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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Your Body on a Big Mac – Why It’s Called Junk Food

Have a yen for a Big Mac? Here’s some information that may dampen the urge. INGREDIENTS IN A MCDONALD’S BIG MAC McDonald’s lists these Big Mac ingredients on its McDonald’s USA Ingredients Listing for Popular Menu Items: 100% BEEF PATTY: 100% Pure USDA Inspected Beef; No Fillers, No Extenders. Prepared with Grill Seasoning (Salt, Black Pepper) ONIONS: PICKLE SLICES: Cucumbers, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Alum, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Polysorbate 80, Extractives of Turmeric (Color) PASTEURIZED PROCESS AMERICAN CHEESE: Milk, Cream, Water, Cheese Culture, Sodium Citrate, Contains 2% or Less of: Salt, Citric Acid, Sodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Lactic Acid, Acetic Acid, Enzymes, Sodium Pyrophosphate, Natural Flavor (Dairy Source), Color Added, Soy Lecithin (Added for Slice Separation). CONTAINS: MILK AND SOY LECITHIN BIG MAC SAUCE: 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, High Fructose Corn Syrup, 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). CONTAINS: WHEAT, EGG AND SOY SHREDDED LETTUCE: BIG MAC BUN: Enriched Bleached 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, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Calcium Propionate (Preservative). CONTAINS: WHEAT I’ll point out a few other things McDonald’s doesn’t mention about their ingredients:

  • The beef they use in their “100% beef patties” and the dairy products mentioned in their list come from factory farmed animals that have been fed on GMO grains and loaded up with antibiotics, growth hormones, and pesticides. See Factory Farming Makes Us Sick and Factory Farming Produces Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria for how factory farming of animals is harmful to us, the soil, and the planet.

  • The wheat, onions, cucumbers, corn used to make high fructose corn syrup, soy derivatives, spices, and lettuce they use are all made from genetically modified crops so you’re also getting a dose of glyphosate (a toxic, broad-spectrum systemic herbicide) when eating any McDonald’s menu items. Glyphosate has been banned in many other countries. See Moms to EPA: Recall Monsanto’s Roundup for the dangers of GMO crops and glyphosate.

  • McDonald’s uses highly refined table salt in its menu items. See The Healing Properties of Unrefined Salts for how processed salt is harmful to our bodies.

WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR BODY AFTER YOU CONSUME A BIG MAC This description of what happens in your body within an hour after you consume a Big Mac comes from (2015): First 10 minutes–Our brains prefer high-calorie foods Our brains evolved during a time when food was scarce, so we became adept at choosing high-calorie foods. A regular Big Mac (with cheese and sauce) contains 540 calories and raises your blood sugar to abnormal levels. Junk food triggers your brain’s reward system by releasing a surge of ‘feel-good’ chemicals – such as the neurotransmitter dopamine – which induce feelings of pleasure. This process works in a similar way to that of drugs such as cocaine and contributes to the likelihood of compulsive eating. After 20 minutes–Addictive sugars Did you know that a Big Mac bun contains high levels of high-fructose corn syrup and sodium? Both ingredients are addictive and therefore make your body crave more of them. These ingredients are also harmful and can cause obesity, diabetes and heart disease. After 30 minutes –Sodium attack on your body A Big Mac contains 970 milligrams of sodium. This huge amount of salt can result in dehydration. With symptoms that closely mimic those of hunger, it’s easy for dehydration to trick you into thinking you need to go back for another helping of food. Ingesting too much sodium makes it hard for your kidneys to excrete salt. To try and flush the excess salt out of your system, your body then draws water from surrounding tissues. This fluid buildup means that your heart must work harder to pump blood. This causes high blood pressure and can ultimately lead to heart disease and stroke. After 40 minutes –Craving more! Do you ever still feel hungry after just having eaten a Big Mac? This is because you have lost control of your blood sugar, making you crave even more fast food. The first time you consume a high-calorie meal, your insulin response can reduce your glucose levels making you want to eat more. The high-fructose corn syrup in the Big Mac bun is quickly absorbed by the GI tract, causing insulin spikes and even greater hunger pangs. After 60 minutes –Slow digestion Normally the body takes about 24 to 72 hours to digest food. However, hamburgers take a lot more time to digest because they are greasier. It can take more than three days to fully digest a Big Mac. Also, it takes approximately 51 days to digest trans fat. A Big Mac contains 1.5 grams of trans fat. Different studies have proved that trans fats can be linked to heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.

Nutrition Information: McDonald’s Big Mac


From the Big Mac Museum


REFERENCES (2015). What Happens One Hour After Eating A Big Mac? See: Hardin, J.R. (8/2/2014). The Healing Properties of Unrefined Salts. See: Hardin, J.R. (9/25/2014). Factory Farming Makes Us Sick. Hardin, J.R. (4/14/2015). Factory Farming Produces Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria. See: Hardin, J.R. (5/30/2015). Moms to EPA: Recall Monsanto’s Roundup. See: McDonald’ (9/26/2015). McDonald’s USA Ingredients Listing for Popular Menu Items. See: © Copyright 2015 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Comments submitted prior to 8/25/2021

Great treatment of an importent subject, Joan. The addictive cycle of junk food craving and recurrent appetite makes a lot of sense. Although I’m a vegan and haven’t eaten meat in years, the allure of the Big Mac still stimulates the appetite response for me, much the way seeing someone light up makes me crave a smoke even though I quit almost 40 years ago now. And I have asthma. These odd cravings defy logic and intention. Fortunately we don’t have to act on them, but they can be disturbing. By the way, have you heard about the hamburger someone kept for years and it never decayed? Here’s an explanation:

Keep up your good work!


In reply to Sonnische

Thanks, Sonnische. The piece on why the McDonald’s hamburger stayed fresh looking for years is really interesting. Your mention of being stimulated by the aroma of a Big Mac years into being vegan reminded me of the time I became addicted to McDonald’s. My son was 4 and my husband was traveling a lot. There was a McDonald’s visible through the school yard across the street from where we lived in Chicago. I’d never been remotely interested in fast food of any kind before. My little boy asked if we could go over there to get burgers and fries one evening – and I agreed, thinking it would be a one-time thing. But then I started suggesting to HIM that we go over there. After a few weeks of this, he said, “I think you’ve got a problem and we should stop eating that stuff.”

Joan Hardin


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