How to Eat Low-Carb at McDonald's

McDonald's Restaurant
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Say what you will about McDonald's, it's the largest food chain in the world, which continues to grow both in the U.S. and internationally. In recent years, the McDonald's chain has been putting effort into including healthier choices on its menu. But what does it have for those of us who restrict our carbohydrate intake?

McDonald's has brochures available in its restaurants which provide information about most of the menu items as they are usually served.

However, information about regional and seasonal specialties, new additions to the menu, and customized orders (for example, burgers without the bun) may not be readily available.

The good news is that McDonald's provides all of this information on its website. A cheeseburger has 33 grams of carbohydrates. Take away the bun and 28 of the grams disappear. In this way, you can discover that there is 1 gram of carb in the cheese, 1 gram in the onions, and 2 grams in the ketchup. This information makes it easy to order a customized item, and know how many carbohydrates are in the food you order.

Ordering Burgers at McDonald's

Obviously, ordering burgers without the bun is the way to go. You will get the burger in a container, sometimes with two pieces of lettuce. If you are lucky you will be able to use the lettuce to pick up the burger, but don't count on it. Ask for a knife and fork to go with it.

Hamburgers have zero carbs, but some of the condiments have carbohydrates. Processed cheese, tomato slices, and onion have about one gram of carbs each. For ketchup or Big Mac sauce, add 2 grams.

Non-Burger Sandwiches at McDonald's

The grilled chicken sandwich at McDonald's has additives with about 2 grams of carbohydrate per patty.

Crispy chicken fillets have 10 grams of carbs, and Filet-o-Fish comes in at 9 grams. Servings of tartar sauce or mayo dressing have one gram of carbohydrate, but you may not get these unless you ask for them. Premium Ranch Sauce has 3 grams of carbohydrate. A Ranch Snack Wrap will rack up 33 grams of carbohydrate, with 22 of them in the tortilla.

For Nutrition, Choose Salads

Obviously, the sandwiches aren't going to help with your all-important servings of vegetables. For that, the only place to turn is salads. McDonald's salads contain a variety of greens, instead of just the standard iceberg or romaine lettuces. They also contain small carrots and grape tomatoes. The side salads have 3 grams of net carbohydrate (not counting dressing).

The meal salads are trickier. The best bets are the Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken or Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken, at 9 grams of net carbs each (skip the croutons). Any other option adds lots of carbs from breading, glazes, tortilla strips, etc. The carb count is as high as 38 for the Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken.

The dressings are another potential minefield. Assuming you use the whole packet of dressing, you will get anywhere from 4 grams of carbohydrate for the Creamy Caesar Dressing or Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (the only ones even close to being low in carbs) to a whopping 15 grams for the Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing.

Tempted by the Snack Size Fruit and Walnut Salad? Don't be. The sugar in the yogurt and the glaze on the walnuts are the culprits in raising the total grams of net carbs to 29 for this "snack".

McNuggets, Fries, Desserts, and McDonald's Breakfasts

Just put them out of your mind. You could get the scrambled eggs all by their lonesome for breakfast, or, possibly the best option, skip the muffin on the Egg McMuffin. Truly, though it's best to make your own breakfast.


Obviously water, diet sodas, coffee, and unsweetened iced tea are the zero carb options. You might be tempted by their coffee drinks, but check them out carefully.

All of the flavored ones have a lot of sugar except for the sugar-free vanilla, which contains a syrup sweetened with sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium and erythritol. This syrup is listed has having carbohydrates, but it would presumably come mainly from the erythritol which shouldn't raise blood sugar in most people.

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