McDonald's to count calories on menus

Chain embracing better ingredients, transparency

By

Published:

 

LOS ANGELES — Soon to be listed among the Big Macs and McFlurrys on every McDonald's menu board and drive-thru across the country: Calorie counts.

As diners increasingly demand more healthful dietary options and nutritional disclosures, the world's largest hamburger chain says it's embracing both transparency and better ingredients.

Starting Monday, calorie counts will be posted at its more than 14,000 U.S. locations. That means customers will know off the bat that four pieces of Chicken McNuggets have 190 calories and that a McCafe Iced Mocha has 260.

In some cities and states, such as New York City and California, menu labeling is already required for major chains such as McDonald's. Comprehensive federal regulations, passed as part of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform bill, are still undergoing adjustments.

But the Golden Arches' pre-emptive effort will likely compel competitors to follow suit, as they did when the chain began offering salads and highlighting fresh ingredients in its marketing. McDonald's has also made other moves to clean up its reputation for unhealthy food.

In 2011, the chain bowed to pressure from health advocacy groups and began adding a serving of fruit or vegetables to all Happy Meals while shrinking the amount of French fries. In time for the London Olympics this year, the company announced its "Favorites under 400 calories" promotion, featuring the 80 percent of its U.S. menu that it said fell under the limit.The fast food giant has also begun featuring farmers and ranchers in its commercials. Abroad, its Canadian branch offers online videos showing how its burgers are prepped for ads; the chain is planning all-vegetarian outposts in India.

On Wednesday, McDonald's also said it was testing out more better-for-you options, including seasonal produce such as blueberries and cucumbers, grilled chicken, McWraps starting at 350 calories and a version of the Egg McMuffin made with egg whites and a whole grain muffin.

"We've made a lot of good progress toward our nutrition commitments and we recognize there's still more to do," said Dr. Cindy Goody, McDonald's senior director of nutrition.

But many McDonald's critics slammed the calorie-posting decisions. Sara Deon, who runs the Value (the) Meal campaign at Corporate Accountability International, called the move "purely PR spin."

"McDonald's wants to paint itself as a leader, but in truth, regulations that appear in the Affordable Care Act will soon require McDonald's to implement these changes," Deon said. "The corporation must stop the egregious, targeted marketing of its unhealthy brand to children, and go further to mitigate its impact on our children's health."