Is McDonalds The Solution To Healthy Eating?

$1 dollar

390 calories, 23 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat (29%), 33 grams of carbs (11%), (35%), 250IU of vitamin a, 1mg of vitamin c, 210mg of calcium, 3.5mg of iron.

Can anybody name this food?

Tofu? Soybeans? Quinoa?


No, for the cost of $1, it is a McDonalds Mcdouble.

Rarely does reading the news make me happy, but a story going around this week has given me a big smile. A high school science teacher for a class experiment ate only McDonalds for a 90-day period and managed to lose 37 pounds while lowering his cholesterol. In case you are curious, no he did not go on a diet of just water for the allotted time, but ate “fatty foods” such as Big Macs and Milkshakes. The teacher consumed food based on the recommended dietary allowances for things like nutrients, carbs, fats etc while limiting himself to 2000 calories per day. This was all that was needed for him to radically improve his diet.

Although I am happy that a man was able to lose 37 pounds that has nothing to do with why this article brought a smile to my face. The reason I was so jubilant stems from a Freaknomics blog post that has been on my mind for almost an entire year. The post was one sentence long and consisted of an email from one of their fans stating:

“It has been my gut-level (sorry, pun) feeling for a while now that the McDonald’s McDouble, at 390 Calories, 23g (half a daily serving) of protein, 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and iron, etc., is the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.”

The post sparked mayhem; thousands of comments, dozens of articles in major publications, and significant debate. I was generally intrigued by the idea and tried to find answers. What I found was fascinating; peoples responses were polarizing and almost a complete caricature of their political views. Whether it was through asking my peers or searching online, I never came close to actually finding a thorough answer to the query. Instead, I was greeted with tons of people praising or complaining about McDonalds. The closest thing to a coherent response available was scores of people creating some sort of health-concoction that nobody ate if made in large enough quantities and divided by enough people could statistically be more nutritious and even cheaper.

Freakonomics hosted a follow up podcast where they invited experts to debate this issue. To argue against McDonalds, they invited a self proclaimed “health food activist” who is a columnist at Mother Jones. Before even getting into the conversation, he felt it was necessary to give a qualifier stating “the Mcdouble doesn’t factor in all the external costs, because it is only possible through ‘working poor people’” just to demonstrate the political nature of this conversation and what types of responses it normally evokes. When he finally delivered his argument, it was that if a group of people were to split a pound of organic brown rice and red lentils, it could technically be even more nutritious and bountiful at a price point of 75 cents per meal.

Although I found this to be a great victory for the Mcdouble, I was extremely disappointed by the conversation and debate. For only 25 cents more, a Mcdouble tastes significantly better, it takes no preparation for a consumer to have, it does not need to be split with a large group of people and is simply a better food option. However, the worst part about this was not his flawed answer, but the idea that merely because a McDonalds Mcdouble is not technically the most nutritious and bountiful food available, it should be completely discarded and those whom eat it should be ridiculed.

The idea that the Mcdouble is the most nutritious and bountiful food available is irrelevant; the point is that McDonalds has the capacity to serve a positive role by making society healthier. Canada and America are suffering massive health problems because of the food people eat. To make matters worse, this epidemic largely exists in the poorer sects of society; people who largely do not have the time, the knowledge or the resources to eat better and ameliorate their health situation. For those who think that poor-fat people do not influence their lives, Canada spends over 11% of its GDP on healthcare while the United States spends over 18%. A change in this alone could radically improve the economy for both countries.

People eat McDonalds because it is delicious, extremely affordable and convenient. In contrast, red lentils and brown rice are not appetizing and a chore to produce. Although red lentils and brown rice might be healthier, it doesn’t matter if nobody is eating them. In fact, it is for this reason that it does not even matter if McDonalds is actually healthy; all it needs to be is healthier and more appealing than the junk people are already eating.

Going back to the original article in question, there are many other examples of people going on McDonalds-only diets and getting healthier while losing weight. It is not the individual food that makes one healthy or unhealthy but the diet they are on. For most people, McDonalds has a selection of foods available that would allow them to eat healthier than they do now. If one wants to eat Big Macs and large sodas every meal, it is not surprising they will gain weight. In contrast, if one is eating Mcwraps with waters, it’s rather likely they will lose weight.

I think this is a fascinating and important issue not only because of how much it can impact our society, but how vacuous the conversation surrounding it is. I remember the first time I ever tried to independently learn and read books about the environment. It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. Regardless of what one’s stance was, anybody who was at least somewhat involved in the debate was incapable of speaking coherently about the issue.  People simply shut their ears, started finger pointing and yelling rants at the top of their lungs. I find a lot of parallels with this to the issue of McDonalds and healthy eating.

I do not care if one only eats quinoa and does yoga 145 times a week; it is imperative for the benefit of all of us to improve the collective diet of our society. We must embrace food that people actually want to eat. We must embrace the resources that will actually make the greatest difference. We must get over the stigma that anything inorganic and not sold at wholefoods is bad for you. It is time that people started to accept McDonalds in the dialogue of healthy eating and learnt to openly embrace a larger variety of solutions.