A closer look at the chain's "lighter" 400 calorie fare and some smart swaps for a more nutritious well-rounded mealBy: Mandy Oaklander
If you own a TV, you probably know McDonald's recently launched its Favorites Under 400 Calories campaign to promote its "healthier" menu items. The move came after the International Olympic Committee questioned whether they should continue to let McDonald's sponsor the Olympics.
If you ask McDonald's, they'll tell you they offer plenty of options for calorie-counters. "Customers may be surprised to know that about 80 percent of national menu choices are under 400 calories for the standard recipe," Neil Golden, chief marketing officer for McDonald's USA, was quoted as saying in a July 2012 press release. (Search: How many calories are in most McDonald's menu items?)
As the originators of the 400-Calorie Fix concept, Prevention agrees that McDonald's is onto something: 400 is a great number to hit, 4 times a day, to rev your metabolism while still eating what you love. The catch? Our 400-Calorie Diet applies to entire meals-not a box of fries.
VIDEO: Here's how to set your table for weight loss.
Still, we wondered: Is it possible McDonald's has some healthy 400-calorie-or-less options worth digging into? Let's find out.
You magic number for weight loss: Check out the 400 Calorie Fix!
Chicken Selects, the skinnier brother of Chicken McNuggets, clock in at just under 400 calories...for three small pieces of breaded chicken. (If you want to dip that in a packet of ranch, add another 120 calories.) Given that an entire chicken breast typically contains about 140 calories, where do the other 240 come from? The breading and the hydrogenated soybean oil it's cooked in, most likely. Also in there: Modified food starch, cellulose gum, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and rib meat.
Swap it for: Real rib meat: pork spareribs and asparagus for 421 calories.
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In the mood to lunch on a few fries? For 380 calories, you can. You'll also get a third of your daily fat intake, "natural beef flavor" derived from wheat and milk, 48 g of carbs, and 270 mg of sodium. Delicious though they may be, a side of fries is just that: a side dish.
Swap it for: A whole meal of hot Italian sausage, mustard, coleslaw, and a side of baked beans, for just 391 calories.
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Oatmeal seems like a safe bet, but let's look closer. This dish which could, in theory, contain about 4 ingredients (oats, water or low-fat milk, maple syrup and some fruit)-but it actually contains 21. The sweetened, dried fruit contains preservatives, the oatmeal contains "caramel color," and the dish packs 32 g of sugar-which is the equivalent of about 11 packets of the sweet stuff.
If you're looking for the maple syrup, don't; it's not there. Instead, there's "natural flavor" derived from a "plant source." State officials in Vermont told McDonald's that calling the product "maple" without using any maple syrup was against state law. Now, customers can request real maple syrup with their fake-maple oatmeal-but only in Vermont.
Swap it for: A complete breakfast of honey-sweetened granola, low-fat milk, and a glass of orange juice.
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If you're craving something healthy like a grilled-chicken salad, you'll power up with 27 g of protein and eat only 290 calories-if you eat it without dressing. Some dressings add on an additional 180 calories. Aside from the salad mix, which is a good bet for some fiber and vitamins, you'll be eating corn syrup solids and high-fructose corn syrup in the cilantro lime glaze, and that chicken? It's made with 18 ingredients, including sugar, chicken skin, and rib meat.
Swap it for: Our Asian Chicken Salad, which has power-packed leaves, great-for-you toppings, and 430 calories, dressing included.
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McDonald's boasts that every size of their "real fruit smoothie" is under 400 calories. But a large mango pineapple smoothie has a whopping 77 g of sugar-which is the equivalent of eating almost three Snickers bars, in terms of the sugar content. And just in case you're wondering, the "real fruit" includes "clarified demineralized pineapple juice concentrate," which is a sweetener, not a chunk of vitamin-C-packed raw pineapple.
Swap it for: Some whole real fruit, plus filling peanut butter and soy milk, in our Peanut Butter Soy Smoothie instead.
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The first thing to know about Egg McMuffins is they come with a footnote on McDonald's homepage: "Freshly cracked eggs available in most areas." So are you getting fresh-cracked eggs? You'd have to ask your local McD's to be sure, but according to the company's website, the "egg" also contains soy lecithin, and it's prepared with a 13-ingredient liquid margarine. We counted 32 ingredients in the English muffin, 14 in the slice of cheese, and 9 in the "Canadian-style" bacon. The whole shebang contains 820 mg of sodium. As the Egg McMuffin tagline goes, "And all that for under 400 calories."
Swap it for: An entire breakfast. We have 10 delicious 400-Calorie Breakfasts to choose from, and they're all healthier than this one.
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Did you just order a McDouble? That'll be roughly a third of your daily fat intake, 33 grams of carbs, and 37% of your daily sodium. Suddenly, 390 calories seems like a lot for a sandwich. On the plus side, the beef patties are just that: 100% beef, seasoned simply, with salt and pepper.
Swap it for: If you want to satisfy your red-meat craving, try our delicious steak dinner instead, which comes with a side of mixed grilled veggies, dressing, and a glass of sangria-all for just 422 calories.
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If a filling breakfast of a single hash brown sounds like your kind of morning, then by all means, head to the Golden Arches. You'll only clock 9 g of fat, but be aware that they, like the fries, contain natural beef flavor, as well as corn oil, dimethylpolysiloxane (which prevents the cooking oil from foaming), and a host of other unpronounceable ingredients.
Swap it for: Another easily portable breakfast: Our easy grilled veggie wrap with fruit salad for just over 400 calories.
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McDonalds' website calls this one "Refined and real, all on the same bun." We're not sure if they meant refined as in "elegant," or refined as in "processed"-but it's more the latter, according to the ingredient list. The chicken contains rib meat, maltodextrin, and sodium phosphates and the "bakery style bun" has high fructose corn syrup, dough conditioners, and ammonium sulfate. This sandwich gives you a quarter of your daily cholesterol, 10 g of fat, 9 grams of sugar, and 1,000 mg of sodium.
Swap it for: A whole dinner of grilled chicken slathered in barbecue sauce, with a buttered ear of corn-for the same amount of calories.
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If you believe that portion control is everything and snack sizes are always forgivable, you might want to reconsider. In just 6.7 ounces-which is about half the size of a can of soda-you'll slurp corn syrup solids, almost one-fifth of your daily carbs, 11 g of fat, 43 g of sugar, and enough calories to cross off one of your meals.
Swap it for: Two scoops of fruit-flavored ice cream or gelato at 410 calories-the fruit flavors have up to 50 fewer calories than their chocolate or vanilla flavor counterparts.
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