By Olivia Tarantino
Back in the early 2000s, my debate team argued that people should be able to hold McDonald’s responsible for making people fat.
We lost. (In fact, now “commonsense consumption” laws in 26 states prohibit people from suing food suppliers for making them fat, giving him diabetes, or adding to their high blood pressure.) But the countless hours I spent pouring over evidence of grotesque methods of “food” preparation, fattening additives, and unnatural ingredients led me to vow to never frequent fast-food chains again. While this may have been the case many years ago—and new menu items like the Shamrock Shake and the McRib certainly haven’t helped to change my mind—McDonald’s has actually made some impressive health-centric changes over the years.
The fast-food chain is feverishly attempting to shift its decades-old, tried-and-true business model to a more modernized version to boost its slipping sales. Customer traffic and revenues have been falling tremendously, and McDonald’s even had to shut down several locations. Kevin Ozan, McDonald’s chief financial officer, stated that the “current performance reflects the ongoing pressures on the business,” which includes more competition in the fast food world from companies like Chipotle, as well as a shift in public health consciousness.
They’re apparently doing something right by consumers, though; in the past quarter, sales increased for the first time since 2013. Menu additions like kale and quinoa, company commitments to ridding their food of artery-clogging trans fats, and surprising studies that found eating a Happy Meal might help you lose weight, are all among the interesting facts about McDonald’s that you most likely didn’t know. Until now, that is! The world-famous burger baron has come a long way since the 2004 release of “Super Size Me,” so we here at Eat This, Not That! wanted to catch you up on all the changes they’ve made over the years. We’ve also included some less-than-awesome facts and some of their craziest ideas. For the ultimate list of what to eat at MickeyD’s, don’t miss out on our essential guide: Every Menu Item at McDonald's—Ranked!
1. The McCafé Isn’t Just for Coffee Anymore
You don’t typically see serious health nuts and people trying to lose weight at fast food joints like McDonald’s, but with a new Golden Arches’ concept, all that might change. McCafé, the new fast-casual eatery, is named after McDonald’s coffee line to evoke a more coffee-house-style feel. In place of McDonald’s infamous nuggets, burgers and fries, McCafé offers healthier, pre-packaged, “on-the-go” options like chicken noodle soup and salads. These waist-friendly options will include ingredients like kale, brussels sprouts, quinoa, and edamame. While the only location so far is in Toronto, Canada, a second location is slated to open early this year, and we’re hoping it’s in the U.S.
2. Their Food Looks Frighteningly Good for Its Age
April 10, 2010 was Day One of New York photographer Sally Davies’ “Happy Meal Project,” a project to document what happens to fast food if left unrefrigerated under a glass case. Five months later, the food still looked edible while KFC fries bought and stored on the same day were white and furry with mold. As of January 2016, the hamburger and fries have still not noticeably disintegrated. Marion Nestle, chair of NYU’s food studies program, told Salon that McDonald’s would have to use “a lot of sodium propionate to prevent bacterial or mold growth.” Dr. Keith Warriner, a Canadian food scientist, explained that another reason might be due to the lack of moisture in the patty and bun during the steaming and toasting preparation. Without moisture or high humidity—ideal conditions for microbe growth—the burger dries out rather than rots. Even with a scientific explanation, it still sounds pretty sketchy. Psst! Get your carb fix minus the additives with these 20 Best Carbs for a Flat Belly!
3. McDonald’s Used To Partially Own Chipotle
That’s right. One of the most notoriously unhealthy fast food chains once owned a 90 percent stake in one of the most health- and socially-conscious brands before selling it back in 2006, citing the Mexican restaurant as a “distraction.”. The Big Mac chain invested in Chipotle back in 1998 when it only had 14 locations, and helped it grow to 460 locations by the time it jumped ship. Supposedly, McDonald’s wanted Chipotle to add drive-thrus to its restaurants, but in the end, Chipotle’s COO Gretchen Selfridge, told Bloomberg, “Bless their hearts, McDonald’s had a lot of great suggestions, and we were always polite about it. They really wanted us to do drive-thrus. They really wanted us to do breakfast. But we just really didn’t do any of that.”
4. A Lot of McDonald’s Customers Own Pet Fish
Using a tool that pulls data about typical customers of different companies, a new UK survey examined what the average profile of a customer at McDonald’s looks likes. It turns out, most of them own a pet fish. On top of their marine-life affinity, customers also tend to be females between the ages of 25 and 39 and have a discretionary income of at least $155 a month. When it comes to what they do with their free time, McDonald’s customers’ leisurely interests include sleeping, watching movies at home, playing video games, and “sitting around doing as little as possible.” They work in the wholesale and retail industries, law, and consumer goods. When it comes to describing themselves, McDonald’s customers say they’re motherly, loving, and bighearted.
5. Their Shamrock Shake Is Basically Corn Syrup
Don’t let nostalgia for this childhood favorite blind you from the cold, smooth facts: McDonald’s shakes are blended from vanilla-reduced fat ice cream (made with corn syrup solids), shake syrup (main ingredient: corn syrup), and topped with whipped cream and a Maraschino cherry (made with two kids of corn syrup each). If you thought the small was bad — this 12 oz option has 73 grams of the sweet stuff — the large is even worse: 115 grams of sugar is over twice your daily recommended intake according to the USDA’s new guidelines. We think you should shake it off!
6. There Really are Diet-Expert-Approved
Meals at McDonald’s
Shocking, right? With a little dietitian makeover magic and a two-word strategy — no mayo — it turns out, there are some choices at McDonald’s that you can enjoy guilt-free. If you generally stick to grilled chicken items over crispy chicken, make sure to guzzle down water, and steer clear of empty-calorie added sugars in salad dressings, you’re good to go. Want some nutritionist-approved orders? Check out What Diet Experts Eat at McDonald’s.
7. Their Chicken Nuggets Have Been Known to Melt
Chicken McNuggets are constantly under fire in the media, whether it’s because of pink slime claims, having more than 40 ingredients, or because they, uh, melt? Former McDonald’s employee and Reddit user DFunkatron explained, “I accidentally left a whole bag of about 100 chicken nuggets out on a counter for way too long. They melted. Into a pool of liquid.” Wondering why? It could be because the finely-ground chicken meat is combined with a water-based marinade of sodium phosphates, food starches, dextrose, citric acid, autolyzed yeast extract (i.e. appetite-increasing MSG), and natural flavoring just to keep it bound together. No wonder pre-fry, defrosted nuggets melt—other than chicken, they’re mostly made up of additive water.
8. The Ingredients in Those Picture-Perfect Ads Are
the Same As What Is in Your Food
McDonald’s posted a video back in 2012 that uncovered the makings behind why their food looks so different in the advertising than what you get from the restaurant. Director of Marketing Hope Bagozzi photographed a side-by-side comparison of a “fresh” quarter pounder with cheese to a burger prepared by a stylist using the same lighting. We were surprised to find out the ingredients used to make the picture perfect burgers are actually real, and they’re exactly the same as the ones on your plate. The only difference? The stylist and photoshop team spend several hours crafting the burger on the screen compared to the minute it takes to make the burger in your hand. Each pickle is hand-picked, ketchup is applied with a syringe, the cheese is sculpted using a heated palette knife, and all the colors are enhanced and imperfections removed during photoshopping. As for the size difference? Supposedly the box each burger comes in keeps the sandwich warm, creating a steam effect and makes the bun contract.
9. They’re Revamping Their Boxes, Bags, and Cups
The facelift continues. Millennials just haven’t been lovin’ it when it comes to McDonald’s, and the fast food chain is doing everything it can to keep up their sales. The brand-new look boasts an updated, simple, and fresh take on their company’s vision. The carry-out bags, fountain beverage cups, and sandwich boxes feature a bold design with big typography, bright colors, and a more playful font style. Playing to millennials’ social consciousness, the company has also committed to sourcing 100% of all fiber-based packaging from recycled or certified sources by 2020: “We’re proud of the progress we’ve made and initiatives like this are important to our customers who care about the planet,” said Matt Biespiel, senior director of Global Marketing. How about revamping the menu as well?
10. Now Introducing… McDonald’s Next
Adding to the makeover, more signs of change are shimmering on the greasy fast food horizon in Hong Kong. With surveys finding 50% of global respondents trying to lose weight, and 75% of those people planning to do so by changing their diets and focusing on more natural, fresh foods, McDonald’s solution is “McDonald’s Next.” Instead of the iconic contrasting red and yellow, the restaurants in Hong Kong feature a sleek black-and-white logo, ambient lighting, glass and metallic interiors and — a salad bar? Yep. The seemingly misplaced offering is filled with 19 ingredients including “two choices of salad base greens, two kinds of cheese, three flavors of sauces” and quinoa. On top of that, McDonald’s Next offers table service after 6 p.m. to trying to elevate the overall fast food experience. Sounds good to us!
11. Happy Meals May Help You Lose Weight
The Happy Meal isn’t just for kids anymore. According to a research team of scientists from the Universities of Arizona and of Southern California, when a small incentive is offered with a meal, as is the case with a McDonald’s Happy Meal, people are motivated to limit their portion size. As it turns out, the combination of a half-sized portion and a non-food gift stimulates the same part of the brain — the area responsible for reward, desire, and motivation — as the full-sized portion alone. The study also discovered that, regardless of hunger, most people will choose a half-sized portion of food if it’s paired with a toy or monetary prize rather than a full-sized portion at the same price. Even though they ate less, people who chose the incentive option tended not to compensate for the reduced portion by eating more calories later in the day. So, if you’re looking to shed some pounds, opt for the Happy Meal: you’ll get to keep your skinny jeans and have a new toy!
12. They’re “Attempting” To Remove Trans Fats
Long before the FDA decided to ban trans fats—the artificial fat invented to make deep-frying more convenient and baked goods more shelf-stable—from foods in 2015, McDonald’s switched to a trans-fat-free frying oil when food purveyors faced a 2007 deadline to comply with a New York City ordinance banning artificial trans fat. The artery-clogging fat has been repeatedly linked to heart disease, weight gain, memory loss, and raising “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. The company has also made a commitment to significantly reduce the amount of trans fat in its restaurants around the world by adjusting recipes to reduce it to less that 0.5 grams per serving. According to their website, the chain still has products that contain natural and artificial trans fats, so they’re not in the clear quite yet.
13. You Can Order Breakfast All Day
There’s no denying it: People were lovin’ McDonald’s breakfast. Now available all day, they’re offering options like cinnamon melts, hotcakes and sausage, oatmeal, and McMuffins 24/7. Great news if you want oatmeal in the middle of the afternoon, right? Technically, no. McDonald’s Fruit&Maple Oatmeal may be the unhealthiest item on their menu. With 32 grams of sugar—more than you get in a bag of M&Ms—this healthy sounding breakfast food will start your day with a sugar high and a certain crash.
14. They Use Cage-Free Eggs
McDonald’s has begun to switch over to cage-free eggs in an effort to meet consumer demands. With the newly launched All Day Mcdonald’s breakfast mentioned above, that’s going to be a lot of eggs. Considering that fewer than 10 percent of the country’s hen houses are “cage free” and the fact that McDonald’s has over 14,000 U.S. locations, this will certainly take a while.
15. 2 is the New 1
For all you thrifty drive-thru junkies, ordering an item of the dollar menu just got a lot simpler. Since 2012, McDonald’s “Dollar Menu&More” confusingly offered a variety of options that ranged from $1 to $5… doesn’t sound much like a dollar menu to us. To simplify the process, McDonald’s is shifting to a McPick 2 menu, where customers can get two items—between the McDouble, McChicken, small fries, or mozzarella sticks—for a total of $2.
16. They Serve Superfoods
In May of last year, the Golden Arches tested breakfast bowls at nine locations in Southern California, one of which included kale. They also offered a whole wheat Kale&Feta “More-Ning McWrap” with baby kale, tomato, feta, and scrambled eggs. Before you jump in your car and go pick one up, be warned: Each wrap contains 19 grams of fat and 840 mg sodium, more than we’d like to see.
17. And Green Juice!
Well… sorta. But they do have a Green Apple Smoothie! The green drink was spotted in various locations around the U.S. last summer. Didn’t get a chance to try one of McCafe’s fruity smoothies? Don’t worry, Blueberry Pomegranate, Strawberry Banana, and Mango Pineapple flavors are sold nationwide for around 200 calories.
18. Chicken Nuggets Aren’t The Only Item with Ground Chicken
Tampa Bay McDonald’s launched a new ground chicken burger in September 2015. It’s made from a blend of white and dark ground chicken seasoned with spices like garlic and onion powder and loses the extra breading found on crispy chicken sandwiches. It can be ordered in two varieties: “Classic,” with red onions and ranch sauce; and “tangy,” with grilled onions and a tangy “signature sauce.”
19. You Better Believe They Use Butter!
Out with the fake stuff. This past year Mickey D’s said hasta la vista to margarine this year and started using actual butter: an Eat This, Not That! approved swap. Margarine might have less saturated fat than butter, but it packs a ton of additives, including health-harming trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of depression. Even worse, research shows that the spread may also lead to weight gain, increase heart disease risk and dangerous cholesterol levels — definitely not what you want on your go-to breakfast sandwich.
20. Their McRib Has no Rib
That’s right. Despite the name of the sandwich, in reality, there’s no rib in the McRib. The pork is pressed into the rib-like shape via a mold, just like Jell-O. Twitter’s favorite sandwich is so popular that a fan launched a GPS app devoted to finding a McRib near you. And we think we know why everyone’s addicted: The pork patty is soaked in salt, the bun is made with sugar, and the McRib Sauce is all High Fructose Corn Syrup. That sweet-and-salty combo makes for an irresistibly delicious sandwich—and a terribly fattening one.
21. Supersize It Is Out and Mini Meals Are In
Playing off the positive effects of the smaller-portioned Happy Meal study, McDonald’s started testing out “Mini Meals” in Southern California locations. Mini Meals—or, Happy Meals for adults—are now being offered in restaurants round the U.S. The meals contain between 600 and 820 calories each, so while they aren’t exactly diet fare, they’re a much better option than the average-size meal. A Big Mac, medium French fry and soft drink tops out at just over 1,000 calories and packs 43 grams of fat, so choosing a 600-calorie mini meal could save you big time–just about 6 pounds a year if you make this switch just once a week!
22. “Real” Chicken Sandwiches are still Really Unhealthy
We commend McDonald’s efforts to move past the pink slime claims and offer a crispy chicken sandwich made with 100% chicken breast meat, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods quite yet. This past spring, the fast food company launched a new buttermilk crispy-chicken sandwich made with chicken breast, real buttermilk, and no artificial colors. Apparently it’s popular because it’s still on their menu, but with 24 grams of fat, 62 grams of carbs and 900 milligrams of sodium, don’t even think about ordering fries with that.
23. They Have Mozzarella Sticks
While they’re still leaving the pizza to Pizza Hut, McDonald’s has now made mozzarella sticks made with “100% real mozzarella” and a whole wheat breading available at your local MD’s as a snack or side. They’re 200 calories and come with a tomato-based marinara sauce that we can guess contributes to the finger foods no-good 560 milligrams of sodium. Salt can hide in the sneakiest places, like in these 20 Restaurant Desserts with More Salt Than a Bag of Pretzels.
24. You Can BYOB
Build Your Own Burger, that is. Mickey D’s new Create Your Taste (CYT) concept allows visitors to customize their burgers via touch screen kiosks. You can create your own burger from 29 ingredients and employees deliver them to you, rather than simply stand behind the counter. The burgers come open-faced, and the fries come in a small metal basket (definitely a step up from the usual paper and cardboard), but be prepared to cough up some extra dough for the luxury. The concept launched in Australia last September and after a successful trial, made its way over to the U.S. Currently, the burger kiosks are only at a few select McDonald’s, but there are plans to expand the program to 2,000 U.S. locations—so keep your eyes peeled!
25. McB = Organic Burger
Taking a page out of Panera’s book (the soup and sandwich company has always used grass-fed beef in its menu items), Ronald recently debuted his first organic burger. It’s been uniquely dubbed the “McB” — perhaps because the world for organic beef in the only country where the burger is sold, Germany, begins with a “B” — and its patty is sourced entirely from antibiotic-free, humanely-raised organic beef. Two versions of the burger have been released, each with its own unique toppings and bun and customers can vote for their favorite.
26. McBs are Served on Organic Buns
The clown with the red smile didn’t just stop with organic beef in his McB. The burger was sandwiched between organic buns as well. To our dismay, the burger was only available for seven weeks whether it was due to costs or unpopularity, and has yet to launch in the U.S. For more good news about breads, click here for The 25 Best Carbs for Weight Loss.
27. You Might Be Seeing Sweet Potato Fries Soon
McDonald’s tested out sweet potato fries in 18 Texas locations during October of 2015. There’s no word yet on whether they’ll accompany McDonald’s World Famous Fries, but this certainly appears to be another attempt to improve the public’s view of the fast food chain and revive sales. Because, come on, who doesn’t like sweet potato fries?!
28. They Resurrected Deep-Fried Pies
The recent reintroduction of apple and cherry deep-fried pies (which had been replaced in 1992 by the healthier baked version you see on your McDonald’s menu board now) is a delicious, flat belly nightmare. Make sure you steer clear of Southern California, where this deep-fried mess is being sold for just 79 cents. We think your health is worth more.
29. You’re Just a Flight Away from Truffle Fries
That’s right, McDonald’s “world famous fries” are now being offered with truffle flavoring in Singaporean Mickey D’s. If you’re hankering to fancy up your regular order of fries, get ready to loosen your belt: It’s safe to assume adding truffle oil won’t make them any better for you—the fries alone already contain 18 ingredients.
30. You Can Order Mac and Cheese in a Cup
If you please, McDonald’s is offering mac and cheese cups as a limited-time alternative option to an entree in the Children’s Happy Meal. They’re just as caloric as the kid’s order of chicken nuggets, but we’d bet there are probably fewer ingredients. Currently, they’ve only been spotted in Cleveland, OH after an aborted attempt to launch the comfort food staple in Australia a couple of years ago.
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