top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Big Mac - the good, the bad & the ugly

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

McDonald's - the epitome of American fast food. Pretty hard to find a town that doesn't have a McDonald's - and that's not just in America, but most countries. What is it that makes McDonald so popular? Surely it can't be the quality of their food. I can only assume that it's due to convenience, price and them luring kids in with toys and their play structures. When my daughter was a little girl, she got excited every time she saw a McDonald's playground. Luckily, she never liked the taste of their food.

I needed to do some research into some ingredients for my studies and decided to use the Big Mac as an example. You will probably never touch a McDonald's burger again after reading this. Makes me wonder how many people actually know what they are putting into their bodies.

So sit back and be astonished what this burger consists of - reading this will take awhile.

What's really in a Big Mac?

All ingredients were taken from the McDonald's US website.


Ingredients: Enriched Unbleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Sesame Seeds, Leavening (Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate), May Contain One or More Dough Conditioners (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Mono and Diglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Calcium Propionate (Preservative).

Let's take a closer look into all those ingredients:

Enriched Unbleached Flour: this is a refined flour - much of the fiber, iron and B vitamins get removed in the refining process and a few of them get added back in later.

What you need to know about white flours:

Commercially grown wheat is sprayed with hormones and pesticides and the bins in which the harvested wheat is stored have been coated with insecticides. If bugs appear on the wheat in storage, they fumigate the grain.

A whole grain of wheat (wheat berry) is made up of three layers:

  • The bran - (the hard outer shell) offers most of the fiber.

  • The germ - is the part that is rich in nutrients

  • The endosperm- is the largest part of the grain and is mostly starch.

White flour is made from the endosperm only, whereas whole-wheat flour combines all three parts of the wheat berry.

The endosperm is ground by high-speed steel rollers using high temperature and what remains is a white flour that is nearly all starch and which has lost most of it's nutritional value.

Most of the nutrients found in wheat are absent from white flour. Enriched flour contains only a few lab-grade vitamins.

Also, when your body processes white flour, it processes it the same way as sugar. Your body will experience a sugar spike, and then drop (white flour has a high glycemic index).

Bleached flour is even worse for you, as on top of it all it is whitened with a chlorine gas bath (chlorine oxide).

Unbleached organic all-purpose flour is your best bet when it comes to all-purpose/white flour. Organic guarantees that a product has not been genetically modified and has been grown under the organic guidelines for allowable pesticides and fertilizers.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): High fructose corn syrup is an industrial food product and far from “natural”. It is extracted from corn stalks (most of which are genetically engineered). The sugars are extracted through a chemical process resulting in a chemically and biologically novel compound called HFCS.

Regular cane sugar (sucrose) is made of two-sugar molecules bound tightly together– glucose and fructose in equal amounts. The enzymes in your digestive tract must break down the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are then absorbed into the body. HFCS also consists of glucose and fructose, in a 55-45 fructose to glucose ratio in an unbound form. Since there is no chemical bond between them, no digestion is required - so they are more rapidly absorbed into your blood stream. Fructose goes right to the liver and triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol) this is why it is the major cause of liver damage and can cause a condition called “fatty liver” which affects millions of people. The rapidly absorbed glucose triggers big spikes in insulin – our body’s major fat storage hormone. This can lead to increased metabolic disturbances that drive increases in appetite, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and more.

HFCS is cheaper than sugar because of the government farm bill corn subsidies in the U.S.

According to Dr. Hyman, a family physician and best selling author, HFCS also contains contaminants including mercury that are not regulated or measured by the FDA. For more information on HFCS, read Dr. Hyman's blog here.

Soybean oil: To start with, the majority of soy grown is genetically modified. As soybean oil is too unstable to be used in food manufacturing, part of it is hydrogenated (which means that hydrogen gas is forced into the oil at high pressure). This makes the oil more stable and raises its melting point (so it can be used for high temperature cooking) and it prolongs its shelf life. It also means that due to the partial hydrogenation process soybean oil contains trans fats (bad fats).

Fat in soybean oil is mainly omega 6 fat. We do need omega 6 in our diet, but because omega 6 is in nearly every animal food, many plants as well as excessively used in most processed foods, we generally get enough of omega 6.

Not all soybean oil is hydrogenated and “fully hydrogenated” is different from “partially hydrogenated.” The latter contains trans fat, while the former does not.

According to Dr. Mercola, the omega 6 found in soybean oil promotes chronic inflammation in our bodies, which is an underlying issue for virtually all chronic diseases. To read Dr. Mercola's full article on soybean oil, click here.

Leavening (Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate) is a substance used in doughs and batters that causes them to rise. As a food additive, ammonium sulfate is considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and in the European Union it is designated by the E number E517. It is used as an acidity regulator in flours and breads.

Dough Conditioners:

Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate is a chemical better known as SSL, is a food additive used to improve the mix tolerance and volume of processed foods. Considered safe by the FDA.

DATEM is a diacetyl tartaric acid manufactured through chemical synthesis. Datem is widely used as emulsifier. It is affirmed by US FDA as generally recognized as safe and widely accepted as safe food additive in many countries with E number E472e.

Ascorbic acid (E300) is one commonly-used artificial additive. Ascorbic acid also known as Vitamin C, essential for growth, healthy teeth, gums, bones, skin and blood vessels and aiding the absorption of iron, is found naturally in many fresh fruits and vegetables. It is commercially manufactured by several different methods, however one in particular should be noted. This involves a fermentation process using the genetic material of two enzymes from different bacteria being transferred to a single bacterium - so it is genetic modification.

Mono and Diglycerides act as emulsifiers in bread, pulling together the water- and oil-based ingredients that have trouble combining on their own. This makes bread softer, improves the texture of the dough and prevents staling. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring that all food manufacturers list a food's trans fat content on the label. This law applies to lipids, like triglycerides, but not to emulsifiers like mono- and diglycerides. Therefore, even though mono- and diglycerides may contain trans-fatty acids, they do not fall under these labeling requirements. This means a food may be labeled as possessing "0% trans fat" yet still contain trans-fatty acids from mono- and diglycerides.

Monocalcium Phosphate is a non-toxic chemical compound that consists mostly of phosphorus and calcium. It is artificially made and it's used as a leavening agent -meaning it is used in dough or batter to cause the mixture to raise. Considered safe.

Enzymes allow manufacturers to pump up loaf volume significantly, adjust texture, produce a better crust color and prolong shelf life.

The chemistry set of additives has, over the past fifteen years, been largely replaced by enzymes. You won’t see them listed on bread labels, because the law treats them as ‘processing aids’, which do not have to be declared. Enzymes can be allergens and should be identified on labels in the same way as the major allergen groups. Failure to label enzymes prevents people from making informed ethical choices over what they eat; many enzymes are now genetically modified and at least one listed in a standard work on the subject is derived from the pancreas of pigs.

Most worryingly, recent research indicates that one enzyme quite widely used in the food industry - transglutaminase - can generate in the human gut the epitope of gliadin that is toxic to people with coeliac disease and other intolerances.

Calcium Peroxide is a chemical used in baking as a processing aid and whitening. Europe and China banned benzoyl peroxide and calcium peroxide, which whiten flour through oxidation. When ingested in large amounts, the chemicals are harmful to the respiratory system and can cause sensitisation.

Calcium Propionate is a preservative added to bread products to prevent mold growth. Calcium and sodium propionate have the potential to permanently damage your stomach lining by exacerbating gastritis and inducing severe ulcers. You should avoid fast-food products that have a higher ratio of calcium propionate, such as buns, pastries and pizza.

Beef Patty

100% Pure Beef

Even so the "pink slime" is not longer used, this patty still is far from "pure". The meat comes from cows that were treated with antibiotics and other medications to prevent diseases. Cows will also have been given growth hormones for faster growth and they were fed feed that was grown with pesticides. Not so pure after all….

Big Mac Sauce

Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Pickle Relish (Diced Pickles, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Spice Extractives, Polysorbate 80), Distilled Vinegar, Water, Egg Yolks, Onion Powder, Mustard Seed, Salt, Spices, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Mustard Bran, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy and Wheat), Caramel Color, Extractives of Paprika, Soy Lecithin, Turmeric (Color), Calcium Disodium EDTA (Protect Flavor).

Soybean oil (as above - same as in the bun)

High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Corn Syrup - lots of sugar (HFCS see above)

Calcium Chloride is a dough-strengthening and -raising agent, as well as a preservative. It has a low toxicity rating, but ingestion can still lead to many problems. This is due to a process called hydrolysis, which occurs when calcium chloride reacts with water and creates excess heat as a byproduct. Ingestion may seriously irritate the moist linings of the body, such as those in the nostrils, mouth and throat, lips, eyelids and ears. Ingestion of larger amounts may induce gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Xanthan Gum is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in food. Considered safe to eat.

Potassium Sorbate is used as a food preservative and is now produced synthetically. Its anti-microbial properties stop the growth and spread of harmful bacteria and molds. A 2010 study published in “Toxicology in Vitro” found that exposure of human blood cells to potassium sorbate in the laboratory caused damage in DNA.

Spice Extractives, Polysorbate 80 This is a lesser known synthetic compound, also known as Tween 80. It is an amber/golden-colored viscous liquid. It is made from polyethoxylated sorbitan (chemical compounds derived from the dehydration of sugar alcohol) and oleic acid, a fatty acid found in animal and vegetable fats. Polysorbate 80 and other emulsifiers commonly found in pharmaceuticals, vaccines, cosmetics and many foods have been found to negatively affect the immune system and affect fertility. Researchers writing in Nature have now found they are also altering our gut microbiota composition and driving metabolic changes that lead to inflammatory conditions and obesity.

Propylene Glycol Alginate (PGA) is an additive used mainly as a thickening agent in certain types of food. It is made from the kelp plant or from certain kinds of algae, which is processed and transformed into a yellowish, grainy chemical powder. The powder is then added to foods that require thickening. It has been used for many years as a food preservative, and many food manufacturing companies use it in common items.

There are three primary reasons for using propylene glycol alginate. First, it thickens liquid but it also stabilizes it. For example, the foam in beer can be stabilized by using this chemical as can fruit juices or foamy dairy products. It is also considered an emulsifier, which means that it keeps foods fresher because it acts as a preservative. Certain foods have a tendency to change color or consistency over a period of time, for example, and this chemical helps to slow down that process.

Most types of gel-like foods, including yogurt, jellies and jams, ice cream, and salad dressing, contain this additive. Certain condiments and chewing gum also contain it, as do some kinds of cosmetics. Although it is considered a safe additive, there have been reports of negative side effects. It can produce stomach upset and nausea, whether it's ingested or used on the skin as a cosmetic.

Sodium Benzoate is a preservative. It is a synthetic chemical produced when benzoic acid, which is found naturally in some fruits and s