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The 11 Most Underrated Items to Order at McDonald’s

Are the Golden Arches are calling your name? Skip the famous Big Mac and chow down on these guilt-free, dietician-approved orders.

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McDonald's golden archesLongJon/Shutterstock

Fast and furious

While nutrition experts will never endorse a daily drive-through run, they understand that sometimes you run out of time or other options. And that’s OK. It happens to all of us, dieticians included. Turns out, you can comb the menu and find a few diamonds in the rough. We asked the pros what to order when you don’t want to completely destroy your nutritional goals, and they gave us the following picks.

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HamburgerCourtesy McDonald's

A hamburger

Yup, the Golden Arches’ standard isn’t all that naughty on its own. It’s got 250 calories and eight grams fat, only three of which are saturated, so that’s still less than 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA), says dietitian Amy Shapiro, RD, owner of Real Nutrition NYC. And with 13 grams of soon-to-be antibiotic-free protein, this burger will tide you over until you’re less hangry and desperate. Find out what the 10 best-selling McDonald’s items of all time are.

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Egg white delight mcmuffinCourtesy McDonald's

Egg White Delight McMuffin

Breakfast is still the least popular drive-through meal, but the options have gotten a lot better. This yolkless wonder totals less than 300 calories, and you get a bit of extra protein from Canadian bacon. You also save on sodium compared to the original Egg McMuffin. Learn why the Egg McMuffin was almost rejected from the McDonald’s menu.

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Fruit maple oatmealCourtesy McDonald's

Fruit & Maple Oatmeal

Speaking of breakfast, McDonald’s got some flak over its oatmeal when it first debuted—critics said it was a sugary treat disguised as a well-rounded breakfast—but it’s only slightly more than 300 calories a bowl and provides whole grains, fiber, and protein, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.

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Grilled chicken saladCourtesy McDonald's

The Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

This one is all about the extras, says Shapiro. Lose the cheese and fried tortilla strips and you can still enjoy a low-calorie, high-protein and veggie-filled meal. If you skip the dressing, your meal has only 260 calories and five grams of fat (and honestly, with those numbers, you could probably splurge on a drizzle of dressing). Meanwhile, 33 grams of protein will keep you full for a solid few hours. But first, memorize 5 of the healthiest items you can order at McDonald’s

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Fruit n' Yogurt parfaitCourtesy McDonald's

Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait

The fruit and yogurt parfait makes a good breakfast or snack, Taub-Dix says. It’s made with low-fat yogurt, and while it’s a bit high in sugar (22 grams), some of that is from fresh fruit, and the whole parfait totals only 150 calories. Plus, you’re getting 10 percent of your daily value for calcium.

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Iced latteCourtesy McDonald's

A McCafé Iced Latte

Leah Kaufman, RD, owner of Leah Kaufman Nutrition, is a fan of this cool caffeinated beverage. A small has only 120 calories and clocks in six grams of protein. And you can feel extra good about drinking it now that McDonald’s has pledged to source the coffee beans for its brew sustainably.

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Chicken sandwichCourtesy McDonald's

Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Veggies are rare on a fast food menu outside of salads, but this pick sneaks in lettuce and Roma tomatoes, says Shapiro. You can lower the calories on this 380-calorie sandwich even further by eating it open-faced. But with only six grams of fat and 36 grams of protein, you can enjoy the top bun without guilt if you want (though you might want to skip the sauce to keep sodium in check). For more creative options, try these McDonald’s “secret menu” hacks you never thought to try.

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Ice cream coneCourtesy McDonald's

Ice cream cone

Dessert is always an option—and luckily, this cool, sweet, creamy treat won’t break the calorie bank, says Shapiro. With only 200 calories and five grams of fat, a plain vanilla cone is a good way to conquer your sweet tooth without sacrificing your waistline. Shamrock shake more your thing? Learn how to make it all year long at home.

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Apple slicesCourtesy McDonald's

Apple slices

Yes, McDonald’s has fruit. Kaufman likes to use the prebagged, precut apple slices as an alternative side to French fries—doing so saves you at least 215 calories, and you’ll still get to crunch on something. They’re also good for a quick, fiber-filled snack.

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Happy mealCourtesy McDonald's

A Happy Meal

“Kid-size portions could also be the right size for some adults who might be looking to satisfy a fast food craving without overdoing it entirely,” says Taub-Dix. The Happy Meal itself comes with fries, but she likes the four-piece chicken nuggets (180 calories, ten grams protein) with a side salad. Check out these other 12 things you never knew about McNuggets.

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Vegan burgervia

Bonus: A Vegan Burger

The internet is buzzing about the recent introduction of a vegan burger—originally developed for McDonald’s India—to the United States. The McAloo Tikki, which is currently only available in the restaurant at the chain’s Chicago headquarters, features a patty made from potatoes and peas, which is topped with red onions, tomato slices and egg-free tomato mayo. Taub-Dix isn’t surprised that fast food restaurants want to jump on the “plant-based” bandwagon but adds, “five grams of saturated fat in a veggie burger doesn’t seem great to me.” You won’t want to miss these things McDonald’s employees won’t tell you.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest