From my childhood I remember vehement opposition to fast food in general and in particular to McDonald's. While I believe the notion that McDonald's is extremely unhealthy is obviously widespread, I will nonetheless provide an example to not seem empty-worded: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Size_Me

I am uncertain why is that so?

Superficially, this is what McDonald's food consists of: A sandwich filled with meat, cheese and vegetables.

While I am certain such food can be claimed to be sub-optimal (white bread, too much meat, ...), it nonetheless does not seem to be horrible in comparison with the typical alternatives (eating such self-prepared sandwiches at home, but with fewer ingredients). And yet McDonald's was attacked much more vehemently than the concept of sandwiches.

Are sandwiches themsevles considered the worst kinds of junk food?

Or are sandwiches from McDonald's significantly worse than sandwiches in general?

  • I deleted the last sentence in your question because that made it a request for medical advice, which is off topic. But I still think your question is too broad. We can't compare an entire menu to unspecified food made at home. You need to find a way to be more specific and make it a question that can be answered with facts, not opinion.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 21:38
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    first, mcdonalds sells lots of things that are not sandwiches: fries, milkshakes, etc. Second, burgers are laden with cheese and mayo in addition to meat and vegetables. And all of the food is very salty. This is not about "sandwiches". And third, mcdonald's staff are encouraged to encourage customers to eat more food than they had planned to. So eating more than you had planned, with a high fat burger paired with high fat fries and a high sugar drink, is nothing at all like having a ham sandwich at home. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 1:04

1 Answer 1


If and why is McDonald's food considered extremely unhealthy?

"Extremely unhealthy" is what some people say for many foods, but to say that fast food is "considered unhealthy," more evidence is needed. I have no evidence to say that McDonalds is better or worse than others in this regard.

In the experiment about eating in McDonalds shown in the documentary Super Size Me and described in this Wikipedia article, the guy claims he was consuming 5,000 Calories per day:

Spurlock ate at McDonald's restaurants three times per day, eating every item on the chain's menu at least once. Spurlock consumed an average of 20.9 megajoules or 5,000 kcal (the equivalent of 9.26 Big Macs) per day during the experiment. An intake of around 2,500 kcal within a healthy balanced diet is more generally recommended for a man to maintain his weight. As a result, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 11.1 kilograms (24 lb), a 13% body mass increase, increased his cholesterol to 230 mg/dL (6.0 mmol/L), and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver.

So, if he had a severely hypercaloric diet for a month, this alone (and not where and which exact foods he was eating) could result in weight gain and consequently in increased cholesterol (CDC). Any double calorie diet at any other restaurant or at home could do the same. So, this experiment does not provide any convincing evidence to say that McD food is unhealthy.

In another experiment, another guy was on a hypocaloric diet by eating carefully at McDonalds for 180 days - he lost 13.6 kg (30 pounds) and his cholesterol levels dropped significantly.

Is there any other evidence to say that fast food is unhealthy?

A typical food pattern in fast food restaurants includes hamburgers and sandwiches (white bread, processed beef or bacon, cheese), chicken nuggets and French fries (with fried oils), salad with dressing (oils), apple pies, chocolate cookies, ice cream and sweetened beverages (sugar) (McD menu). Such food pattern tends to:

  • have little fiber, so it can be constipating
  • be energy dense and can be, in association with lack of fiber, less satiating, which can make you eat more than you need and gain excessive weight
  • have a lot of quickly absorbed carbohydrates (plain starch in white bread and fries, sugar), which is, along with excessive weight, a risk factor for diabetes type 2
  • have an excessive amount of trans fats (in French fries, chicken nuggets, pies, biscuits - USDA, Foodwatch), which can increase LDL cholesterol, which can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease
  • contain a lot of preservatives and other food additives, which spoil the taste

To be fair, in many fast food restaurants, including McDs, you can also buy an apple, a salad without dressing, a veggie burger and mineral water.

Are sandwiches themselves considered the worst kinds of junk food and are the those from McD significantly worse than sandwiches in general?

Sandwiches typically contain processed meat. High consumption of processed meat is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2. I don't have any evidence to say that sandwiches are the worst food and which brand is worse, though.

In conclusion, there is evidence that food patterns (not the food items themselves) promoted by fast food restaurants are associated with increased health risks. The risk increases with frequent eating energy dense, low-fiber foods.

  • I don't know if you saw the documentary but the "experiment" had serious flaws in it all the way through. Someone like the person in the documentary, who exercised regularly and ate a well balanced diet for many years and had no health issues would inevitably suffer when moving over to a diet of nothing but McDonald's meals. The rule imposed where he was to accept an upgrade to super size only when offered was setting himself up for bigger problems. There is such a thing as choice. All things aside, it does show the way that McDonald's employees push the high calorie meals. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 13:52
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    Even from the Wikipedia article, it is obvious that the experiment is complete nonsense. Double calorie intake could cause very similar problems on any diet.
    – Jan
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 13:58
  • I "covered" sugars under "energy dense foods." Fast food can be more salty than other foods, but then again, not necessary; foods eaten at home (bread, soup, meat, fish, salads, gravies, canned food) can have more salt. Foods high in harmful trans fats can include the ones fried in partially hydrogenated oils, in pies and some other foods. McDonalds claims their foods contain minimal amount of trans fats, but this may not be the case with some other fast food providers. If the food has an awful taste because of additives, it's enough for me to say it's not healthy.
    – Jan
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 16:04
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    The typical problem with fast food restaurants is their obvious pattern to what they offer: energy-dense foods with little fiber that make you constipated and fat easier than some other more reasonable patterns. If we go food by food - of course you can find worse foods elsewhere. I didn't blame McD for a thing and they can very well offer better foods than other fast food providers. But people tend to blame the biggest and most popular companies - it creates more hype.
    – Jan
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 17:32
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    I just checked McDonald's menu and I can order a lunch that's under 500 calories, is low in fat, has no trans fats, is reasonably high fiber, and has a serving of vegetables, a serving of fruit, and has no added sugars. Which just goes to show that it's what you eat, not where. This question should have been closed as too broad and as a matter of opinion.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 22:43

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