Think McDonald’s Is Unhealthy? You’ll Be Shocked to Know Just How Bad It Used to Be

McDonald’s remains one of the most popular fast food restaurants in America. It has also gained a surprising reputation for being one of the healthiest places you can eat. But the healthiest foods you can order there weren’t quite so healthy in decades past.

The menu has changed — but thankfully, it’s for the better. Even if you don’t love eating there as much as Donald Trump, you might change your mind after learning how much McDonald’s has actually done to make its food less terrible for everyone who eats it. (Page 6 might end up saving humanity.)

Please, don’t ‘supersize me’

French fries sit on a table at a McDonald's restaurant

The oversized portions are a thing of the past. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

  • Did a documentary kill off McDonald’s “supersize” menu for good?

In 2004, the documentary Super Size Me followed Morgan Spurlock along a month-long McDonald’s-exclusive diet. Shortly thereafter, McDonald’s stopped serving extra-large fries and drinks, though it has never been confirmed which came first.

Next: Thankfully, customers now get to choose their sides wisely.

You don’t have to have fries with that


Apple slices are an alternative to fries. | iStock

  • McDonald’s added healthier side options to many of its signature items.

McDonald’s Snacks & Sides menu looks a lot different today than it did 10 years ago. While you used to only be able to get fries of any size with your main order, you can now get a small salad, apple slices, or yogurt instead.

Next: You can now order a burger that (probably) won’t give you heart disease.

The bun makeover


McDonald’s made the switch to real butter. | YelenaYemchuk/iStock/Getty Images

  • McDonald’s only uses real butter in its quest to phase out trans fats for good.

It took awhile for the public to realize its favorite fast food restaurants were using deadly chemicals called trans fats. But McDonald’s figured out how to take them out of the equation, replacing margarine and its harmful oils with real butter, a slightly healthier alternative.

Next: Because trans fats aren’t the only thing that can kill you, McDonald’s also took out another ingredient.

The bun makeover, continued

McDonalds Big Mac

There’s no longer any added sugars in McDonald’s buns. | Spflaum1/iStock/Getty Images

  • The company no longer serves buns made with high-fructose corn syrup.

High concentrations of added sugars in a person’s diet can cause serious harm. Knowing this, the company took its healthy bun mission a step further, removing high-fructose corn syrup from its recipe. Now, when you eat a McDonald’s bun, it’s free of trans fats and bad sugar. Butter and real sugar is all you get.

Next: Knowledge is power.

The nutrition calculator

How many calories? | David Paul Morris/Getty Images

  • You can calculate your meal’s nutrition facts ahead of time

The McDonald’s website includes a nutrition calculator, which gives detailed information on each menu item. It breaks down fats, calories, carbs, vitamins, the whole deal. Plus, you can add and subtract items to get a running total for your entire order.

Next: This decision may have changed the food industry forever.

Better chicken for the sake of humankind

Chicken McNuggets are now antibiotic-free. | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

  • McDonald’s started serving chicken free of antibiotics.

Our population’s overuse of antibiotics could become a public health problem if we aren’t proactive. McDonald’s and many other restaurants have stopped or promised to stop serving meat treated with antibiotics to protect the planet from a superbug apocalypse.

Next: Check that menu twice

Menu calorie counts

Man carrying a McDonald's meal

Did you check the menu before buying? | Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

  • McDonald’s menus now include calorie counts beside each item

McDonald’s might have surprised a few people when it decided to add calorie counts to its menus. In a bid to improve its image, McDonald’s has made moves to be more transparent about calories in its food. Though there is some debate as to whether or not this has any real impact on weight loss or health trends, it’s an improvement from the past.

Next: It’s also changing the way it serves beef.

Fresh — never frozen — beef

Burgers are now fresh, not frozen. | Johnnieshin/iStock/Getty Images

  • The menu now features fresh beef cooked only when you order it.

Frozen beef is out. Starting in 2018, when customers asked for a quarter pound of beef between two buttery, sugar-sweetened buns, they got it fresh, not frozen. The company also promises its beef contains no traces of preservatives, additives, or fillers.

Next: The burger isn’t the only “fresher” food

Say goodbye to preservatives

No preservatives in these nuggets. | Kornnphoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • McDonald’s removed preservatives from many of its foods, including Nuggets, sausage patties, and some egg items

After the “pink slime” scare, McDonald’s promised to remove preservatives from many of its foods. These have included McNuggets, pork sausage patties, omelets, and scrambled eggs. McDonald’s also got rid of preservatives in the McNugget cooking oil. On top of that, the McNugget is now free of chicken skin, safflower oil, and citric acid.

Next: The Happy Meal may never be the same again.

Far less happier ‘Happy Meals’

There’s a new, healthier Happy Meal. | McDonald’s

  • To meet new nutrition guidelines, the company removed cheese from its burgers.

In 2018, McDonald’s also announced it would remove cheese from its Happy Meal burgers. This reduced the total calorie count of each “Melancholy Meal” to meet the company’s new health-focused goals. And this likely won’t be its last effort to market healthier food options to children.

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Additional reporting by John Wolfe