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Do you know the calorie count of your McDonald’s meal?

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
McDonald's, fast food, calories, obesity, healthy diet

For example, they can find that the Big Mac, at 550 calories, is 200 calories leaner than the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Most would surmise that the latter burger was richer in calories; however other meal choices are not as obvious. For example, the Double Cheeseburger with 440 calories has about the same caloric content as the Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken (450 calories).

McDonald’s highest-calorie item is not a burger at all––it is the 1,150-calorie Big breakfast with hotcakes and large biscuit. Another surprise: the healthy-sounding 22-ounce mango pineapple smoothie matches the 350 calories in the grilled chicken sandwich.

Other food chains currently post calories on their menus; however, McDonald’s is the largest chain and the first fast food company to do so on a national level. Behind McDonald’s move is an effort to get out ahead of federal menu-labeling requirements. In addition, the move is a marketing ploy. McDonald’s wants to convey to customers that it is not just selling junk food. Last year, the fast food giant added apples to all of its kids’ meals and decreased the size of French fry servings.

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Some regional studies report that having nutritional information available when ordering a meal prompts individuals to purchase healthier items. For example, a Stanford Graduate School of Business study found that when Starbucks Corp. began posting calorie information in its New York City stores in April 2008, as required by city law, customers ordered items containing 6% fewer calories on average per transaction. A study published last month in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 26% of entrees at 37 restaurant chains studied in King County, Washington, had reduced calories 18 months after a menu-labeling law took effect there. However, other studies have found no such change in consumer behavior. A report published last year in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, which reviewed seven studies on the topic, found that “calorie labeling does not have the intended effect of decreasing calorie purchasing or consumption.”

Despite the conflicting studies, considering how prominent restaurants have become in the American diet, particularly inexpensive fast food outlets, any change could have an effect on obesity rates. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans now consume approximately a third of their calories from restaurants, up from less than a quarter in the 1970s. Furthermore, Americans currently spend about half of their food budgets at restaurants, compared to a third in the 1970s.

Take home message:
Reporting the calorie content of meals is helpful for making appropriate food choices; however, it is important that not all calories are the same. The calories in an apple are metabolized slower—and healthier—than the calories in a soft drink. Thus, it behooves the calorie conscious individual to not only count calories but also make health choices. The caloric content of a food is determined by placing it in a small chamber, burning it, and recording the heat produced.

Reference: McDonald’s

See also: CDC releases sad statistics regarding obesity in the US