Healthy-Dining Site Blows Its Credibility With McDonald's Endorsement

Last Updated Apr 8, 2010 3:26 PM EDT

When you're a Web site with a mission of helping overweight diners find healthy dishes to eat in restaurants, endorsing McDonald's (MCD) Egg McMuffin as a good breakfast item gives you a major credibility problem. That's what the nutrition site did this week, with the addition of 15 McDonald's items to its recommended list, including the ubiquitous English-muffin sandwich and its bacon-laden Premium Ranch Grilled Chicken BLT Sandwich.

A little research reveals a possible reason the site is so friendly to fatty chain food. Since 2005, the site has had the National Restaurant Association as a key partner. It appears the Healthy Dining Program -- the site's owner, which got its start nearly 20 years ago helping dietitians -- has morphed into a restaurant industry booster rather than a reliable independent resource for calorie-conscious consumers.

McDonald's, lambasted in the documentary Super Size Me for its unhealthy food, qualifies for the site because HealthyDining doesn't look at the restaurant as a whole, but at individual dishes. Their stated goal is to help diners with pressing health concerns find something low-cal to eat, no matter where diet-sabotaging friends drag them out for a meal.

Great idea, at least in principle. Unfortunately, standards are embarrassingly low for qualifying as a healthy item on HealthyDining. The Egg McMuffin makes the cut even though the 300-calorie white-bread sandwich is stacked with three fatty kinds of protein and delivers 87 percent of the cholesterol you should eat in a day -- not to mention more than a third of the salt. For something that's eaten in about four bites, that's just not a healthy choice. The Premium Ranch Grilled Chicken BLT Sandwich delivers 60 percent of daily recommended sodium. And fiber? Don't even ask.

While there are a few items on McDonald's menu that are less fattening than the standard fare, it's flat-out bad advice to steer obese diners to the Golden Arches in hopes they'll have a Fruit n' Yogurt Parfait instead of a Big Mac with supersized fries. The HealthyDining site should be up-front about its industry ties (you've got to dig through the site to find the NRA connection now), or sever them. Then it could raise the bar for what constitutes a healthy meal out and become a truly useful source for diners.

Photo via Flickr user Vacacion

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.