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Friends wanted to go to McDonalds to eat. To find some healthier choices, I looked at the calorie, protein, fat, trans fat, carbohydrate, sugar, and cholesterol content of some of the items. I decided on a salad.

I was very surprised to learn how many of their popular ingredients contain high fructose corn syrup.

What confused me, however, was that a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese have exactly the same amount of calories (540 calories).

How is this possible? The Big Mac has an entire extra half of a bun as well as that "special sauce". They both have two slices of cheese. I think the Quarter Pounder may have a little more meat than the Big Mac, but it does not seem like enough to compensate for the extra half bun and special sauce on the Big Mac.

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  • meat has more calories than bread. Nov 11 '15 at 0:49
  • @KateGregory In general that is true, although it of course depends on the type of beef and the type of bread. That said, the Quarter Pounder has 1 thicker patty and the Big Mac has 2 thinner ones, so I'm not sure how much difference there is in the amount of meat. In contrast, the Big Mac has 50% more bread content plus the "special sauce". Typically, restaurant sauces are filled with calories. Nov 11 '15 at 0:55
  • True, but the QP comes with ketchup, which probably has as many calories as that "special sauce." I don't frequent McDonalds, but as I recall the QP bun is larger than the Big Mac bun, so that probably evens out the bread calories. So if the bread is roughly equal and the sauce is roughly equal, that leaves the meat. Two small patties = one big one? Don't know but probably.
    – Carey Gregory
    Nov 11 '15 at 1:33
  • @CareyGregory Hmmm... bun size. That's a good point. I assumed they were the same size. Perhaps they are not. Maybe a frequent customer or staffer knows. Nov 11 '15 at 3:45
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is about the calorie content of a specific product and not about health
    – YviDe
    Nov 11 '15 at 10:41
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SE participant Ivo Beckers provided the key to this answer. He pointed out that the Big Mac typically only has one piece of cheese, not two.

So the big caloric differences are that the Big Mac has an extra half of a bun and "special sauce", whereas the Quarter Pounder with Cheese has an extra slice of cheese, 0.8oz more beef, and ketchup.

Those differences offset each other evenly.

Why did the McDonald's employee tell me the Big Mac has two slices of cheese? Well, either that restaurant makes it different, or the information he provided was erroneous.

In researching this question and answer, I learned some interesting facts according to the McDonald's nutrition information for the Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder with Cheese:

  • McDonald's "special sauce" contains 90 calories per 0.6oz, whereas the ketchup contains only 20 calories for the same quantity (and the mustard has zero calories).
  • McDonald's "special sauce" contains high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar.
  • McDonald's ketchup contains high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup.
  • McDonald's sesame seed buns contain high fructose corn syrup.
  • Even though the Big Mac has less beef than the Quarter Pounder with Cheese (2.2oz vs 3oz), its beef has more salt (250mg vs 190mg). However, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese has more overall salt largely due to the extra slice of cheese (1110mg of sodium vs. 970mg).
  • Both the Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder with Cheese contain trans fat.

Note that the McDonald's health and nutrition information website is excellent and is largely a model of how to effectively and clearly provide nutrition information. You can add and subtract each ingredient to see how it affects the nutrition information.

I did find an possible error in it, however. When I view the nutrition information for the Quarter Pounder with Cheese and remove all ingredients except for the beef patties, their website shows they have a total of 1g of trans fat. When I do the same for the "Pasteurized Process American Cheese", it says the cheese has 0g of trans fat. Yet, when I put the two ingredients together, the trans fat jumps to 1.5g. I'm not sure if this is a special McMath, a rounding issue, or a genuine McError.

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    McMath, McError... LOL.
    – Carey Gregory
    Nov 11 '15 at 21:43

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