McDonald’s announced today that it has replaced frozen beef with fresh, cooked-to-order patties for its Quarter Pounder and Signature Crafted Recipe burgers at approximately 3,500 restaurants in select markets. According to a company press release, the upgrade will be available at all participating restaurants in the contiguous United States by early May.
The fast-food giant says that customers in test markets have loved the “hotter and juicier” fresh-beef quarter-pound burgers and that the company “saw a 90% customer satisfaction from customers who ordered the burgers and 90% intent to repurchase.”
Clearly, there are some taste and temperature advantages to having a burger “cooked right when ordered, and not a second before,” as Mickey D’s website states. But what we really want to know is: Is making a burger with fresh beef any healthier than making it with frozen?
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In a word, no. “What makes beef healthier is when the leanest cuts are used, so that the total saturated fat and calories are lower,” says nutritionist Julie Upton, RD, co-founder of Appetite for Health. Those details haven’t been modified though: In an email to Health, a company representative said that “the recipe for the patty and the process of making the patties remains unchanged.”
In that case, says Upton, the frozen-to-fresh swap won’t make a nutritional difference. “Fresh beef is more expensive, and it’s what McDonald’s competitors such as Five Guys and In-N-Out use,” she says, “so I assume it’s more of a marketing move to keep up with their competitors that consumers believe offer a more superior, fresh, made-to-order experience.”
According to McDonald’s website, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese has 530 calories, 27 grams of fat (13 of which are saturated fat), and 1,090 milligrams of sodium. “To put that in perspective, most dietitians recommend that a woman’s lunch or dinner should be around 500 calories,” says Upton. A burger alone isn’t too far off from that target, but that also doesn’t include a drink or fries.
What’s more, the American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 6% of your daily calories from saturated fat. For most women, those 13 grams make up about 5%, says Upton. “Eat this cheeseburger and you can’t have any more saturated fat the entire day,” she says. “And on top of that, the burger has 46% of the sodium you should eat in a day.”
McDonald’s says the shift to fresh beef is part of a larger commitment to its customers—a commitment that also includes sourcing only cage-free eggs by 2025 and serving chicken not treated with artificial preservatives or antibiotics used in humans. The latter change, which was announced in 2015 and completed in 2016, was widely celebrated by public health advocates who say that antibiotics in livestock are a driving force behind the rise of dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
While it’s great that the new McDonald’s is focused on sustainability and fresher food production—and, okay, tastier burgers for the occasional splurge—it’s important to remember that this newest change doesn’t exactly come with health benefits. Fast food aside, it's also important to remember that, in general, frozen foods can be just as nutritious as fresh. "The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients," notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "In meat and poultry products, there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage."
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“No one goes to a burger joint thinking they’re going to get a kale quinoa bowl, but some customers might believe that fresh, not frozen, beef is going to be healthier for them,” says Upton. “Regardless of whether a burger or cheeseburger is made from fresh or frozen beef patties, the same issues are there.”