why McDonald’s Cheeseburger isn’t so Bad in Comparison
McDonald’s cheeseburger comes at a modest 300 calories. It includes:
- 15g protein
- 12g fat
- 2g fiber
If we were comparing only calories, then of course the cheeseburger would be beat. But calories isn’t the only thing that matters. We need to look at the whole picture.
What’s lacking in the blueberry smoothie but present in the cheeseburger are:
- Slower digesting calories
- Overall more nutrition
The real difference between McDonald’s blueberry smoothie and McDonald’s cheeseburger is that the cheeseburger is a meal. The smoothie is a sugary drink.
If you’re looking for the healthiest drink, it’s not a blueberry smoothie. It’s water.
McDonald’s cheeseburger has 15g protein — this provides greater satisfaction and a feeling of fullness.
It also has 12g of fat — this slows down the digestive process further increasing satiety.
Unfortunately the McDonald’s cheeseburger lacks fiber. So too does the blueberry smoothie. 2-3g is really insignificant. Especially when the minimum daily target is 25-38g.
Aren’t Blueberries Healthy?
Blueberries are incredibly healthy. If you eat them whole.
Package them up in a McDonald’s blueberry smoothie and they can’t really be classed as blueberries any longer. It’s a processed food, plain and simple. No amount of wholesomeness here.
Food comes in packages
What’s neglected in this analysis are the negative aspects of these McDonald’s items.
Like saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat.
When we eat blueberries, we’re not just eating Vitamin C. We’re eating phytochemicals, antioxidants, a mixture of carbohydrates, amino acids, fatty acids, fiber and more.
And when we turn them into juice to make smoothies, we’re removing most of those elements. Vitamin C can get destroyed easily through heating. Antioxidants start dissipating when cut and processed. Fiber is strained out to make for a better texture. You’re then left with a whole lot of sugar.
Likewise with McDonald’s cheeseburger you’re getting some good elements, and also a lot of bad elements.
This notion of thinking of foods in terms of single nutrients needs to stop.
A Problem of Poor Journalism
When poor journalism takes the food out of context of its package, the public becomes mislead.
The obesity epidemic doesn’t boil down to just a problem of calories. It doesn’t even boil down to a problem of protein, fat or carbohydrates.
Eating broccoli doesn’t make somebody healthy any more than does eating chocolate make you unhealthy.
The whole picture needs to be taken into account. This includes the calories and the composition of the macronutrients fat, protein and carbohydrates. It includes the micronutrients. It includes the substances like fiber. Taking a single element out of context oversimplifies and misrepresents the entire problem. No meaningful conclusion can result when you’re just thinking of obesity as a calorie problem.
When food is taken out of context, the whole argument becomes nonsense.
So is McDonald’s Cheeseburger actually healthy?
We humans love tidy boxes. You probably want a yes or no answer to this question.
Unfortunately, rarely in life are things so simple.
McDonald’s cheeseburger provides a cheap and easy to obtain concentrated source of calories. So much so that it’s been touted as the greatest food in human history.
So, if you’re starving, then this cheeseburger can certainly provide satisfaction. If however you’re looking to decrease your risk for chronic illnesses, you should look elsewhere.
In reality, eating a cheeseburger probably won’t impact your health in the slightest. It all depends on your overall lifestyle habits.
That said, McDonald’s cheeseburger could hardly be considered healthful.
For more information on maintaining a healthy diet, see my Rainbow Plate — Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Living.