It is no surprise that a low sodium McDonald’s meal is a tall order. However, let’s be real. Chances are you will find yourself at McDonalds at some point in your life. Hello road trips!
If you need to eat low sodium, what is the best choice for you? Read on for tips to build a low sodium McDonald’s meal from a Registered Dietitian!
Why is McDonald’s So Salty?
You might be wondering why food at McDonald’s is so high in sodium in the first place. The answer is taste and preservation!
Salt tastes good. That is one of the main reasons we tend to eat so much of it. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants tend to have a lot of sodium in their food because we like it! Tasty food = more $$!
However, low sodium food does NOT mean it has to be bland. Here are my favorite tips and tricks to add tons of flavor on a low sodium diet!
The other reason McDonald’s is so high in sodium is preservation. Hamburger patties aren’t made from fresh ground beef and potatoes aren’t sliced into fries in the kitchen at McDonald’s. Food at McDonald’s is likely made at a few central locations, frozen and shipped to each restaurant. The restaurant only has to grill, frying or heat up that food. Salt is important to help keep food last that long, and still taste good!
How Much Sodium Should You Eat?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that everyone limit sodium to 2,300mg per day. Most of us are eating much more than that!
A low sodium diet is especially important for people with heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, calcium kidney stones or liver disease.
Most of the salt we eat comes from fast food and processed pre-packaged foods such as chips, bread and frozen/canned prepared foods.
So, if you find yourself at McDonald’s or a different fast food restaurant, it is important to pay attention to sodium. It adds up quickly! You could easily eat the entire day’s worth of sodium in a single meal.
Check out my Guide to Low Sodium at Subway®!
Low Sodium McDonald’s Sandwiches & Mains
Here are the best low sodium McDonald’s sandwiches and main courses. Keep in mind that these choices still have 25-35% of your daily sodium!
- Hamburger (520mg sodium)
- Cheeseburger (750mg sodium)
- Big n’ Tasty® (720mg sodium)
- Filet-o-Fish® (620mg sodium)
- McChicken® (830mg sodium)
- Premium Grilled Chicken Sandwich (820mg sodium)
- 4-6 piece Chicken McNuggets® (360-540mg sodium)
Compare these with some of the highest sodium options at McDonald’s:
- Angus Bacon & Cheese (2070mg sodium)
- Angus Deluxe (1700mg sodium)
- Quarter Pounder® (1190mg sodium)
- Double Quarter Pounder® with Cheese (1380mg sodium)
- Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich (1160mg sodium)
- Chicken Selects® Premium Breast Strips, 5 piece (1680mg sodium)
Want Fries With That?
French fries are my personal favorite! A small fry at McDonald’s only adds 160mg of sodium. Be careful with that ketchup! One ketchup packet adds 110mg of sodium.
A medium fry has 270mg sodium and a large fry has 350mg sodium.
You can ask for fries without added salt. This has the added bonus of usually getting you steaming hot, fresh fries! It is very hard to know how much this lowers the sodium content. But, it is likely slightly less than the standard sodium amount.
Low Sodium McDonald’s Salads
Salads are a great way to get in some veggies at McDonald’s! However, the chicken on McDonald’s salads is pumped full of sodium solution to help keep it nice and juicy.
Grilled chicken on a salad adds about 710mg sodium. Crispy chicken adds about 660mg sodium.
Chicken McNuggets® actually have less sodium than either the grilled or crispy chicken on salads. I like to order a salad without the chicken and add these instead!
The lowest sodium entrée salad at McDonald’s is the Premium Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken (920mg sodium). You can get it without the chicken for only 150mg sodium.
A side salad has only 10mg sodium. Or, a Caesar salad without chicken is 180mg and the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad without chicken is only 300mg sodium.
Salad Dressing & Dipping Sauces
Sodium in Salad Dressing
Of course, salad dressing will add sodium to your meal. The lowest sodium McDonald’s dressing is Newman’s Own® Creamy Southwest Dressing with 340mg sodium per 1.5 fluid ounce portion.
Newman’s Own® Creamy Caesar Dressing at McDonald’s has 500mg sodium. This is for an entire 2 fluid ounces serving. You could get away with using half the packet and reduce sodium to 250mg.
Compare these options with higher sodium choices like:
- Newman’s Own® Ranch Dressing (530mg sodium per 2 fl oz)
- Newman’s Own® Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (730mg sodium per 1.5 fl oz)
- Newman’s Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing (730mg sodium per 1.5 fl oz)
Sodium in Dipping Sauces
Who doesn’t love a good dipping sauce!? We need something for those fries or nuggets!
Here are the lowest sodium sauces at McDonald’s:
- Honey (0mg sodium per packet)
- Sweet n’ Sour Sauce (150mg sodium per packet)
- Tangy Honey Mustard Sauce (140mg sodium per 1.3 ounces)
- Southwestern Chipotle Barbecue Sauce (210mg sodium per 1.3 ounces)
Compare these to the highest sodium sauces at McDonald’s:
- Ketchup (110mg sodium per packet)
- Barbecue sauce (260mg sodium per packet)
- Hot Mustard Sauce (250mg sodium per packet)
- Spicy Buffalo Sauce (800mg sodium per 1.3 ounces)
- Creamy Ranch Sauce (270mg sodium per 1.3 ounces)
Low Sodium Breakfast at McDonald’s
What abut breakfast? Breakfast tends to be even saltier than lunch & dinner choices at McDonalds.
Here are your lowest sodium choices:
- Plain English Muffin (280mg sodium)
- Hashbrown (310mg sodium)
- Fruit & Maple Oatmeal (160mg sodium)
- Egg McMuffin® (820mg sodium)
- Sausage McMuffin® (850mg sodium)
- Hotcakes (590mg sodium per order)
- Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait (85mg sodium)
It is definitely best to stick with that Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait or Fruit & Maple Oatmeal!
Compare these to the higher sodium breakfast McDonald’s choices:
- Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit (Large Size Biscuit) (1270mg sodium)
- Sausage Biscuit with Egg (Large Size Biscuit) (1280mg sodium)
- Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel (1580mg sodium)
- Bacon Egg & Cheese Bagel (1300mg sodium)
- Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddles® (1360mg sodium)
- Big Breakfast with Hotcakes (Large Size Biscuit) (2260mg sodium)
- McSkillet™ Burrito with Sausage (1390mg sodium)
What About Dessert?
In general, desserts are on the lower end of the sodium spectrum with a few exceptions.
Cinnamon melts have 370mg sodium. McDonaldland® Cookies have 300mg sodium per 2oz package.
Milkshakes also have a surprising amount of sodium. A regular chocolate shake has more sodium (240mg) than the vanilla (220mg) or strawberry (170mg) flavors.
Here are some great low sodium McDonald’s dessert options. These also tend to be lower in added sugar!
- Vanilla Ice Cream Cone (60mg sodium)
- Ice Cream Sundae (95-180mg sodium)
- Hot Apple Pie (170mg sodium)
- Chocolate Chip Cookie (90mg sodium)
- Oatmeal Raisin Cookie (135mg sodium)
- Sugar Cookie (120mg sodium)
- Apples with Caramel Dip (35mg sodium)
- Snack Size McFlurry® (130-200mg sodium)
Tips for a Healthy Low Sodium Meal at McDonald’s
Of course, sodium isn’t the only thing to think about for a balanced, healthy meal! How do you put this all together? Chances are, just a hamburger will not fill you up. Personally, I’d be starving!
Here are my 3 favorite low sodium orders at McDonald’s for a complete meal. They all have at least one fruit or vegetable for a boost of fiber, vitamins and minerals!
Hamburger (520mg) + small fry (160mg) + 1 packet ketchup (110mg) + apples with caramel sauce (35mg) = 825mg sodium
Premium Southwest Salad without Chicken (150mg) + 4 Chicken McNuggets® (360mg) + 1/2 portion Creamy Southwest Dressing (170mg) = 680mg sodium
Filet-o-Fish® (620mg) + side salad (10mg) + 1/2 portion honey mustard dressing (70mg) =700mg sodium
You can create your own low sodium meal at McDonald’s! Here is a complete list of all items at McDonald’s with nutrition information.
12 thoughts on “Build a Low Sodium McDonald’s Meal: Tips from a Registered Dietitian”
Very helpful…thank you!!
Such helpful information! I’m not surprised to hear that the salads are low sodium, and I’ve smuggled in my own low sodium salad dressing to avoid the salty dressings they provide. But I didn’t know the fries and chicken nuggets were that low. It’s great to have a couple of more options!
So happy to help! And I LOVE the idea of smuggling in your own dressing!
Can you tell us about the sodium in Costco roasted chickens and frozen chicken tenders and their canned chicken ? What is the best chicken to eat? Thanks for all your help. It is truely appreciated.
All of those are unfortunately incredibly high in sodium. Always check that food label for specifics! Fresh or frozen plain chicken is always the best way to go. Check the ingredients to make sure there isn’t a sodium containing solution added to keep it juicy (this is surprisingly common!)
Thanks, not what I wanted to hear. I have stopped buying the roasted chickens but miss the convienience . I appreciate your helping us to understand how to make the changes we need to stay healthy.
very good info!! thanks
EXCELLENT info and so helpful!
Oxalate is important too!
It is for some people – although oxalate is usually LAST on my list. Here is an article with more!
and the added sugar…?
I hope that will be addressed in the near future.
Absolutely! There are SO many aspects of nutrition we could talk about. This article only focuses on sodium.