The Breakdown: Looking at the Nutrional Value of a Big Mac

Big Macs aren’t good for you. You’d think the world would know this by now, but more often than not we witness McDonalds drive-thru traffic jams that our own friends and family are in. It’s one thing to hear, to know better, to understand; and it’s another thing to internalize, accept, and react accordingly. So let me say this again: Big Macs aren’t good for you and here are some reasons why.

An Icon is Born

In 1967, McDonald’s franchisee Jim Delligatti began to serve double-decker cheeseburgers on a double-cut bun in an effort to find a way to structure the messiness caused by the company’s token “special sauce.” Expanding from its humble beginnings in Uniontown, PA to locations across the nation as soon as the next year, the new burger was labeled the “Big Attraction” with its two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame-seed bun. Today, the Big Mac has come to be a symbol of everything stereotypically American – capitalism, commercialism, and gluttony.

The original sales price of the iconic Big Mac was 45 cents, compared to the current $3.00, and today McDonald’s sells as many as 550 million Big Macs per year in the U.S., with a scope of some 120 countries.

The Fat Facts

Let’s talk about the one of the Big Mac’s biggest offenses: fat. A Big Mac is by no means a stranger to it. Each serving packs 550 calories, 260 calories of which come from fat. That’s nearly half of the entire burger’s calories and 45 percent of your daily balance! And of this whopping 29 grams of fat, 10 grams are saturated and 1.5 grams are trans. A Big Mac also contains 75 mg cholesterol, which is 25 percent of your daily allowance. And similarly alarming is the Big Mac’s sodium content. Each serving contains 1,070 milligrams.

Now, if you’ve done some of your own research, don’t be fooled by the Big Mac’s apparent virtuous side. According to the nutritional profile made available by McDonalds itself, each serving contains 3 grams of dietary fiber, 25 grams of protein and offers 6, 2, and 25 percent of our daily vitamin A, C and calcium requirements. Sounds positive, right?

It is important to keep in mind that not all nutrients are the same across the board, and this supposed uplifting aspect to the Big Mac is shadowed by its downsides as well as the quality of its ingredients. For example, the protein you get from animal products differs substantially from the protein you receive from plants, in terms of quality, assimilation, and overall health benefits. The fiber, protein and vitamins in a Big Mac are frankly not that compelling.

If You Can’t Pronounce It, Don’t Eat It

Given the stats, it doesn’t take a wild guess to know the Big Mac is compromising big time in the ingredients department.

Among the many ingredients that make up the Big Mac bun, for example, are high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, calcium silicate, wheat gluten, emulsifier (mono- and diglycerides, diacetyl tartaric acid esters of fatty acids, ethanol, sorbitol, polysorbate 20, potassium propionate), sodium stearoyl lactylate, dough conditioner (corn starch, ammonium chloride, ammonium sulfate, calcium peroxide, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, enzymes), and calcium propionate (preservative).

That’s a mouthful.

Aside from the fact that most of those are nearly impossible to pronounce at first go, many of these ingredients are dangerous. Azodicarbonamide is even banned in some countries around the world because it is a respiratory sensitizer and may harm people with asthma or those prone to allergies – to say nothing of the obvious culprits in the list, such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.

The “special sauce” is indeed special – for its creepy add-ins, that is. The sauce includes high fructose corn syrup, sugar, the preservatives propylene glycol alginate, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, and hydrolyzed (corn gluten and wheat) proteins.

And if you knew what any of that actually meant, you’d realize “hydrolyzed proteins” is just a fancy way of spelling out monosodium glutamate, or the infamous MSG. The flavor enhancer, MSG, has been picking up a lot of heat these days, because it is reported to cause headaches, flushing, sweating, numbness, a rapid heart beat, chest pain, nausea, and weakness, among other things. The sauce also contains the fertility-damaging polysorbate 80 and its preservatives are known to inhibit nutrient absorption – if, of course, there were any particularly beneficial nutrients to speak of in the Big Mac to begin with.

Best of the Worst

On a positive note, the only time you should eat a Big Mac is by association. A Whopper contains 760 calories and 47 grams of fat, a Wendy’s quarter-pound single with cheese has 500 calories and 26 grams of fat, a Hardee’s Thickburger comprises 910 calories and 64 grams of fat, a Sonic Cheeseburger with mayo packs 700 calories and 42 grams of fat, and a 10-sack of White Castle sliders has 1,700 calories and 90 grams of fat. But that’s the only health list a Big Mac will top.

So, instead of rolling through the drive-thru, consider making a homemade, “real” version of a burger.

Vegan Chickpea Burger

Serves 5


  • 1 can chickpeas, mashed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 hot peppers (or 1 jalapeno)
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 garlic gloves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1.5 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 3 tbsp ground oats
  • Buns, avocado, tomato, red onion, and lettuce for garnish

In a saucepan over medium heat, add the chopped onion, peppers, garlic and scallions as well as the cumin, coriander, paprika, salt and pepper to 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until the onion is translucent.

Drain and mix the chickpeas. In a medium bowl mash them with a fork or hands until broken down a bit, but not pasty like hummus. You can remove the skin of each chickpea if you want, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference in the end.

Add the onion mixture to the chickpeas and mix thoroughly. Add the ground oats to help bind the mixture together.

Form burger sized shapes from the mixture and place on an oiled baking dish. Drizzle the tops of the burgers with olive oil before baking at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 25 minutes.

Serve in a bun with lettuce, onion, tomato and avocado.

Aylin Erman currently resides in Istanbul and is creator of plant-based recipe website GlowKitchen.

Image: Leo Almighty