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The Lowdown on Eating Healthy at Fast-Food Restaurants

By Chris Caputo
The Minstrel

In the hectic atmosphere known as college life, the last thing students want to worry about is what to eat on a daily basis.

There are some food options on campus, but there are also quite a few off campus. One common option is fast food. Before eating at McDonald’s though, you should take the time to learn the nutrition facts about what you are putting into your body.

With the more recent adoption of low-carb and healthy diets, McDonald’s started to lose business. In response, they started putting nutrition facts right on their foods, offering healthy alternatives, and printing brochures that told consumers exactly what they were getting. I think the reason McDonald’s continues to be profitable though is because it is convenient, not because it is healthy.

Fast food restaurants become a more attractive option than eating at an on-campus food establishment, especially for students who life off campus. Factor in the Dollar Menu and you’ve got yourself a cheap, convenient meal. The only problem is that a lot of students do not bother to look into the nutrition facts that are available to them free of charge.

Despite being printed on the food itself, many students still do not care to look at the nutrition facts. According to the nutrition facts available at, one double cheeseburger has 440 calories, 23 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, and 1150 milligrams of sodium. The Dollar Menu comparison, the McDouble, has 390 calories, 19 grams of fat, eight grams of saturated fat, and 920 milligrams of sodium.

I know what you’re thinking. “I’ll just get chicken and it will be healthier.” This is correct to an extent. The McChicken from the Dollar Menu has 360 calories, 16 grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat, and 830 milligrams of sodium. In most cases, buying chicken is the healthy alternative if you wish to buy food from McDonald’s.

Another idea for making your meal healthier is to buy two McChicken sandwiches, ditch the bread on the second sandwich, and ask for no mayonnaise. In addition to the sandwiches, get for a side salad from the Dollar Menu. Despite popular belief, it is OK to use dressing, but make sure to use it sparingly.

So let’s recap: It’s Monday night, you just got done with classes, you’re on your way home and you want to eat.

2 McChickens $2.00
One side salad $1.00
Sales Tax $0.18
Total $3.18

There you have it. For $3.18, following the steps that I’ve described you have a healthy meal purchased from McDonald’s.

Another healthy option is to purchase one of the Premium salads. Keep in mind that anything with the word “premium” attached to it is usually reflected in the price.

According to the nutrition facts, the salad with the lowest amount of calories is the Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken. It has 220 calories, six grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat, and 890 milligrams of sodium. Keep in mind that adding dressing to the salad changes the nutritional value. Unfortunately, McDonald’s does not list prices on their website, but I would expect to pay a minimum of $6 for the Premium salad.

As you can see, doing your homework on the nutritional values of McDonald’s food pays off. There are a decent amount of healthy combinations that can be consumed there that will not have an impact on your waistline.

Living on a budget makes it harder to buy healthy foods from grocery stores, but try not to have the impression that fast food restaurants do not have healthy choices. I would not recommend eating McDonald’s or any other fast food every day, but eating it twice a week will not harm you, as long as the rest of your diet is relatively healthy. Along with some sort of exercise program, students can avoid the dreaded weight gain that is associated with college life.

Always remember, eating one healthy meal a day will not make up for eating two unhealthy meals and snacking throughout the day. Do your homework on nutrition and health in general and it will become second nature to you.

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