An Official Big Mac - © McDonald's Restaurants

Fast Food Recipes, Calorie Counts Vary By Country

We’ve seen surveys comparing the price of various Fast Food favourites in countries around the world. Now, there’s one that compares the calorie counts. Seems Canada (*SIGH*) has the second-highest-calorie McDonald’s menu items of 33 countries where the Fast Food giant operates….

Big Mac Meal - © McDonaldsYer average, real-world Big Mac-and-Medium-Fries meal. The medium
fountain drink pictured (if sugar-sweetened) has a lot more Calories
than the lone chicken nugget used in the survey analysis…

Yep. Only Japan has more-fattening McFood than Canada. And South Korea comes in a close third. I know it’s a pretty flimsy excuse, but they do say you need to consume more calories to keep warm the farther north you live. Anyway.

The NiceRx people have compiled what they call The Worldwide McDonald’s Index, comparing the calorie counts of iconic McD’s menu items from country to country.

“At NiceRx, we know that making healthy decisions is easier when you are equipped with the knowledge about those choices, so we wanted to take a look at the fast food options around the world to see how they compare when looking at measures such as calories, saturated fat, and sugar content,” The Index’s dedicated website explains. “We looked at McDonald’s menus around the world, comparing three of their most popular items, the Big Mac, French Fries, and Chicken McNuggets. For these items, we looked at calories, saturated fat and salt.”

The overall view

To get an overall picture for comparison, the NiceRx researchers added together the calorie counts of a Big Mac, a Medium order of Fries and a single, token Chicken McNugget. As we hinted earlier, Japan came in  at 989 Calories, Canada clocked 962, and South Korea 958. Israel registered the lowest calorie count for the test combo, at 729, followed by Costa Rica at 817, and Turkey at 858.

The U.S. came in 26th out of 33, and the UK landed at 18th.

The spread from lowest Calorie total to highest, for the same four items, is a surprising 260. That’s roughly the same number of Calories as 2 full cups / 500 ml of Oatmeal, 4.5 slices of bread, 3 large Flour Tortillas, 8.5 medium Carrots, 1 large Baked potato, 3 medium Apples, a full cup / 250 ml of Yogurt, 2 cups / 500 ml of 2% Milk, or 3 cups / 750 ml of Skim Milk.

Why the striking difference?

We know, from previous disclosures by McDonald’s and other global Fast Food giants, that recipes for their standard menu items are routinely tweaked to appeal to local tastes. Some like it sweeter, others not so much. Some like their fries greasier, others drier and crispier.

When it comes to the Big Mac, and other chains’ flagship burgers, fat content of the ground beef in the patties may vary, the amounts of various toppings used per burger may differ and the sauces may be formulated differently. We should note that the signature sauces are the single largest source of added Calories in Fast Food burgers.

Not just Calories, either

The NiceRx people have also analyzed the salt and fat content of their example ‘meal’, and the results are just as shocking.

The saturated fat content varied from 5 to 22 grams, a spread of 17 g. The recommended daily saturated fat intake for someone eating a healthy 2,000 Calorie diet is 22 g. Draw your own conclusions.

Salt content is another serious issue. Salt content of the test ‘meal’ varied from 2.6 g to 4.5 g. The American Heart Association and most national dietary guides recommend you consume no more than 2.3 g of salt a day. Less is better, and 1.5 g is ideal. Just for comparison, 2,300 g of salt is equivalent to a full teaspoon! So… Even if you have the Big Mac ‘meal’ in Israel, where the full salt content came in lowest, you’ve blown your salt allowance in one fell swoop!

My take

The Worldwide McDonald’s Index website’s preamble encapsulates my feelings about Fast Food just about perfectly:We all know that a balanced diet is essential to our own personal health and wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a few treats every now and then! Fast food can be a nice treat but it’s no secret that the items on fast food menus aren’t exactly healthy.”

The takeaway is, if you’re away from home and you think partaking of familiar Fast Food is a way to ensure you know what you’re eating, you may be way wrong. Might be better to try local specialties that include fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats and whole grain products. Don’t miss any opportunity to widen your dietary horizons!

~ Maggie J.